Category Archives: Women’s Fiction

Review: The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

Title: The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 348 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A debut novel set against a background of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions that pulses with humor and empathy and explores the heart’s capacity for forgiveness…

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

Review:

Weaving seamlessly back and forth in time, The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin is an engaging and heartfelt novel of friendship.

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley’s friendship has endured the rigors of medical school, marriage and the births of their children. However, the reappearance of Dr. Nick Xenokostas, their former chief resident, rocks both their worlds since he was part of their lives when a shocking tragedy occurred during their third year of residency. Neither Zadie nor Emma are eager to renew their acquaintance with him especially at time when a professional calamity could prove to be disastrous for one of the their careers. With so much upheaval, Zadie and Emma try to avoid seeing Nick or discussing the traumatic incident that left an indelible mark on both women. However, Zadie, Emma and Nick are on collision course that seems unstoppable and in the aftermath of a stunning revelation, can Emma and Zadie salvage their friendship?

Zadie is a warm and well-liked pediatric cardiologist.  She juggles her career with a hectic family life since her husband, Drew, works long hours with frequent travel. The one constant in her life is her rock solid, close-knit friendship with Emma. Although neither woman has much free time, they both make their friendship a priority and they squeeze in time together whenever possible.

Emma has traveled far from her humble beginnings but her social awkwardness makes her feel like she does not belong in the life she carved out for herself. A well-respected and talented trauma surgeon, she is a workaholic whose husband Wyatt is gregarious and outgoing. They have a young son whom they both adore but Emma initially felt a little out of step with motherhood since young Henry was not exactly an easy baby.

Emma panics when she discovers that Nick has joined her practice. Neither women have ever discussed the tragedy that occurred when he was their chief resident and Emma is determined to keep Nick out of Zadie’s life. Through a series of flashbacks, the details of that fateful third year in residency emerge.

The Queen of Hearts is an interesting and well-written debut that is quite riveting. The characters are richly developed with relatable strengths and flaws. There is plenty of tension as the chapters weave back and forth between the present and the pivotal year of Emma and Zadie’s residency. The truth is revealed in a rather dramatic fashion and  Kimmery Martin keeps readers on the edge of their seats as the novel wends its way to a very unexpected but uplifting conclusion.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Kimmery Martin, Rated B, Review, The Queen of Hearts, Women's Fiction

Review: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Title: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel
Ilka Series Booke One
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Already widowed by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen, a school portrait photographer, leads a modest, regimented, and uneventful life in Copenhagen. Until unexpected news rocks her quiet existence: Her father–who walked out suddenly and inexplicably on the family more than three decades ago–has died. And he’s left her something in his will: his funeral home. In Racine, Wisconsin.

Clinging to this last shred of communication from the father she hasn’t heard from since childhood, Ilka makes an uncharacteristically rash decision and jumps on a plane to Wisconsin. Desperate for a connection to the parent she never really knew, she plans to visit the funeral home and go through her father’s things–hoping for some insight into his new life in America–before preparing the business for a quick sale.

But when she stumbles on an unsolved murder, and a killer who seems to still be very much alive, the undertaker’s daughter realizes she might be in over her head . .

Review:

With a slight mystery element, The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel is an interesting novel about a Danish woman who unexpectedly inherits a funeral home in Wisconsin from her estranged father.

Forty year old Ilka Nichols Jensen is shocked to learn her father who abandoned her over thirty years ago has included her in his will.  Ignoring her mother’s advice to remain uninvolved with the inheritance, Ilka quickly heads to Wisconsin hoping to learn more about her dad but instead discovers the funeral home is in dire financial straits. With the help of Artie Sovino and Sister Eileen O’Connor, Ilka jumps right into planning funerals while trying to decide what she should do with the business.

Ilka is a bit of an inconsistent character as she tries to decide the future of the funeral home.  One minute she is prepared to stay and the very next minute she is ready to book her return flight to Denmark. At the same time, Ilka is trying to understand why her father abandoned her and her mother and she is hoping to find answers among his belongings and the business.

Ilka’s memories of her father are somewhat hazy and fleeting and seem to center around her dad’s love of horse racing and his gambling at the racetrack. She only has the vaguest of clues about the events surrounding his move and her memories are filtered through her mother’s animosity over the situation he left them in. Although Ilka gleans a few clues about his life in the US, she is puzzled by the information she has discovered nor can she make sense of some of the troubling items she has unearthed.

