2 Stars
The Secrets of Paper & Ink by Lindsay Harrel
The Secrets of Paper and Ink  - Lindsay Harrel

Brought together by a charming bookstore in England, three women fight to defy expectations, dream new dreams, and welcome love into their lives. 

As a counselor, Sophia Barrett is trained to help people cope with their burdens. But when she meets a new patient whose troubles mirror her own, she realizes she hasn’t dealt with the pain of her recent past. After making a snap decision to get away for the summer, Sophia moves overseas to an apartment above a charming bookstore in Cornwall, England. She is hopeful she will find peace there surrounded by her favorite thing: great literature. Bookstore owner Ginny Rose is desperate to save her business without asking for help from a husband who’s decided to take a break from their marriage. Ginny never imagined she’d be solely responsible for keeping afloat her husband’s dream, but the unexpected friendship with her new renter has her feeling more optimistic. Between the two of them—and Ginny’s brother-in-law, William—the bookstore might stand a chance. Then Sophia finds a notebook in the bookstore that contains journal entries from Emily Fairfax, a governess who lived in Cornwall more than 150 years ago. Sophia learns that Emily harbored a secret passion for becoming an authoress—as well as a deep love for her childhood friend, Edward, whose station she dared not dream to touch. Eager to know more of Emily’s story, Sophia goes on a quest—dragging Ginny and William with her—to discover the heart of the woman behind the beautiful entries. Soon Ginny’s need to save the bookstore becomes more than a way to save her marriage, and Sophia finds new purpose of her own. Together they find that sometimes both heartache and hope can reach across the centuries.






As a counselor to victimized women, Sophia Barrett is quite skilled at offering solutions and guiding her clients to a place of healing. When it comes to her own hurts? Not so much. Sophia recently suffered an emotional breakdown following the one year anniversary of the death of her fiance, David. Her feelings around the death are complicated, as it is revealed to readers that, to some degree, the relationship was beginning to take an abusive turn just prior to David's passing.


Wanting to finally face and resolve the long avoided issues and emotions within herself, Sophia makes a spur of the moment decision to rent a flat above a bookshop in Cornwall, England. The property owner, Ginny Rose, has her own struggles and soon enough both ladies come to lean on each other, bonded through their mutual hard-luck experiences. In Ginny's case, it's a combination of the bookshop struggling to make a profit and the state of her marriage growing increasingly rocky. Even though the shop started as the dream of Ginny's husband, he's largely checked out of both the business and the relationship. Having given up everything for him, Ginny is determined to throw everything she's got into keeping the shop financially afloat because it's the only home she feels she has left. 


Though the bond between Sophia and Ginny might have started on a tenant - landlord footing, they're soon unbreakable best friends. Sophia starts helping Ginny revamp the shop to draw in more customers. During one lengthy book sorting process, Sophia comes across what looks like a reprinting of a journal belonging to one Miss Emily Fairfax, a Cornwall governess from over 150 years ago (The Secrets of Paper and Ink actually opens with a bit of Emily's story). Intrigued by the story of star-crossed love she finds in the journal pages, Sophia dedicates herself to unearthing more on the life of Ms. Fairfax. In the process, she finds a new romance herself, with none other than Ginny's brother-in-law.


This book will likely have plenty of high praise simply for the fact that it is a story set around a bookshop. As far as the specific plot here itself.... everything was just much too convenient for me: Ginny needs a new website for the shop but can't really afford a top tier web designer, but husband Garrett's good friend just happens to be a web designer who likes Ginny so much he'll happily do it for free... Boom. Suddenly she has mad business to the shop with very little work necessary on her end. Sophia wants to research the life of Emily Fairfax, but overwhelmed with where to start. No worries, her new crush just happens to have a professor friend who has just the right connections for Sophia to find every answer she seeks in only 2-3 steps. Everything, even down to the "twist" at the end is just SO PREDICTABLE IT'S BORING.


The dialogue is silly and cringey a good part of the time. With the exception of the Emily / Edward passages, nearly every character in this story feels way too 2-D.


Christian themes are not all that present until the closing chapters, where Harrel chooses to douse readers with it all at once right before they go. 


FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

3.5 Stars
Swim to Me by Betsy Carter
Swim to Me - Betsy Carter

It's a fresh start for Delores Walker when she boards a Greyhound bus bound for Florida. Leaving the Bronx far behind, she's headed for sunny Weeki Wachee Springs, frayed roadside attraction in danger of becoming obsolete with the opening of Walt Disney's latest creation, only miles up the road. Always more suited for a life underwater, Delores joins a group of other aquatic hopefuls in this City of Live Mermaids, where she discovers a world of sequined tails and amphibious theme shows that even Disney couldn't dream up. It's in this fantastic place of make-believe and reinvention that Delores Walker becomes Delores Taurus, Florida's most unlikely celebrity. Bringing together an eccentric assortment of outcasts, poseurs, and underdogs, this wise and poignant novel conjures up a time in America when anything was possible, especially in the Sunshine State. A story of family, chasing dreams and finding your way, Swim To Me will have you believing the impossible—even in mermaids from the Bronx.







Bronx native Delores Walker first experiences Florida's Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Show roadside attraction while on a family road trip when she's just fourteen. By the age of sixteen, she's invited to join the show herself. It's the 1970s, her father has recently walked out on the family, and young Delores eagerly accepts the position but it doesn't take long for her the grittier side of this whole new world she's now a member of. Still a teenager, Delores -- now going by the stage name Delores Taurus --- is already having to deal with lewd men licking the glass at her shows.


Though the cast of ladies brings together a variety of backgrounds, a kind of sisterhood naturally forms, strengthened by the Womens' Lib movement of the era. Behind them all is Thelma, who seems rough on the swimmers but the story later reveals she does truly care about them and has their backs, even if her concern comes out a little on the gruff side. Though she's sometimes left in a tough position when it comes to the business side of things, Thelma does her best to battle sexism against her mermaids. There's also some time spent on Delores's relationship with her father, his anger issues, and Delores's struggle with her mother sometimes being petty and manipulative.


The whole plot is wrapped around a behind the scenes look at a mermaid show, making it a strong pick for summertime reading. Plot moves a little slow at times, but the bonds between the ladies keeps the pace enjoyable even when the action might lag here and there. As far as individual character development, a number of them start out pretty good  but many of the characters are not quite fleshed out enough IMO. 


In the end, the main theme looks at the idea of everyone having their little secrets and the common thread of everyone having the temptation to start fresh from time to time, that sometimes meaning a new approach to their identity. You might not be able to change where you originally came from, but each day is an opportunity to move one step closer to who you want to be. Story's end resolution is a little weak, but I still had a good time on the ride. 




Just a little update for my followers

A few quick things I would mention:


I have a number of things in the book world that I typically have going on at once but in the last couple years, my attention to them has been inconsistent. Mostly because of the job the death of my mom did on my head. But I've been working hard to come back strong and get everything going again, trying to make this my full time gig once more. So, everywhere you can find me:


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1) I have an additional Blogger book blog on the side.... it was my book blog years before I got on BL, then I got out of the habit of using it too much, but have recently started getting into posting more again over there. I tend to incorporate more video and graphics over there, but if you're interested, it's EFR REVIEWS on Blogger. I've also been trying to work on spiffin' up the overall look, but my project perfectionist side is having trouble settling on a look lol 



2) I have a Youtube / Booktube channel Epic Fehl Reader, as well as a FB page for the channel. Connected to the FB page, I've also started building an online book shop, the EFR Book Shop, where I'm gradually selling off a lot of my library. I've developed some health stuff in the last few years that my dr is saying looks irreversible, so now I'm looking at a lifetime of pain management and reworking things to accommodate my mobility limitations. Since it's unlikely I'll be able to return to a traditional workforce situation, I'm trying to create a source of income with this shop, so book hoarders, COME ON OVER! I'm hoping to expand into bookish gift baskets soon!


