Category Archives: 1980s

Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

Title: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 347 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every page in this twisty, captivating new novel from Sally Hepworth.


The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth is an enthralling domestic mystery.

Lucy Goodwin’s hopes of a close relationship with her mother-in-law Diana are dashed long before her marriage to Ollie.  After they are married, Lucy feels like she does not live up to her somewhat cold and standoffish mother-in-law’s expectations. Over the years, Lucy remains cordial with her and although they are not close, she does appreciate the effort Diana makes with her and Ollie’s three children.  When her mother-in-law dies under mysterious circumstances, Lucy, Ollie, his sister, Nettie and her husband, Patrick, are the subject of intense police scrutiny. Considering the complex history between her and her mother-in-law, does Lucy know more about Diana’s death than she is revealing?

Lucy is a stay-at-home mum to Edie, Harriet and Archie. She and Ollie are quite happy despite the long hours he works at his business. Their relationship with his extended family members has gone through its ups and downs over the years.  Things have been somewhat tense between them at the time of Diana’s death, but tragedy pulls them together.  Lucy is concerned about Nettie but she is mainly focused on discovering what Ollie is not telling her.

Diana is a complicated woman who is devoted to her charitable work with pregnant refugees. She is quite pragmatic and although she loves her children, she believes they should stand on their own two feet. Her beloved husband, Tom, is a soft touch and Ollie and Nettie know how to get around their mother’s refusal to help them.  When her life takes an unexpected turn, will she temper her responses to Ollie’s and Nettie’s pleas for assistance?

The Mother-in-Law is a multi-layered mystery that weaves back and forth in time and unfolds from different perspectives.  Each chapter proves to be quite illuminating while at the same time revealing the increasing stress between the various characters. The police investigation heightens the suspense since they remain very tight-lipped about what they have discovered about Diana’s death. Sally Hepworth builds the tension to a fever pitch as this engrossing mystery hurtles to a shocking conclusion. An absolutely spellbinding novel that readers of the genre will not want to miss.

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Filed under 1980s, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Sally Hepworth, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Mother-in-Law

Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

sunshine awayTitle: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Genre: Historical (late 1980’s), Mystery, Literary, Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

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


My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

The Review:

My Sunshine Away is an absolutely outstanding debut novel by M.O. Walsh. Part character study, part mystery, this riveting coming of age story is poignant, thought-provoking and quite intriguing. It is a very atmospheric and rather nostalgic tale that recounts a young man’s first love and the guilt and regret from a fateful summer that continue to reverberate well past adolescence.

Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during 1989, a quiet suburban street is rocked by a shocking crime. Early one summer evening, sixteen-year old Lindy Simpson is the victim of an horrific assault and while there are many suspects, the case is never officially solved. Lindy’s neighbor, a fourteen year old boy, is deeply affected by the crime and years later, his unresolved guilt and regret from that time period prompt him to write his account of the long ago events.

The narrator of the story harbors an unrequited crush on Lindy and his awkward attempts to capture her attention are cringe worthy and border on obsession. He also counts himself among the list of suspects which makes him a rather unreliable narrator. Can his recollection of the events be trusted? Are his memories biased in his favor? No, he cuts himself no slack as he writes about his activities and describes in excruciating (and oftentimes embarrassing) detail the different ways he tries to capture Lindy’s heart.  Is he just an innocent young man earnestly trying to garner his true love’s favor? Or is there a more sinister motive for his somewhat obsessive behavior? Or is he simply a young man who is trying to escape his own unhappy home life by fixating on someone else?

One by one, the narrator slowly divulges the identities of the other suspects. The narration goes off in seemingly unconnected directions as possible motives are revealed but each of the suspects is eventually cleared. Throughout the story, the neighborhood’s secrets are also brought to light after the narrator decides that he needs to bring the perpetrator to justice so Lindy can finally put a face and name to her attacker.

My Sunshine Away is an incredibly well-written novel that is quite captivating. The plot is fascinating and the setting is brought vividly to life. The characters are fully developed and life-like. The time period is absolutely perfect and provides a certain degree of innocence and naiveté that would not be possible after the advent of cell phones, the internet and video games. But the most compelling part of storyline is learning who is responsible for Lindy’s attack and M.O. Walsh does a brilliant job of obscuring the perpetrator’s identity and the reason for the narrator’s guilt right up until the novel’s conclusion. All in all, a superb debut novel that I highly recommend.

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Filed under 1980s, Fiction, Historical, Literary, MO Walsh, My Sunshine Away, Mystery, Putnam Adult, Rated B, Review

Review: The Wisdom of Hair by Kim Boykin

Title: The Wisdom of Hair by Kim Boykin
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Genre: Contemporary (1980s), Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Life can be beautiful, but it takes a little work…

“The problem with cutting your own hair is that once you start, you just keep cutting, trying to fix it, and the truth is, some things can never be fixed. The day of my daddy’s funeral, I cut my bangs until they were the length of those little paintbrushes that come with dime-store watercolor sets. I was nine years old. People asked me why I did it, but I was too young then to know I was changing my hair because I wanted to change my life.”

In 1983, on her nineteenth birthday, Zora Adams finally says goodbye to her alcoholic mother and their tiny town in the mountains of South Carolina. Living with a woman who dresses like Judy Garland and brings home a different man each night is not a pretty existence, and Zora is ready for life to be beautiful.

With the help of a beloved teacher, she moves to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Cathcart, she learns the art of fixing hair, and becomes fast friends with the lively Sara Jane Farquhar, a natural hair stylist. She also falls hard for handsome young widower Winston Sawyer, who is drowning his grief in bourbon. She couldn’t save Mama, but maybe she can save him.

As Zora practices finger waves, updos, and spit curls, she also comes to learn that few things are permanent in this life—except real love, lasting friendship, and, ultimately… forgiveness.

The Review:

The Wisdom of Hair by Kim Boykin is a powerful novel about love, healing and forgiveness. It is also an emotional story about friendship and finding family when we least expect it.

Caring for her narcissistic and alcoholic mother has left nineteen year old Zora Adams wise beyond her years. Making the decision to accept her high school teacher’s assistance to attend beauty school was not easy, but Zora knows that it is time to make a better life for herself. And in doing so, she finds much more than a career. Her close friendship with Sara Jane Faquhar gives her the family she so desperately needs. Her romance with Winston Sawyer is unsettling and irrevocably changes her life.

Zora is a sympathetic and well-drawn protagonist and my heart went out to her as she was faced with some very difficult decisions. She has a love/hate relationship with her dysfunctional mother and self-preservation becomes the key to a better future. Despite her efforts to the contrary, Zora finds herself making some of the same mistakes as her mother. Through these experiences, she gains understanding of her mother and this understanding allows her to forgive not only her mother, but herself as well.

The Wisdom of Hair is a beautifully written novel of self-discovery. Kim Boyton’s writing style is quite engaging and her characters are three-dimensional and realistic. This marvelous coming of age story will resonate with anyone who enjoys a heartfelt and emotional story about redemption and overcoming a dysfunctional and difficult childhood.

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Filed under 1980s, Berkely Trade, Contemporary, Kim Boykin, Rated B+, Review, The Wisdom of Hair