Although Ilka has no experience working in a funeral home, she has no choice but to help the bereaved lay their loved ones to rest. Although the few funerals she helps plan are somewhat mundane, the arrival of an unidentified  homeless person’s corpse embroils her, Artie and Eileen in a bit of a mystery. While the police do eventually discover who he is, his identity raises some very intriguing questions about a still unsolved murder from twelve years earlier.  This mystery plays out on the periphery of the novel and even though Ilka is curious about what happened to the man, she does not play much of a role in the investigation.

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel is an easy to read novel with an unusual premise and a mostly likable but sometimes frustrating protagonist. The funeral home is an out of the ordinary backdrop for the unfolding story and it is quite obvious Sara Blaedel carefully researched the intricacies involved with the funeral business.  While the current mystery is completely wrapped up, the novel ends with a cliffhanger about Ilka’s father. Hopefully the next installment in the Ilka series will be less of a character study and more of a mystery.

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Filed under Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, Ilka Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sara Blaedel, The Undertaker's Daughter, Women's Fiction

Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Title: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical (70s), Women’s Fiction
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Review:

Set during the tumultuous 1970s, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is an incredibly compelling novel about a Vietnam vet who moves his family to the Alaskan bush in an effort conquer his war-related demons.

Thirteen year old Leni Allbright remembers nothing of the father she had before Ernt was drafted during the Vietnam War. Since his return, the family has frequently moved in an effort to outrun their troubles. She and her mother, Cora, are incredibly close and Cora implores her daughter to forgive her father and remember that he was not always like this. When Ernt receives a letter from his war buddy Bo Harlan’s father Earl letting him know Bo wanted him to inherit his land, Ernt once again uproots his family to move to the desolate, yet beautiful Alaskan bush. However, Ernt, Cora and Leni are completely unprepared for the harsh life in an unforgiving, isolated place where one mistake could prove fatal and life revolves around preparing for the upcoming winter.  Fortunately for them, their new neighbors in the small town of Kaneq pitch in to help them learn the much needed skills to survive in the bush, but will Ernt find the peace he is desperately seeking?

Leni is a resourceful, intelligent young woman who loves her mother but distrusts her father. She finds it surprisingly easy to adapt to her new life in Alaska and despite the hard work and harsh weather, she loves their new home. Despite the positive changes Leni sees in her father, she has grave misgivings about the effect winter will have on his tenuous stability and volatile behavior. When the long summer days end and the long, dark winter begins, Leni’s fears quickly come to fruition. Her pleas to her mother fall on deaf ears as Cora refuses to give up hoping that Ernt will turn back into the loving husband he was before the Vietnam War took such huge toll on his psyche.

The town of Kaneq is filled with quirky residents who have many different reasons for choosing to eke out a life in such an isolated and unforgiving yet incredibly beautiful and majestic state.  Marge Birdsall is a gregarious woman who is larger than life and more than willing to help the Allbrights navigate life in the bush. Tom Walker is from a prosperous family with deep roots in the community and he is the first to help his fellow Alaskans in time of trouble. Tom’s son Matthew and Leni strike a close friendship that withstands heartache and tragedy but Ernt’s animosity for Tom does not bode well for their relationship. The Harlan clan eagerly welcome Ernt and his family into their fold but when Ernt’s paranoia grabs hold, will they continue to support his radical and dangerous ideas?

The Great Alone  is a magnificent novel that incorporates true life events into the storyline. The characters are well developed with true to life strengths and human frailties that make them easy to relate to.  Narrated for the most part by Leni, her observations are insightful and due to her life experiences, she is very mature. Cora and Ernt are both incredibly frustrating characters but it is Cora that readers will have the most difficult time relating to as she stubbornly puts herself  and her daughter into danger with her poor decisions.  Never downplaying its dangers or its dramatic beauty, Kristin Hannah brings Alaska vibrantly and realistically to life. As someone who lived in Alaska for a number of years, I can assure readers that she has faithfully and brilliantly highlighted this raw and untamed state in all of its wondrous splendor.   I highly recommend this captivating yet bittersweet story of resilience, kindness, joy and sorrow that is heartbreaking yet ultimately, uplifting.