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3) My other social media: I'm on Twitter as @EpicFehlReader and Instagram as efrlife_ig (pics of all kinds of stuff in my life, not just books). 


I was on tumblr for a long while but recently closed my account. 


I think that covers all my social media spots lol. It just occurred to me recently that my followers number has climbed up nicely this year and for all the years I've been here on BL, I don't think I've ever made any other big mention of where else to find me online! But thanks for reading everyone, come holla at me on any of these links! 

4 Stars
Ripple by Mandy Hubbard
Ripple - Mandy Hubbard

A siren must choose between the curse that defines her and a chance at love. Lexi is cursed. Following in the footsteps of every woman on her mother's side of the family, she's a siren whose song lures unsuspecting victims to their watery deaths. Each day she goes to school like a normal teenager, and each night she must swim to stay alive. Lexi wants desperately to be a normal girl, but she cuts herself off, becoming an ice queen to keep from hurting the people she cares about. Then she finds herself caught between a new boy at school who may have the power to melt her icy exterior and a handsome water spirit who says he can break Lexi's curse if she gives up everything else. Lexi is faced with the hardest decision of her life. Will she learn that love finds a way to overcome even the strongest of curses? Ripple is a sea-ravaged tale of melancholy beauty, and the choices one girl makes between land and waves, love and freedom, her future--and her heart.






Lexi seems like your average teen, aside from one major difference: at night she transforms into a sea siren trapped by one seriously awful curse --- either she must lure men to their deaths or be left in unbearable pain herself. Not wanting to be the cause of anyone's death, Lexi isolates herself from the rest of the world as much as possible. Each night she swims in a hidden lake instead of the ocean. If she doesn't swim every day, she becomes feverish, experiences muscle cramps / a knotted up stomach, or the sensation of shards of glass in her skin.


A lonely life, but she's making it work... until the day she meets Cole, the best friend of the last guy she let herself love...and accidentally kill.There's also Erik, a new student at Lexi's high school who acts as if he knows her secret. Oh, and then there's Sienna, Lexi's once best friend and sister of Steven (that last love of Lexi's... bit of crimp in a friendship, I imagine) who turns out to be a pretty terrible person no one in their right mind would want to continue a friendship with. 


I was really digging the first 3/4ths of this story! The writing isn't always top notch (there was one line that read "there's so many holes in my plan it's like I wrote it down on Swiss cheese" that got an eyeroll out of me) but the plot is fun. It's a YA novel, so some level of teen angst can be expected, but for the most part the characters were decently developed enough to keep me invested. That last 1/4 though... there was a distinct shift. The interactions between Lexi, Cole and Erik start veering into over-the-top melodrama.


I liked the siren theme, just wished it would have been referenced more, a little more sea legend vibe worked in. It is there, but the bulk of this leans on just average teen romance / drama / backstabbing. As long as you don't go in expecting too much, it's a perfectly entertaining beach read! 


"Anyone can see you have a wall bigger than the one in China. You're just kind of ... unapproachable. It's not like someone can catch your eye and smile if you're constantly looking down at the ground. And it felt like to talk to you directly was to risk going down in flames."


I blink. I guess I never realized just how effective I've been at keeping people at arm's length. 


He turns to look at me, and with how close we're sitting, our noses are just inches apart. His voice lowers. "But I guess you're worth the risk." He leans in slowly, and I close my eyes. 


Once finished, I had this feeling like maybe the book as a whole suffered from being a little too short? Or perhaps that was intentional? There were parts of the plot I would've liked to have seen developed a little further, but on the other hand, having that sensation of not knowing more about the characters (their history and such) in a way does work with where Hubbard decides to drop the closing curtain. 




4 Stars
Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart
Summer at Tiffany LP - Marjorie Hart

Do you remember the best summer of your life? New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor—a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller's—and the envy of all their friends.Hart takes us back to the magical time when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous; pinched pennies to eat at the Automat; experienced nightlife at La Martinique; and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland's honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with Café Society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.






NYC, 1945: Author Marjorie Hart (then Marjorie Jacobson) and friend / sorority sister Martha "Marty" Garrett were just a couple of young Iowa girls who jumped headfirst into life in the Big Apple, hoping to find exciting positions in upscale department stores. They thought they'd be guaranteed work at Lord & Taylor because three other sorority sisters were hired on there, but on arrival Marjorie and Marty were told there would be nothing for them until the fall season. Desparately needing work, they hit the pavement, inquring at a number of other stores, only to be repeatedly turned away. Then that monumental moment came: Marty, feeling bold, suggested they see what Tiffany & Co. department store had to offer...even though at that time, sales floor positions were held exclusively by men. I mean, after being turned down so many times in one day, what's one more no, right?


It turns out the ladies picked a fortuitous time to apply for work there. Because of World War II, the store was short on pages, the guys that ran orders back and forth between the sales floors and the repairs and shipping departments. It was decided by management that day that Marjorie and Marty would become the first women ever to hold sales floor positions with the iconic jewelry and home goods retailer.  


In this memoir, Marjorie recalls all the most memorable scenes of that glorious summer: daily lunches with Marty at the Automat, evenings at the Stork Club, flirting with military men at dances. Hart also shares a couple of her favorite celebrity sightings while working for the store: Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich. Judy Garland popped in while on her honeymoon. Later, when Dietrich came in, Hart mentions feeling a connection to her because of their shared musical background --- Hart being a trained cellist, Dietrich a violinist.


That summer, Hart was also witness to a couple of highly emotionally charged moments, one being her memory of being in Times Square on VJ Day, seeing the announcement that WW2 had officially ended projected onto Times Tower. 


We stayed rooted to our spot with one eye on the Times Tower and the other on the street. Suddenly, at three minutes after seven, the big screen went dark. The crowd seemed to pause momentarily in anticipation. When the lights came on, the screen read:




A thunderous roar rose from the crowd. Church bells pealed, air-raid sirens wailed, cars honked, tugboats tooted, firecrackers exploded, and people cheered as confetti and paper fell from the windows. Near me, an old man threw his cane in the air. An army private kissed every girl he could find. Including me. Streams of tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly woman as she watched the words circling the tower. No one was a stranger in that crowd. 



The other was the day a plane crashed into the Empire State Building. It was not an act of terrorism. Disoriented by the fog that morning of July 28th, pilot William F. Smith flew his B-25 Army bomber into the side of the building. Newspapers later reported that he HAD been advised to land earlier, but decided to disregard. His decision to do so cost the lives of thirteen people (including his own) and injured twenty-six more. 


