Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind by Kate Brook

Title: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind by Kate Brook
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 350 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

An irresistible, funny, sharply observed debut novel in which two roommates, and two sisters, will learn that sometimes family–and love—find you in the most unexpected places

Hazel and Alfie have just moved in together as roommates. They’ve also just slept together, which was either a catastrophic mistake or the best decision of their lives–they aren’t quite sure yet. Whatever happens, they need to find a way to keep living together without too much drama or awkwardness, since neither of them can afford to move out of the apartment.

Then Hazel’s sister, Emily, and her wife, Daria, come for a visit, and Hazel’s and Alfie’s feelings about each other are pushed to the side in the whirlwind of their arrival. Recently returned from abroad, Emily and Daria are excited for a new life in a new town, and ready to start a family of their own.

As the lives of Hazel, Alfie, Emily, and Daria collide, a complicated chain of events begins to bind them all together, bringing joy and heartache, hope and anxiety, and reshaping their relationships in ways that no one quite predicted. Warm, clever, and devastatingly relatable, Not Exactly What I Had in Mind is by turns funny, heartbreaking, and a painfully true-to-life story about family, friends, and everything in between.

Review:

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind by Kate Brook is an engaging debut novel.

Flatmates Hazel Phillips and Alfie Berghan realize very quickly that sleeping together is probably not the smartest decision they have made. They agree it is a mistake not to be repeated and things are soon very awkward between them. Luckily, Hazel’s sister Emily and her wife Daria’s visit proves to be a much-needed distraction. Emily and Daria adore Alfie and a close-knit friendship is born.

A lack of communication prevents Hazel and Alfie from doing anything about their shared attraction. There are several near misses in which fear holds them back from confessing their feelings for one another. Instead, Hazel embarks on an ill-advised relationship with a man who is not exactly anyone’s favorite. She overlooks her boyfriend’s less than desirable attributes rather than find the courage to talk to Alfie.

Emily and Daria are relocating back to England after a few years away. They are at the point in their marriage where they are ready for children. Emily is excited for the pregnancy experience but does Daria share her enthusiasm? And then there is the question of who will help them achieve their goal. A solution presents itself, but are those involved making the right decision?

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind is a delightfully charming novel. The characters are appealing with relatable flaws. Despite utilizing the miscommunication trope, the storyline is very interesting and moves at a fast pace. The various relationships are intriguing and while some plot points are predictable, this does not lessen enjoyment in the unfolding story. Kate Brook closes her debut novel with a mostly satisfying epilogue but readers will be frustrated that not all the storylines are completely resolved.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dutton, Fiction, Kate Brook, Not Exactly What I Had in Mind, Rated B+, Review

Review: A Kind of Hush by JoDee Neathery

Title: A Kind of Hush by JoDee Neathery
Publisher: Imagery Lit
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 340 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

A Kind of Hush examines how life is seldom a tidy affair, exploring whether there is a gray area between right and wrong. Matt and Summer Mackie with children Willa and Gabe are enjoying a June outing at nearby Zoar Valley Gorge, an area showcasing waterfalls, forests, shale cliffs, and a whitewater creek running through the ravine, when tragedy strikes. One parent survives along with their teenage daughter and seven-year-old son found hiding in the nearby woods. Was this a tragic accident or something more heinous, and if so, whodunnit and whydunit?

Set in Buffalo, New York, and in the Big Bend area of Texas, the heart of the novel centers on how survivors deal with the circumstances and subsequent revelations surrounding the incident. But as each one begins to piece together the events of that day, a mantle of ambiguity—a kind of hush—hangs between them like a live grenade without its pin.

Review:

A Kind of Hush by JoDee Neathery is a family-centric novel about grief and healing.

The Mackie family has already experienced one tragedy when a hiking trip results in the death of a parent. The remaining family members try to navigate their way through mourning their loss while trying to understand the cause of the accident. While oldest daughter Willa is defiant and angry, her brother Gabe finds healthy ways to cope with his pain. Their grandparents and aunt assist them during this terrible time and the death of their loved one is a reminder of how fragile life can be.

The local sheriff’s office believes they know who might be responsible but their suspect proves to be quite slippery. This person leads them on quite the chase as he manages to elude them at every turn.  He also manages to convince people along the way that he is quite harmless but some of them can see past his helpful, innocent façade.

A Kind of Hush is a unique family drama with interesting characters. The storyline is intriguing but the pacing is occasionally slow because of overly detailed passages. The overall tone is lighter than expected and some aspects of the story are more realistic than others. JoDee Neathery brings the various settings and characters vibrantly to life and readers will be satisfied with the novel’s conclusion.