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Filed under Historical, Historical (70s), Kristin Hannah, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Great Alone, Women's Fiction

Review: Here We Lie by Paula Treick DeBoard

Title: Here We Lie by Paula Treick DeBoard
Publisher: Park Row
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Megan Mazeros and Lauren Mabrey are complete opposites on paper. Megan is a girl from a modest Midwest background, and Lauren is the daughter of a senator from an esteemed New England family. When they become roommates at a private women’s college, they forge a strong, albeit unlikely, friendship, sharing clothes, advice and their most intimate secrets.

The summer before senior year, Megan joins Lauren and her family on their private island off the coast of Maine. It should be a summer of relaxation, a last hurrah before graduation and the pressures of postcollege life. Then late one night, something unspeakable happens, searing through the framework of their friendship and tearing them apart. Many years later, Megan publicly comes forward about what happened that fateful night, revealing a horrible truth and threatening to expose long-buried secrets.

In this captivating and moving novel, Paula Treick DeBoard explores the power of friendship and secrets, and shows how hiding from the truth can lead to devastating consequences.

Review:

A close college friendship and the circumstances surrounding its abrupt end lie at the heart of Paula Treick DeBoard’s newest release, Here We Lie. Weaving back and forth in time, this incredibly fast-paced novel is an intriguing mystery with a socially relevant storyline.

Megan Mazeros and Lauren Mabrey form an unlikely and exceptionally close friendship when they become roommates at an exclusive all girls college. Megan is from a small town in Kansas where she worked as waitress while helping care for her father as he was dying from cancer. The youngest child of a US Senator, Lauren’s attempts to break free of her family’s expectations are met with disdain and derision from her rather cold mother. With enough money to pay for her four year degree, Megan carefully counts every penny and works hard to get good grades.  Despite her family’s disapproval, Lauren has a generous allowance and she maintains her careless attitude toward her education although she excels in her newfound love of photography. Despite all of their differences, the women forge a close friendship yet they each keep secrets, tell some rather elaborate lies and jealousy and anger occasionally come between them. However, their bond remains unbreakable until a shocking act and family loyalty rip them apart.

Megan and Lauren are very well-developed characters with all too human strengths and weaknesses. Megan is surprisingly comfortable at school despite the fact that most of her schoolmates are wealthy and privileged. She is slightly uncomfortable with Lauren’s generosity when they first begin spending time together, but their easy friendship soon eclipses her reservations. Lauren’s desire to be her own person, make her choices and experience life on her own terms is understandable yet she is quick to rely on her family’s money and connections to ease her way.

The novel begins with a press conference in the present then quickly flashes back in time to before Lauren and Megan meet. The story is written in first person and alternates between Lauren and Megan’s points of view.  They each have very distinct personalities and each of the perspective shifts are clearly marked but it is sometimes difficult to keep up which women is the currently narrating the story.

Most of the novel takes place during Megan and Lauren’s college years but there are brief glimpses of their lives in the present. Both women are in relationships but only one of them has children. How they arrived at this point in their lives is a bit of an unknown but a brief recap eventually provides answers.  What truly drives the story is the circumstances surrounding the mysterious press conference and the flashbacks of Megan and Lauren’s friendship gradually leads up to the horrific act that destroys their friendship.

Here We Lie is an absolutely entrancing novel that explores the bonds of friendship.  While not a conventional mystery, Paula Treick DeBoard does an excellent job building and maintaining suspense about the incident that ends Megan and Lauren’s friendship. With a storyline that could very well be ripped from today’s headlines, readers won’t have too much difficulty guessing what happened, whereas figuring out the who will be much more difficult.  This riveting novel comes to a heartwarming conclusion that is quite touching.

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Filed under Contemporary, Here We Lie, Mystery, Park Row Books, Paula Treick DeBoard, Rated B+, Review, Women's Fiction

Review: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Title: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: A

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

Summary:

For fans of Room and the novels of Jodi Picoult, a dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children, narrated by a six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts, and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

Review:

Rhiannon Navin’s debut novel, Only Child, is a poignant, heartrending and emotional story narrated by a six year old boy who survives a school shooting.

First grader Zach Taylor, his teacher Miss Russell and his classmates are among the survivors of a school shooting that takes the lives of nineteen classmates and educators.  Zach is a very bright and observant young boy whose parents’ marriage is already a somewhat stressed before the shooting and in the aftermath, they leave him to cope with the tragedy on his own. His questions are heartbreaking as he tries to make sense of what happened especially when he learns the identity of the shooter. Zach is embarrassed when he regresses to what he considers to be “baby” behavior and he takes comfort in the hideout he has created for himself. He is also confused by the changes in his mother but his father is surprisingly understanding of what Zach is experiencing. Finding solace in a set of children’s books, Zach tries to apply the insights he gleans from the stories to restore happiness to his family.