After that summer, Marjorie left her position at Tiffany's but promised to return one day. She went on to pursue a musical career, joining the San Diego Symphony in 1954. She also played accompaniment to a number of famous acts such as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr. , Liberace, and Nat King Cole. In 1965, Marjorie decided to return to school, going on to earn her master's degree in music from San Diego State University. She began teaching music at University of San Diego (yes, they are different schools) in 1967, becoming chair of the Fine Arts Dept in 1978. Marjorie retired as professor emerita in 1993 and retired from performing music professionally in 2004 at the age of 80. It wasn't until 2004 that she finally fulfilled the promise to return to Tiffany's for a visit (cue end of A League of Their Own). 


This was such a lovely, easy breezy read full of wonderful notes of history and nostalgia, so if that's your jam, this is definitely perfect summertime chill-out material for you! It certainly leave the reader thinking on one's own pivotal moments in life, those that feel like basic, everyday moments at the time but turn out to be essential to forming your later self. 


I will say, I was left curious as to what happened to Jim... that part of the story just seemed to go off into the ether... but the way she left it, I imagine it was one of those connections that just seemed to quietly fizzle out after the war. 

4.5 Stars
Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse
Aleutian Sparrow - Karen Hesse

In June 1942, seven months after attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy invaded Alaska's Aleutian Islands. For nine thousand years the Aleut people had lived and thrived on these treeless, windswept lands. Within days of the first attack, the entire native population living west of Unimak Island was gathered up and evacuated to relocation centers in the dense forests of Alaska's Southeast. With resilience, compassion, and humor, the Aleuts responded to the sorrows of upheaval and dislocation. This is the story of Vera, a young Aleut caught up in the turmoil of war. It chronicles her struggles to survive and to keep community and heritage intact despite harsh conditions in an alien environment.




Aleutian Sparrow is another verse novel from Karen Hesse, similar in style to her Dust Bowl story, Out of the Dust. Starting in June of 1942, just months after the Pearl Harbor attack, Aleutian Sparrow tells the story of how within days of that attack, all the Aleut people were evacuated from their villages and moved to relocation centers, the government fearful of fishing contract disagreements between the Aleut and the Japanese. They are assured the move is only temporary, but detainment carries on into 1945. The story follows this tribe of people as they are repeatedly moved more and more inland, far from the rocky, windswept coastline they call home. 



The collective experiences of the Aleut people are centralized in the character of young Vera. Vera is mixed race --- her mother Aleut, her father Caucasian, but the father never returned from sea one day so over the course of her childhood, the "raising" of Vera has had her circulating around various family members. Vera has spent much of the year of 1945 living in Unalaska Village, working as a home aide to elderly couple Alexie and Fekla Golodoff. Once summer comes around, Vera takes off to spend time in her hometown of Kashega, hanging out with best friends Pari (also mixed race) and Alfred.


Japan carried out an air attack on Unalaska Island in June 1942 because they were interested in gaining control of the North Pacific, but they ultimately found the Alaskan climate too challenging. Still, the Aleut people continued to be moved around... Vera and her family sent along with the rest of the community to these various detainment camps. The Aleut, a proud people with rich traditions, now found themselves crammed into canvas tents on rainy terrain, forced to live off bread and fish scraps. The drastic changes in environment, along with poor sanitation, soon led to rampant sickness throughout the tribe, many being plagued with skin boils and lung infections, among other ailments. But for the longest time, the government offered the sick no medical assistance. NONE. After much pleading, when a doctor finally does arrive, he takes in the scene, brushes it off with a "they're not sick, they're just adjusting." and goes back home! 



Some of the elders take to telling ancient legends to keep morale up. Vera takes it upon herself to get a job at the hospital in Ketchikan, but even with her connections it is still a slow process getting medical aid back to the camps. Eventually, a news story is done about the poor treatment of the Aleut people. Shortly after, the camps are quick to see donations from newspaper readers who wish to help. 


I'm sad to say this is not a part of history I was ever taught in school, so I'm happy to be informed of it now. Tragic as the truth is, Vera's story is a moving one and, if you think about it, still plenty relevant, what with all the discussion back and forth about immigration issues and poorly equipped / run border detainment facilities. It's not an easy read in subject matter, but there is ease in the verse format Hesse does so well. Her way of weaving together sparse but also evocative imagery with so few words is quite the treat for readers of all ages, those new to poetry form or even longtime fans. Prepare to dip into lines such as "the old ways steeped like tea in a cup of hours" or "laughter crackled on winter nights like sugar frosting". Then there's the ones to make you stop and think: "We never thought who we were was so dependent on where we were."


Author Sharon Creech gets a shout out in Hesse's acknowledgements page for "patient and wise council".

3 Stars
Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman
Someone Not Really Her Mother: A Novel - Harriet Scott Chessman

This masterful and compassionate novel is split into a series of interlinked stories that tell the tale of Hannah Pearl. As Hannah’s memory of the present begins to fade, she increasingly inhabits the world of her ardent and frightened youth in war-torn France and England, while her memories of life in America with her daughter and granddaughters have almost been erased. Throughout the book each character must negotiate the fraught intricacies of memory, geography, and motherhood. The reader will discover and illuminate, with miraculous effect, all the pieces of this intelligent and dream-like puzzle.




The plot revolves around three generations of women in a Connecticut family: Hannah Pearl, her daughter Miranda, and Miranda's grown daughters, Fiona and Ida. Hannah's mind is slowly being robbed by dementia. Living in an assisted living facility, most days Hannah's reality often has her slipping back to the year 1940, when she was a young wife and mother trying to escape France during World War II. The growing frequency of these moments becomes painfully aware to the family when Hannah is brought to Fiona's Sip & See for her new baby and the sight of the newborn mentally transports Hannah back to the day she gave birth to Miranda. Hannah mistakes Fiona's child for baby Miranda and tries to keep anyone else from taking the child away from her. 


Meanwhile, Miranda becomes emotionally strained with the experience of being forced to watch her mother slowly fade away. The further Hannah slips, the more she reverts to speaking in French, which frustrated Miranda, who only learned minimal Latin and Spanish in school.


Love is difficult, bien sur. Yet one must love in any case. The world is terrible enough without it, in spite of its beauty: this light, this day, the trees burning yellow, gold, the white bird swinging past the window. 


Fiona often chooses to ignore her grandmother's worsening condition, while Ida desperately wants to know the full story behind the memories. She decides to research Hannah's history, hoping whatever she uncovers will inspire her writing pursuits. After finishing college, Ida takes a journalism job in Paris, France. Fiona, having traded her graphic design career for motherhood, is a little jealous of her sister's life abroad.


Chessman uses a similar "domestic snapshots" approach to what she did with the vignettes crafted in Lydia Cassat Reading The Morning Paper. The writing here is still nice, but lacks that moving blend of warmth and melancholy (at least the level of it, it's here to some degree) of Lydia Cassat. There are some pretty heartbreaking scenes though, such as Hannah going out on her own and getting lost at the pharmacy, or the flashbacks to the war years, the loss of her sister Emma, being helped by a pharmacy clerk named Emily and confusing her for Emma. 


I didn't find the characters of Miranda or Fiona terribly interesting. Though I understand the need for their presence in the plot, I would have preferred to have more of the story around Ida and Hannah, the relationship between them.

3.5 Stars
The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott
The Wonder of All Things - Jason Mott

On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear. Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava's unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she's willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most. 






POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:  Sensitive material within this plot for those who have lost a child. Suicide is also mentioned, though only momentarily. 