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Filed under A Kind of Hush, Contemporary, Fiction, Imagery Lit, JoDee Neathery, Rated C+, Review

Review: Sister Stardust by Jane Green

Title: Sister Stardust by Jane Green
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Genre: Historical (’60s), Fiction
Length: 311 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In her first novel inspired by a true story, Jane Green re-imagines the life of troubled icon Talitha Getty in this transporting story from a forgotten chapter of the Swinging ’60s

From afar Talitha’s life seemed perfect. In her twenties, and already a famous model and actress, she moved from London to a palace in Marrakesh, with her husband Paul Getty, the famous oil heir. There she presided over a swirling ex-pat scene filled with music, art, free love and a counterculture taking root across the world.

When Claire arrives in London from her small town, she never expects to cross paths with a woman as magnetic as Talitha Getty. Yearning for the adventure and independence, she’s swept off to Marrakesh, where the two become kindred spirits. But beneath Talitha’s glamourous facade lurks a darkness few can understand. As their friendship blossoms and the two grow closer, the realities of Talitha’s precarious existence set off a chain of dangerous events that could alter Claire’s life forever.

Review:

Sister Stardust by Jane Green is a fictionalized novel that sweeps readers into the glamorous but tragic world of Talitha and J. Paul Getty Jr.

It is the late 60’s and Claire Collins dreams of leaving her small town behind for a glitzy life in London. Lucking into jobs in popular clothing stores, she meets a man whose involvement in the up-and-coming music scene leads to an unexpected meeting with Talitha Getty. Claire impetuously journeys to Morocco with a band that knows Talitha and she is soon living a wild and free life at the Getty’s home in Marrakesh. Claire’s drug-filled and free-love time with Talitha ends with tragedy but will their friendship endure?

Claire and her brother Robbie’s life after their mother’s untimely death is even more miserable after her father remarries. Neither want or need a stepmother and their homelife with their father’s cold new wife becomes untenable once they are of age. After a vicious row, Claire leaves for London where she is finally able to break free of her formerly staid life. She is definitely not expecting what awaits her in Marrakesh but she and Talitha become close friends.

Talitha and Paul split their time between Morocco and Rome. She is social butterfly who loves the parties while Paul would rather spend time alone. Morocco is her chance to indulge in her love of the limelight and she seizes every opportunity to entertain their friends. Talitha enjoys having Claire with her Marrakesh but are either of them prepared for what awaits them?

Sister Stardust is a captivating novel that vibrantly depicts the music scene and wild party vibe of the 1960s. Claire is an eager participant in her time in Marrakesh but is she fready for the crazy life that Talitha enjoys?  Talitha and Paul’s story arc is an accurate portrait of their marriage and decadent lifestyle in Marrakesh. The storyline easily captures the reader’s attention and tightly holds it until Jane Green brings the novel to a poignant conclusion.

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Filed under Fiction, Hanover Square Press, Historical, Historical (60s), Jane Green, Rated B+, Review, Sister Stardust

Review: Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka

Title: Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 316 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In the tradition of Long Bright River and The Mars Room, a gripping and atmospheric work of literary suspense that deconstructs the story of a serial killer on death row, told primarily through the eyes of the women in his life—from the bestselling author of Girl in Snow.

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood.

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake.

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.

Review:

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka is a bleak yet incredibly fascinating novel.

Ansel Packer is a serial killer whose execution is twelve hours away. As time ticks down, he has plans to thwart his fate. He is good-looking and charming but there is a darkness underneath the façade he presents to the world. Ansel knows he is different and he has carefully studied other people and he knows how he is supposed to react in most situations. But has Ansel managed to fool everyone whose path he has crossed?

Lavender is Ansel’s mother whose decisions as a teenager turned out very differently than expected. Moving in with her boyfriend, she is isolated and frightened by the man she lives with. Ansel is their first child and Lavender tries her best to protect him from his father’s violence. When she gives birth to their second child, Lavender makes the best decision she can for herself and her children.

Hazel is Ansel’s sister-in-law and she does not understand what her intelligent, beautiful twin sister, Jenny, sees in him. Ansel’s grand gesture at the family’s first meeting sets Jenny’s future with him. Hazel and Jenny are very different yet growing up, they are very close. As their lives diverge in adulthood, Hazel witnesses her vibrant sister slip away after her marriage. Is there any chance she can save her sister from Ansel?

Homicide Detective Saffron “Saffy” Singh is obsessed with the three murders committed by Packer. Over the course of several years, she revisits the still unsolved case although she is certain she knows that Ansel is their killer. Saffy has unique insight into Packer but she is unable to find evidence to link him to the killings. She refuses to give up on finding justice for his victims but a decision Saffy makes will eventually come to haunt her.

Notes on an Execution is a reflective novel with a unique storyline. The characters are well-drawn but not all of them are relatable or easy to like. The narration rotates between four distinct perspectives that add depth to the storyline.  Danya Kukafka brings this atmospheric novel to a satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Danya Kukafka, Fiction, Notes on an Execution, Rated B, Review, William Morrow

Review: The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb

Title: The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb
A Novel of Ellis Island
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 436 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Ellis Island, 1902: Two women band together to hold America to its promise: “Give me your tired, your poor … your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

A young Italian woman arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life. That same day, a young American woman reports to her first day of work at the immigration center. But Ellis Island isn’t a refuge for Francesca or Alma, not when ships depart every day with those who are refused entry to the country and when corruption ripples through every corridor. While Francesca resorts to desperate measures to ensure she will make it off the island, Alma fights for her dreams of becoming a translator, even as women are denied the chance.