Although quite smart, Zach’s worldview is simple and lacking pretense. He is quite honest about his perceptions of the shooting and its impact on his family. His little world is shattered and he cannot understand why his mom’s reaction is so different than his and his father’s. Although he was quite close to his mom before this life altering event, he is stunned by how drastically his sweet and caring mom’s behavior becomes in the days, weeks and months following the shooting. Zach loves his dad, but his father’s long commute and work schedule leave little time for them to spend together. However after the tragic incident, his dad’s presence reassuring.

Zach’s astute observations, conclusions and decisions are age appropriate. While some of what he observes goes over his head, readers will definitely understand the implications.  Quickly picking up on the tension between his parents, he breaks down their behavior into something only he can understand and he is quick to pick up on the subtle nuances of impending trouble.  Zach’s parents are so consumed by their own struggles to cope, he is left to navigate the morass of his emotions on his own. His coping mechanisms are heartbreaking yet effective and his explanations are guaranteed to make even the most stoic reader shed a few tears (especially his scenes with his dad in his hideout). As Zach continues to watch his family fall apart, he decides on a course of action to heal the people he loves.

Only Child is an absolutely brilliant novel that is unique, deeply affecting and quite thought-provoking. Zach’s narration is incredibly compelling and viewing the world through his young eyes is often quite perceptive. Rhiannon Navin is an immensely gifted storyteller who evokes empathy and deep emotion in this sorrowful yet ultimately uplifting story.

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Filed under Contemporary, Knopf, Only Child, Rated A, Review, Rhiannon Navin, Women's Fiction

Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Title: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery
Mischief Bay Series Book Four
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Romance
Length: 432 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

Review:

Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery is a winsome story about three generations of women and their sometimes complicated relationships. This  fourth installment in the Mischief Bay series easily stands on its own, but I highly recommend the previous books as well.

Forty-two year old Harper Szymanski is a divorced mom who loves her sixteen year old daughter Becca but works long hours trying to keep her virtual assistant business going.  She is a people pleaser who lets people walk all over her since she has a difficult time standing up for herself.  Her relationship with her mother Bunny is a bit of a mess since Bunny is firmly stuck in the ’50s where a man is always right and a woman should always put her husband and family’s needs before her own.

Harper’s younger sister, forty year old Stacey Bloom, is a super smart and socially awkward scientist who works on the cutting edge of MS research. She and her husband Kit are about to become first time parents and Stacey is greatly concerned over her lack of maternal instincts. She is also worried about Bunny’s reaction to their nontraditional plan for Kit to become a stay at home dad while she continues  working. But what troubles Stacey the most are her fears about what effect a baby will have on her and Kit’s relationship.

Becca is a typical teen who is insecure, somewhat self-absorbed and struggling with the loss of one of her closest friend’s after she moves out of state. She is also quite unhappy with the situation with her father who makes promises to her that he never keeps. He has virtually disappeared from her life which leaves her feeling unloved. Just when Becca reaches her lowest point, she meets Kit’s nephew, Ashton, and their friendship becomes a highlight in her life.

One of Harper’s favorite clients, Lucas Wheeler, is a fifty year old cop whose dating life is an endless array of short term relationships with vapid young women in their early twenties. He is a frequent visitor in their home whose friendship she greatly treasures. Lucas is surprisingly attentive to Becca and he becomes a father figure of sorts after he spend a lot of time with her helping her get her driver’s license.  Lucas and Harper unexpectedly fall into a relationship but since she is so different from the women he typically dates, will there be a shelf-life to their fling?

Sisters Like Us is an emotionally compelling novel that is poignant yet humorous. The chapters alternate between Harper, Stacey and Becca’s points of view as each of them attempt to overcome their personal issues. Harper and Stacey are both struggling with Bunny’s negative influence in their lives as she continues to make them both feel inadequate. Becca matures with guidance and advice from Lucas and a surprise romance of her own. Lucas and Harper’s transition from friends to lovers is understated and their interactions are laugh out loud funny and quite moving. Old and new fans of  Susan Mallery are going to love this newest addition to the enchanting Mischief Bay series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Mira, Mischief Bay Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Sisters Like Us, Susan Mallery, Women's Fiction