In the town of Stone Temple, North Carolina, Ava, the teenage daughter of town sheriff, Macon, attends an air show one day where she witnesses a horrific plane crash that not only takes down a grain silo but also gravely injures her best friend, Wash. Instantly at his side, by just placing her hands on Wash and saving his life, Ava reveals a healing gift she's kept secret for years. 


Once her secret power is revealed, of course it takes no time for members of the scientific community to start up pleas to study Ava. Specialist doctors show up in Stone Temple, loaded down with cameras and electrode equipment. What they don't realize is that each time Ava taps into her gift, it weakens her with each healing. With each "save", Ava battles through various illnesses, temporary blindness, drastic weight loss, persistent chills, at one point even falling into a coma. Still, it doesn't stop locals from visiting her, asking for help "just one more time". How many healings does she have in her before the damage is irreversible?


There's quite a bit of sadness weighing this story down. The plot centers around that transitional period in life between the magic of childhood and the painful realities of adulthood, the earliest moments when adulthood begins to chip away at that youthful, dreamy optimism with the stark realities of sickness, death, fractured relationships. But there's also that internal fight to hold onto some of the former magic.... what a struggle that can be!


Macon, as the father character, was a bit of a disappointment. For a father and sheriff, there seemed to be a lack of backbone in him. Often, when at a loss for what to do in a situation, he chooses to just go with the crowd, sometimes to the detriment of his daughter's well-being. Carmen, Ava's stepmother, seemed much more protective of her. The relationship between Ava and Walsh is what really drives the story along. 


This was one of those ones where the plot had a ton of potential but fell flat on the follow through. I was really expecting a heavier presence of the fantasy / paranormal element to be worked in but it just never really reached the intensity I was hoping for. Good story in the moment, but much of it fades from memory pretty quick. I will say though, there are quite a few powerfully written passages... makes me curious to pick up some of Mott's other work! 


"... I can't think of a single time when I didn't want to hear the sound of your voice... just talk to me, Wash. Sing something to me. I just want to hear your voice a little more...."


Beneath the roof of the old cabin, among the dust and the cold night wind that came through the broken window, carried on the legs of the moonlight, beneath the gentle crackling of the fire and the warmth that was filling the cabin more and more, beneath it all a boy held tightly to the girl he loved and a girl slept in the arms of the boy she loved and the rest of the world did not exist.


The paperback edition includes a reader's guide with discussion questions, author Q&A and an excerpt of Mott's debut novel, The Returned (which later inspired a tv show by the same name). 

2 Stars
Snake Mouth by Anne Jordan
Snake Mouth - Anne Jordan

Tina Walton is a poor little girl who has Tourette Syndrome. Unfortunately, Tina is not aware of what is happening to her. She believes that she is behaving badly and will go to hell for her actions. Sadly, her teacher and classmates reiterate the messages that she is a "bad girl" who must be punished. When a natural disaster strikes, resulting part of her village destroyed and some local residents losing their lives, Tina is struck with utter terror, hiding out in the cottage, believing the darkness is actually her being taken to hell. Fortunately, hope is found in friendship: the unusual combination of the wonderful Mrs. Lily and former renegade Kenneth. But can Tina find faith in the God who, for years, she has resented for not protecting her?






Young Tina Walton has been given a bad deal in life. She came into this world with what locals call "The Devil's Signature", a birthmark on her leg in a shape vaguely resembling a demon's tail. Just with this mark, Tina's aunt raises her to believe she's already destined to end up in hell. As Tina moves through childhood, more than once she resorts to various means of self-harm to get "the badness" out. (Note to readers: the topic of self-harm is only quietly and subtly referenced in a few brief lines out of the whole book, so the threat of possibly triggering material is minimal.)


As she grows, so do the physical problems: bowed legs, a tongue too big for her mouth, a stutter that becomes more pronounced when she's upset, and an undiagnosed case of Tourette Syndrome. Not being very popular in school, Tina has a lot of disciplinary action flung her way. Classmates give her the moniker "Snake Mouth" (or specifically, "Snake Mouth Idiot"), complete with accompanying chant, because of her tendency to bite people when she's stressed or feels threatened.  


Her personal daily hell isn't limited to school. Since the whereabouts of her parents have been kept a secret her whole life, Tina grows up under the care of mean Aunt Elizabeth with the frequently sour demeanor, whom Tina secrets thinks of as "The Ghost" because of her talent for entering a room silently and scaring people. It's easy to feel for Tina, witnessing her being forced to grow up under the "care" of this guardian who is often such a moody, abusive beast to live with, one who feels her horrendous behavior can be excused simply by maintaining a Christian exterior and making it into church every Sunday. 


Though her neighbors in the river community of Lynmouth are generally kind to her (perhaps largely out of pity), there are very few around her Tina can truly call friends. Her primary friend is neighbor Robbie Reynolds, one year younger than her and with a mild developmental delay. Beyond that friendship, Tina has Angela, a doll she found discarded in the street and decided to rescue. Tina tells all her daily events and secrets to Tina at the end of each night before hiding her in the floorboards so Aunt Elizabeth won't be tempted to snatch her and throw her away. 


Realizing that self-harm isn't the healthy way to process pain, Tina takes to watching the river on her emotional low days, focusing on the movement of the river to help her process her thoughts and emotions in a productive manner. It is by the river that Tina first meets Mrs. Lilly. Though Tina is moved by Mrs. Lilly's kindnesses towards her, her experiences up to that point make her wary of anyone being nice to her. But she does let the friendship develop over time, and that interaction seems to open doors for other good people to come into Tina's life. When she is hospitalized with a case of measles, Tina meets fellow measles sufferer Carol, who helps Tina work through a reading disability, mainly through the use of a copy of Heidi by Johanna Spyri.



I walked to my window and opened my curtains a little bit... the day had dawned pastry-golden. I opened my arms wide and circled its pale hug. I needed it. At least the sun was glad to see me. It cheered me up a bit.


There's a halfway decent story here with plenty of potential but oh my, could this have benefited from a few more drafts and / or a better editor! The execution of everything, from plot to straight up book layout, is just MESSY. A few of the main problems that stood out to me:


* The plot is meant to revolve around the actual Lynmouth Flood Disaster of Devon, England in 1952... but in actuality, very little of the plot rides on that event. The author does nothing to build up the feeling of anxiety in the reader for the impending doom. In fact, the storm that led to the flood is not mentioned at all until Part 2, about 95 pages into a book that's less than 200 pages total. 


* The Tourette theme is also not well established. Though it's mentioned, and there are occasional descriptions of something triggering a fit in Tina's face, for the bulk of the story she shows virtually no symptoms of any sort of impairment.


* On the back cover of the book, the synopsis says Tina "wants to be a good person like Grammer Esther".... it's not explained who Grammer Esther is until near the end of the book.


* Also on the back cover, Tina is described as a teen, so for the early chapters I was confused because Tina's voice, and that of her classmates, read MUCH younger. Then I get to the chapter that states she's only NINE. Tina doesn't even START her teen years until the third to last chapter of the book. 


* Some of the dialogue comes off a little wooden. 


* Christian tones feel forced.


* Opening the book with a passage from the POV of a river pixie ended up being confusing and unnecessary IMO, as this wasn't a fantasy novel at all, there's no magical realism woven in to the main plot, and Tina only mentions pixies in passing a few times as she's feeling contemplative by the river. 