As the two women face the misdeeds of a system known to manipulate and abuse immigrants searching for new hope in America, they form an unlikely friendship—and share a terrible secret—altering their fates and the lives of the immigrants who come after them.

This is a novel of the dark secrets of Ellis Island, when entry to “the land of the free” promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, and when immigrant strength and female friendship found ways to triumph even on the darkest days.

Inspired by true events and for fans of Kristina McMorris and Hazel Gaynor, The Next Ship Home holds up a mirror to our own times, deftly questioning America’s history of prejudice and exclusion while also reminding us of our citizens’ singular determination.

Review:

Based on real life events, The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb is an engrossing historical novel that exposes the darker side of Ellis Island.

In 1902, Francesca Ricci and her sister are bound for America and a brighter future. Their journey is harrowing as they endure unimaginable conditions in the depths of the ship. Francesca escapes the illnesses that plague the immigrants but her sister is very sick when they finally arrive at Ellis Island. Francesca is desperate to remain in America and she will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Alma Brauer begins working at Ellis Island the same day as the Ricci’s arrive. She is quiet and introspective so she is easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of people she must deal with every day. Alma’s beliefs about immigrants grow and evolve as she helps translate for some of the new arrivals. She is also shocked by the corruption she witnesses but at the urging of others, Alma does not report these deplorable actions.

The two young women strike up an endearing friendship as Alma and her brother Fritz help Francesca settle into her new life in New York. As Ellis Island undergoes close scrutiny to root out corruption, Alma despairs when her parents’ set in motion a plan for her future.  Unbeknownst to her, her way out of an untenable agreement rests on Francesca’s shoulders.

The Next Ship Home is a captivating historical novel that shines a much-needed light on the horrendous treatment of immigrants when they are most vulnerable. Francesca and Alma’s experiences reveal how powerless and vulnerable women are during the time period. The corruption and exploitation of immigrants at Ellis Island is appalling as is the wide-spread prejudice and misconceptions about the people searching for a better life. Heather Webb brings this meticulously researched and well-written novel to a heartfelt and uplifting conclusion.

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Filed under Fiction, Heather Webb, Historical, Rated B+, Sourcebooks Landmark, The Last Ship Home

Review: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Title: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Dystopian, Fiction
Length: 335 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Review:

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan is a deeply unsettling dystopian novel that is completely enthralling.

Thirty-nine-year-old Frida Liu is divorced and overwhelmed with caring for her eighteen-month-old daughter Harriet. She is bitter about her ex-husband Gust and his girlfriend Susanna’s new relationship. Frida is also very resentful that Susanna is caring for Harriet and steamrolling over her with parenting decisions. Frida is fortunate to have a job that allows her to work from part of the week but she is exhausted as she tries to juggle working at home with Harriet by her side. After a sleepless night due to Harriet being ill, Frida makes a fateful decision that puts her parenting under intense scrutiny by social workers. Now trapped in an exacting bureaucracy that deems her an unfit parent, Frida is ordered to go to a year long school that will teach her how to be a  mother. If she and the other moms in the school fail, their parental rights will be forever terminated.

Frida is ill-prepared for motherhood but she loves Harriet. With her entire life upended by Gust’s infidelity and their subsequent divorce, she feels like a failure and struggles to fit into this new life. Frida is the only child of parents who immigrated from China and her relationship with her mother is fraught.  The weight of expectation weighs her down and Frida feels helpless as she tries to adjust to her new reality as a divorced mom.

Her thoughtless decision endangers Harriet and although remorseful, Frida is caught in a new system that judges mothers harshly for their “misdeeds”. The school for “bad” mothers is unrelenting and allows no room for error as she and the other mothers try to learn how to parent under the watchful eyes of those in charge. Infractions of arbitrary rules affect their chances of getting their children back. And the strict protocols and high parenting expectations seem almost impossible to reach. With the goalposts forever changing and the threat of losing their phone privileges, Frida and the other women fear their chances of regaining custody are constantly slipping away.

The School for Good Mothers is a captivating dystopian novel that is emotionally compelling. Despite her careless decision, Frida is a sympathetic woman who is determined to beat the difficult odds of regaining custody. Her time at the school is pure torture as is the lack of contact with Harriet. Her fear of her losing her parental rights is never far from her mind and she works tirelessly to prove herself a worthy mother. The end of the year at the school is both highly anticipated and greatly dreaded and after her release, she anxiously awaits the judge’s decision.  Jessamine Chan shines a harsh light on unrealistic societal expectations of mothers and how easy it is to falter under the close scrutiny of an often unforgiving system.

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Filed under Dystopian, Fiction, Jessamine Chan, Rated B+, Review, Simon & Schuster Inc, The School for Good Mothers