So, the TLDR version of all this: while the story ideas in general had potential, and Tina is a character who is easy to empathize with, much of the book still read like a rough draft to me. 


FTC DISCLAIMER: Bookcrash.com and Sarah Grace Publishing (aka Malcolm Down Publishing) kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

4 Stars
Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson
Albert of Adelaide - Howard L. Anderson

Having escaped from Australia's Adelaide Zoo, an orphaned platypus named Albert embarks on a journey through the outback in search of "Old Australia," a rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace. What he will find there, however, away from the safe confinement of his enclosure for the first time since his earliest memories, proves to be a good deal more than he anticipated. Alone in the outback, with an empty soft drink bottle as his sole possession, Albert stumbles upon pyromaniacal wombat Jack, and together they spend a night drinking and gambling in Ponsby Station, a rough-and-tumble mining town. Accused of burning down the local mercantile, the duo flees into menacing dingo territory and quickly go their separate ways-Albert to pursue his destiny in the wastelands, Jack to reconcile his past. Encountering a motley assortment of characters along the way-a pair of invariably drunk bandicoots, a militia of kangaroos, hordes of the mercurial dingoes, and a former prize-fighting Tasmanian devil-our unlikely hero will discover a strength and skill for survival he never suspected he possessed. Told with equal parts wit and compassion, ALBERT OF ADELAIDE shows how it is often the unexpected route, and the most improbable companions, that lead us on the path to who we really are.





In this anthropomorphic work --- Howard Anderson's debut novel --- we meet Albert, an orphaned duck-billed platypus living in Australia's Adelaide Zoo. One day Albert makes the bold decision to escape the zoo, starting an adventure that will take him across the Outback in search of Old Australia, a fabled place rumored to be a land of liberty, promise, and peace.


On his travels, the only property to Albert's name is an empty soda bottle. Before long, he meets Jack, a pyromaniac wombat with a handlebar moustache & drover's coat. They join up, traveling together to (on Jack's suggestion) Ponsby Station, a rough mining town filled with crews of bandicoots and wallabies.  After a long night of drinking, Jack ends up getting Albert into quite a bit of trouble. What starts as an innocent trek for Albert quickly progresses into more of a life on the run.


Right from the start, this novel brings on the social commentary, in regards to humans and their irresponsible behavior towards the planet. There's also something of the immigrant experience story, what with each character having their own various reasons for traveling / moving in hopes for a better life, things they're looking to escape... but Anderson brings a twist to that theme. Anderson also touches upon the topic of racism. In one notable scene, platypus Albert approaches a business only to find a sign that says "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who isn't a marsupial."


Though there is something of a childlike vibe to the story --- touches of Wind in the Willows, maybe even a little Watership Down --- READERS, TAKE NOTE: THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN'S NOVEL. It has very definite adult themes as far as the levels of alcoholism, crime, violence, depression, etc. There are scenes of animals cutting the throats of their foes, these moments informing Albert that this land he finds himself in is no fairytale, one WILL die out here if not careful! 


Though Jack is not always the most likeable character in his actions, you can count on him to bring the comic relief in the heavier scenes. Take the early meeting between Jack & Albert, for instance: Albert has been traveling long and hard, he's out of food and water, scared of his surroundings, bumps into Jack who asks, "What brings you out this way?" Albert replies, "Adelaide" to which Jack answers back, "Mmmm... always a woman." 


There's also a cake joke in here where ... well, I couldn't help it, it made me think of the ongoing cake joke that runs through the videogame Portal.


While on the surface, I would say this story would be a good recommendation for lovers of Westerns, I would argue that it could, at least on some level, also be interpreted as allegorical, a parable for the need to earnestly pursue one's dreams in a world suffocating under the weight of sheep mentality.  The happiest moments come when Albert finds the confidence to shake off societal expectations and embrace who / what he is on the most basic, organic level. He learns to stop getting caught up in the why or why not of a scenario and just embrace the experience itself, as is. 


All the characters are fun, but what really kept me reading was wanting to know more about this mysterious Muldoon character. Throughout the novel, he seems this terribly important and powerful figure, but is only spoken of in the vaguest terms. 

4 Stars
The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert
The Crooked Path - Irma Joubert

Lettie has always felt different from and overshadowed by the women around her– this friend is richer, that friend is more beautiful, those friends are closer. Still, she doesn’t let this hold her back. She works hard to apply her mind, trying to compensate for her perceived lack of beauty with diligent academic work and a successful career as a doctor. She learns to treasure her friendships, but she still wonders if any man will ever return her interest. Marco’s experience in the second world war have robbed him of love and health. When winters in his native Italy prove dangerous to his health even after the war has ended, he moves to South Africa to be with his brother, husband to one of Lettie’s best friends. Marco is Lettie’s first patient, and their relationship grows as she aids him on the road back to restored health. In the company of beloved characters from The Child of the River, Marco and Lettie find a happiness that neither of them thought possible. With that joy comes pain and loss, but Lettie learns that life—while perhaps a crooked path—is always a journey worth taking. 





As a child, Lettie Louw struggles with the beauty and success of so many women around her, close friends included, leaving her with a distinct feeling of being "less than". With her thick glasses and overweight frame working against her, Lettie can't seem to catch the eye of her secret crush, De Wet Fourier, who also happens to be the older brother of Lettie's good friend Klara. 


After having her heart crushed the night Lettie spots De Wet making out with another of Lettie's friends, Annabel, she makes the choice to just take her mind off men altogether. The rest of her high school years, she dedicates herself to her studies. As the years of WW2 approach, Lettie watches her circle of friends go off to jump into wartime experiences while she hangs back to follow in the footsteps of her father and attend medical school. During her time in college, Lettie occassionally tries going on dates, but often re-experiences the sensation of being passed over by guys who see the better opportunity girl down the lane. Once again, she finds comfort in burying herself in studies. 


Henceforth, she decided, men would be colleagues, maybe friends. Nothing more. Because men cause pain, intense pain -- especially handsome, friendly men.


From there the story breaks away from Lettie's world to introduce the reader to the story of Marco and Rachel. Marco Romanelli is an Italian Catholic who meets Russian Jew Rachel Rozenfeld when her family moves to his town in Italy. Despite their religious differences, Marco wins Rachel's heart only to face possibly being separated and imprisoned with the invasion of the Nazi Party. Marco survives the war years but takes with him a chronic lung condition that will plague him the rest of his life. Struggling to maintain his health in his native Italy, it's decided he would benefit from a move to the drier climate of South Africa, where one of his brothers has already settled into a relationship with one of Lettie's friends. This novel may have a rather circuitous feel to the reader, but consider the main theme of the novel: "Even a crooked path leads somewhere."  Joubert make take the long way 'round at times but I promise, it's all interconnected. 


By the time Marco arrives in South Africa, Lettie is a full-fledged doctor fresh out of school. Marco becomes her first official patient.


SIDE RANT: Can I have just a minute to say how AGGRAVATING it was how hung up this town was on her "awkward" period? The girl keeps her nose to the grindstone, pushes herself through med school, becomes the town's first female doctor. Once she starts making some money, she wants to treat herself a bit, get herself some nice dresses, get her hair done now and then.... and what happens whenever she goes into the shops? "Hey, remember when you used to be such a weird, ugly fat kid? Lookatcha now! But seriously, you were so awkward back in the day...." ALL THE TIME WITH THIS. I guess maybe this bugged me because I go through something similar whenever I visit my hometown lol... You just want to scream, hey thanks for bringing up one of the most painfully long periods of my life... repeatedly... get over it! People grow up! Okay, anyway.... 


A slow but deep bond grows between them. Marco realizes that while he thought he had found love before, there's a distinct difference between first rushed love and an honest soulmate who just truly "gets" you. When you find that person where you never have to explain or make excuses for anything about yourself, that's not something to be taken lightly! Lettie, though she doesn't disagree, takes a little more convincing to push past her concerns of the need of professional distance. But life eventually sorts itself out and we're carried through a number of years until the next big upset of Lettie's life. More tragedy, more heartbreak to navigate, before Lettie's own crooked path eventually leads her back to Marco's hometown in Italy. Though it only starts out as a vacation with friends, this trip will reveal a new life path to her she could've never anticipated. 


Following Lettie from girlhood to retirement years, it's  quite the whirlwind of relatable emotions the reader travels through with this one! Not only through Lettie, but also the stories of the other ladies as they grow up together --- Annabel, Klara, Christine --- through all of them combined it's a powerful reading experience, seeing how relationships develop, grow, even change as we age... sometimes forcing us to face the reality that the adult / older version of a friend may not live up to the warmth the memory of their childhood version instilled in us. How far does one take a friendship before one or both parties might have to admit defeat and say the relationship is irreparable? As Lettie comes to find out for herself, from time to time that process could include the lesson that what may feel like a dead-end or some other sort of stagnation in life might actually be just a preparatory pause for the next big thing! 


If you read and enjoyed Joubert's previous novel, Child of the River, showcasing the relationship development of Persomi and Boelie, more of their story is offered up (in the background plot) here in The Crooked Path


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 






*Note: Though some of the characters carry over between books, the connections are loose enough that these stories can be read as stand-alones. 





2 Stars
Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall
Loving My Actual Neighbor - Alexandra Kuykendall

As Christians, we know we are called to love our neighbor. We may even grasp that "neighbor" encompasses more than just the people living next door or down the street. But what we too often don't know is how to begin. How do we love our neighbor? Where do we start? What does this look like in our increasingly isolated world? Following practices outlined in the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra Kuykendall lays out the framework for where to begin. From practicing humility to listening with understanding to being generous in our relationships, Loving My Actual Neighbor offers practical, start-now steps readers can take to love their neighbors. With her approachable, friendly tone and down-to-earth advice, Kuykendall has carved out for herself a place in the hearts of readers, who will be thrilled to extend her commonsense approach into this sphere of their lives.






In this latest installment of her Loving My Actual ______ series, Kuykendall ponders on the question: In an increasingly socially isolating world, how does one go about showing love for one's neighbor. Her use of the word "neighbor", she clarifies, isn't limited to one's literal next door neighbor, but really anyone we come in close proximity to throughout the course of our lives. 


The inspiration for this newest book came to Alexandra through her realization that she knew little to nothing of the woman living across the street from her for several years --- even though they had spoken briefly a number of times. Alexandra knew they had common ground between them, both being mothers of young children, but for the life of her, she could never remember her neighbor's name! Kuykendall compiles stories of not only her own journey to be a better neighbor, but also those of her friends and acquaintances who'd had a similar epiphany and also put themselves on a path toward change. 


Considering all these accounts she gathers together, Kuykendall comes up with a seven step plan on how to better appreciate our fellow humans. Using biblical text, primarily pulling from 2 Peter, Kuykendall's system brings it all back to the basics of just being a good-hearted human being. She encourages readers to pursue strong, nurturing relationships with others on a foundation of humility, empathy, and, ideally, unconditional generosity.  Each chapter closes on prompts for reflection: "Scripture to Digest" (relevant bible passage to think on); "Questions for Reflection"; "Practicing the Practice", which offers Pay It Forward type ideas to engage with others, making extra effort to speak to the lonely or isolated, etc; and "A Call To Saturday Living", a sort of meditative prayer focusing on how to best implement the themes of that chapter. 




1. Holding a posture of humility

2. Asking questions to learn

3. Being quiet to listen

4. Standing in the awkward

5. Accepting what is

6. Lightening up

7. Giving freely


Once you have that foundation down, Kuykendall branches out into more specific suggestions of bonding with your neighbor: 


* Re: Conversations: Use open-ended questions, followed by clarification questions to show you are truly listening to the speaker, as well as follow-up questions for a later meet-up, to show you've been thinking of them. She points out: you never know when you might be the one person who bothered to check in on them when they needed it most! She also reminds readers to be prepared for an honest response to your questions and be empathetic enough to hear the person out! Additionally, take non-verbal cues into consideration (body language, facial expressions) and consider the setting of the conversation. Is the subject matter something that requires privacy? Is the setting generally hospitable?


* Cultural Filters: When interacting with others, consider specifics of the situation that may make their reaction different from what you might expect. Are they in mourning? Otherwise suffered a trauma? Are there cultural differences to take into account --- something that seems fine to you but might be considered offensive to them?


* Disputes: how to best give or receive forgiveness


* Food / Humor: useful in diffusing difficult situations


* Teamwork: tips on how to successfully partner with neighbors on projects



At the end of the book, Kuykendall offers a supplement, several pages long, entitled "More Ways To Connect With Your Neighbor". Within are a few different segments: "Additional Ideas for Practicing the Practice", "10 Ways to Connect with Families Throughout the Year" "10 Ways to Love Your Homebound Neighbor", and "10 Reasons to Have a Block Party".


When taking all this information in, Kuykendall frequently reminds her readers, practice makes perfect. This is not meant to be a one and done process, but an entire reboot in one's social interaction, intended to be carried out (hopefully) for the rest of your days. One of the portions I found most helpful was questions to ask when checking your motives for doing something:


* Am I investing in the outcome or the process?

* Am I expecting something in return?

* What am I willing to give up in order to love my neighbors well? 

* Would I do it anonymously?

* Will there be unintended consequences?


My honest response to this book, having read the previous two? This was my least favorite of the bunch. I got a lot out of the first two, and while there were still some good tips in this third one, and while I love that Kuykendall terms herself a "kitchen anthropologist", this third offering in the series had a few areas I found disturbingly problematic, given the theme of the work.


Yes, it has helpful pointers, but largely the message is one of common sense human decency. I don't know if she ran short on ideas and had to hit word count, but like many a self-help book out there, she establishes a few key points early on and then pretty much just repackages those ideas in numerous different ways throughout the following chapters. 


Beyond the repetitive nature of the text, there was an underlying element to this book that just SCREAMED privilege and bias. She swears she's not a judgmental person, yet some of her actions involving those of a lower income bracket than her family would (at least in part) indicate otherwise. There's even a line where she says (verbatim),"I have relationships with people who live in poverty." Wow. Okay. Way to put yourself out there?


Then there's the weird and frequent focus on the race of her various neighbors, usually closing with a pat on the back for herself for interacting with a minority without making it too awkward. In fact, there's a healthy dose of quiet humble brag throughout the whole book. But at least she does acknowledge that she does see needing to consistently work on her prideful nature. 


It's a worthwhile topic for discussion --- being better people to our fellow man --- and Kuykendall brings up fair suggestions.... but really, it's stuff we should know anyway, if we've been raised right.  Sadly, now, my once happy opinion of her work has been somewhat tainted over the privileged, disconnected tone that came through this latest work. 


FTC Disclaimer: Baker Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 



My reviews for the previous two books in this series:










(Scroll down to bottom of page to see video)



3.5 Stars
Glory Bishop by Deborah L. King
Glory Bishop - Deborah L. King

Glory Bishop lives her life in pieces. At work and with her friends, she reads novels, speaks her mind, and enjoys slow dances and stolen kisses with her boyfriend, JT. But at home, Glory follows strict rules and second-guesses every step. Though she dreams of going to college and living like a normal teenage girl, her abusive mother has other ideas. When JT leaves to join the navy, Glory is left alone and heartsick. The preacher's son, Malcolm Porter, begins to shower her with lavish gifts, and her mother pushes Glory to accept his advances. Glory is torn between waiting for true love with JT or giving in to the overzealous Malcolm. When a stranger attacks Glory on the street, Malcolm steps in to rescue her, and her interest in him deepens. But the closer she gets to him, the more controlling he becomes. Glory must eventually decide whether to rely on others or to be her own savior.





POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This story addresses the topic of domestic abuse / abusive relationships (both emotional and physical abuse).



Glory Bishop, our title character, starts out her story a pretty typical teen for the most part, her life revolving around school, church, her job at the beauty parlor, and getting in as much time with boyfriend J.T. as possible. The one major hardship she downplays is the abuse she suffers at the hands of her mother. Glory's mother excuses her own inexcusable behavior under the guise of religious fervor. In her mind, it's not abuse, it's her battling to save the soul of Glory.


Growing up in Chicago in the 1980s, Glory is a romantic at heart. She loves books and dreams of going to college, but also wouldn't mind a nice, cozy life with J.T. But plans change once J.T. announces he's enlisted in the Navy and will be away for the better part of three years. He asks her to wait for him, she agrees... but Glory is just a teen, and soon temptation of other opportunities comes knocking at her door, namely in the form of the pastor's son, Malcolm. 


It's a struggle: Glory can't shake her love for J.T., whom she's had an intense bond with since elementary school. J.T. used to do his best to protect Glory from the worst of her mother's wrath, but with him gone, now there's Malcolm on the scene flattering her with attention, subtlety offering the opportunity for the same kind of protection. Then one night Glory is attacked in the streets and Malcolm is there to stop an attempted rape. Now she feels indebted to him, and maybe he uses that to his advantage. Shortly after that night, Malcolm is calling on Glory at her house, requesting dates, lavishing gifts on her and her mother. While Glory isn't immune to this new man's attentions, part of her can't help but feel things are moving a little too fast. Additionally, there's the 10 year age gap between Glory and Malcolm that at times feels powerful, other times wrong. What does a nearly thirty year old man want with an underage teen?


"I saved you from a monster and you saved me from a monster. God put us together. You don't get to question that. Glory Bishop, you are my lady. That is not a request."


~ Malcolm


It doesn't seem to bother Glory's mother though! She loves Malcolm's "godly" background as an up and coming youth minister on the fast track to having his own church one day soon. Glory's mother pushes the poor girl to pursue this relationship full-force and be obedient to every one of Malcolm's requests or demands. Glory tries... and things might have been alright... if it weren't for that darn independent streak of hers! That, and Malcolm's own behavioral shift. While he was quite the gentleman early on, the more time they spend together the more controlling he becomes. First it's a harsh word here, a painful wrist grab there. Then it's flat-out smacks across the face... and we see Glory move into the classic defensive pose of someone who starts to suspect they're in an abusive relationship but isn't ready to outwardly admit it. When others start to question mood changes in her and hard-to-hide facial bruising, she's quick to give dismissals like "he's going through a lot right now", "it was a misunderstanding", "it's not as bad as it looks."


The irony of the situation is how Malcolm starts acting like a mob boss, insisting Glory have 24 hour security detail whenever he's not available, yet he progressively becomes her biggest threat. Still, she can't shake the feeling that she's indebted to him for saving her from her attacker that night, and for all the financial help he's provided her and her mother since. It doesn't help that Glory's mother tries to sell her the idea that if a man provides well for you financially that it's your DUTY to do whatever he wants, no arguments. Eeesh, with a mom like that.... 


Thankfully, the one big HEALTHY adult presence in Glory's life is her boss from the beauty parlor, Herschel, who has acted as a kind of surrogate father in her life since her biological one passed. His heart-to-hearts with her really help Glory to pinpoint what she herself wants out of life, regardless of demands anyone else tries to make on her time. His wisdom also helps her see someone doing a kindness for you is just that, a kindness, something they CHOOSE to do for you... by all means, thank them, but also realize that it's not an obligation for you to hand over to them an entire lifetime of freedoms in return.


This was one consistently tough read to get through, for the sheer heartbreak around Glory's story. I mean, you have to admire her tenacity to push through all these various forms of oppression, but it's not easy to move through pages of scenes with this young teenage girl having men left and right trying to command ownership over her body and soul. And then to boot, there's this mother who seems so at ease victim-blaming her own child. In one scene, with the sight of one side of Mercy's face beaten as a result of Malcolm's temper flare, does the mother show concern? Or even rage at a man who dared to lay hands on her baby?? Nah, she comes back with a comment basically calling out Mercy for being too mouthy: "I almost took a cord to you myself." This reaction then has Mercy thinking, "My mother not only approves but thinks I deserve worse." What a crushing realization for one to have about their own parent! By that point in the story, man, I was rooting for Glory and her impromptu night of flirtations with comic book guy! After all that, she deserved someone sweet like that...and, ahem, HER OWN AGE.


With all this in mind, let me mention that this text has a fair amount of profanity within the story. Just a note for anyone who is sensitive to foul language or just prefers to avoid it in general. 


King provides an impressive amount of attention to environmental detail, so we really get a solid picture of what Glory's world looks like. While I found myself wishing for the character development to go a little deeper with all our primary characters, I will say Glory Bishop --- the novel as a whole --- is an honest, realistic portrayal of an abusive relationship and the confused blend of feelings that runs through the victim's mind at that point when they're either not aware or only just starting to come to realization that that is the reality of their "love" life. We see Malcolm and the mother dish out abuses on Glory, followed by moments of sweetness and affection... classic tool of abusers to leave victims all mind-muddled. It's easy to understand why Glory struggles to decide a path in life, because the good moments have her feeling guilty about bringing attention to the bad. 


While I enjoyed the story for the most part, I was disappointed with the closing scene. I felt a bit short-changed with the abruptness of it after all the emotional investment asked of the reader. I wouldn't mind a follow-up story to see where Glory eventually landed. 


FTC Disclaimer: Author Deborah King kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

4 Stars
Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman
Night of the Twisters - Ivy Ruckman

When a tornado watch is issued one Tuesday evening in June, twelve-year-old Dan Hatch and his best friend, Arthur, don't think much of it. After all, tornado warnings are a way of life during the summer in Grand Island, Nebraska. But soon enough, the wind begins to howl, and the lights and telephone stop working. Then the emergency siren starts to wail. Dan, his baby brother, and Arthur have only seconds to get to the basement before the monstrous twister is on top of them. Little do they know that even if they do survive the storm, their ordeal will have only just begun..





When a tornado warning goes into effect for the small town of Grand Island, Nebraska, twelve year old Dan Hatch and his best friend, Arthur, don't take it all that seriously... at least, not at first. They figure tornado warnings are not uncommon for the area and usually little to nothing scary comes of it, so all they'd have to do is plunk down to a movie and calmly wait it all out. Little did they know, this particular night would be one for the record books. In just a matter of hours, the citizens of Grand Island find themselves center stage in one scary story of survival against the elements.


The story opens retrospectively, with Dan recounting the events of that traumatic day that ended up killing four people and injuring nearly 140 more in the span of just three hours. Looking back, Dan remembers all the little things can could now be viewed as precursors to the coming disaster: the day turning nearly pitch black early on in the afternoon, phone lines beginning to malfunction, lights flickering. Arthur and Dan are hanging out at Dan's house, being typical young boys enjoying time away from school, when they are both soon separated from their families. With Dan's parents away checking on neighbors and other nearby family members, Dan and Arthur are left alone in the house with Dan's baby brother, Ryan. Once Dan realizes the storm is undeniably headed their way, he grabs his brother and everyone heads to the basement bathroom to huddle in the shower, hoping they survive the tornado passing over the house. 


The boys survive, climb out of the house rubble to discover virtually the entire town has been leveled and they have no clue where any of the rest of their family members may be. They head out walking, hoping to run into someone. Before long, they run into Arthur's sister, Stacey. With one more in their group, the kids set out to try to locate their parents.


Set during the Carter administration era, this middle grade novel offers a steady amount of action for young readers, as well as plenty of heart. With the trauma of natural disaster now in their memory banks, these kids get a tough lesson in what really has true, deep, non-monetary value in life. The plot itself also provides a minimal, entry-level education on what hardships one can possibly expect after surviving a natural disaster.


I figured then that nothing else mattered. You can do without all kinds of things --- your house, your bike, your room, a whole city of people --- if you have the ones you love.


This story sounded vaguely familiar once I started reading it. A quick internet search reminded me that this had been given a film adaptation (by the same name) in the 90s and the story itself was loosely inspired by an actual event, also dubbed Night of the Twisters, when seven tornados actually did touch down in the town of Grand Island, Nebraska one night in the 1980s.

3.5 Stars
The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena
The Taste of Apple Seeds - Katharina Hagena

When Iris unexpectedly inherits her grandmother's house in the country, she also inherits the painful memories that live there. Iris gives herself a one-week stay at the old house, after which she'll make a decision: keep it, or sell it. The choice is not so simple, though, for her grandmother's cottage is an enchanting place where currant jam tastes of tears, sparks fly from fingertips, love's embrace makes apple trees blossom, and the darkest family secrets never stay buried, but instead pulsate in the house's nooks and shadows. As Iris moves in and out of the flicker between remembrance and forgetting, she chances upon a forgotten childhood friend who could become more.






Iris is informed she's been left the family home in Bootshaven, Germany, after the death of her grandmother, Bertha. Iris decides to give herself one week to live in the house and decide whether to keep or sell the place. Not an easy decision for our Iris... while she remembers a certain enchantment about the place during her childhood years, she acknowledges that the land also holds plenty of painful memories for the family. 


What I particularly loved about my job was rooting out forgotten books, books that had been sitting in the same spot for hundreds of years, probably never read, covered with a thick layer of dust, and yet which had outlived the millions of people who hadn't read them.


Iris, now a librarian (there are a number of Shakespeare references woven into the story), thinks on how the house has been minimally maintained all these years as Bertha slowly wilted away in a nursing home under the weight of progressing dementia. During her stay this time around, Iris learns long-hidden stories about the family, one being that of Aunt Inga. Inga, almost from birth, seemed to have the ability to shoot currents of electricity from her fingertips... but it wasn't really much of a gift for her, as it ended up hurting anyone who touched her. She also couldn't ride bicycles because of the metal and couldn't listen to radios because they'd only produce static noise around her. 



Later, I moved on to collecting words and mining the crystalline realms of hermetic poetry. But behind all this collecting was the same craving for magical, animated worlds in sleeping things. When I was a child I had a vocabulary book where I kept special words... they were listed under the following categories: "beautiful words", "ugly words", "false words", "contorted words", and "secret words". Under "beautiful words" I had written: rosy, fragrant, pitter-patter, banana, mellifluous, foxglove, lullaby. The "ugly words" were: scrotum, gurnard, moist, crabby. "False words" angered me because they pretended to be harmless but in fact they were nasty or dangerous, like "aftershock" and "growth". Or they pretended to be magical, like "marigold" and "kingpin," but were disappointingly normal. Or they described something that wasn't clear to anybody: no two people would picture the same color if they heard the word "crimson."


The "contorted words" were a sort of hobby of mine --- or perhaps an illness. Maybe it amounted to the same thing. My favorite animals included the "hippotatomus", the "rhinosheros" and the "woodspeckler". I found it funny to "hoover over the abyss" and loved the line from Richard III that went "now is the discount of our winter tents." I knew what "antidisestablishmentarianism" was, but what was "pantyfishersentscaryrhythm"? I fancied it could be a menacing drumbeat to which one might retrieve one's knickers from the lake.


The "secret words" were the hardest to find, but that was not surprising. They were words that behaved as if they were entirely normal but in fact harbored something quite different, something wonderful. So the opposite of the "false words." I was comforted by the fact that the sports stadium at our school was home to a sweet-sounding holy man. His name was St. Adium and he was the patron saint of word games.


Iris also revisits various family legends and secrets and the stories of how her grandparents got together (the convoluted love story there... something of a ... what? quadrangle? lol), how her parents fell in love (the uniquely introverted way two shy people formed a bond), even her own love life. Iris has to work through some somewhat messy emotions of her own when she finds that a childhood friend, Max Ohmstedt, is now one of the lawyers involving in the estate settling process. Max has a certain boyish charm to his character, even in the way he professes horniness! 


Translated from the original German by Jamie Bulloch, this little story is STUFFED with characters! Just trying to keep track of the aunts is chore enough! If I have this right: We start with sisters Bertha and Anna. From there, a generation later, we meet Bertha's kids -- Harriet, Inga, and Christa. Christa is mother to main character Iris, Harriet becomes mother of Rosmarie, a cousin of Iris' who dies, leading Harriet to join a religious order, don beads and change her name to Mohani. 


A shared process of forgetting was just as strong a tie as a shared process of remembering. Perhaps even stronger... and I realized that not only was forgetting a form of remembering, but remembering was a form of forgetting too.


How true were the stories people told me, and how true were those that I stitched together myself from memories, guesswork, fantasies, and eavesdropping? Sometimes fabricated stories became true in hindsight, and some stories fabricated the truth. Truth is closely related to forgetting; I knew this because I still read dictionaries, encylopedias, catalogs, and other reference books. In the Greek word for truth, aletheia, the underworld river Lethe flows covertly. Whoever drank from this river discarded their memories as they already had their mortal coil, in preparation for the realm of shadows. And so the truth was what was not forgotten. But did it make sense to look for the truth where there was no forgetting? Didn't truth prefer to hide in the cracks and holes of memory? I couldn't get any further with words.


The Taste of Apple Seeds is a rich story with lots of slow-moving detail, giving the reader the sense of going through a memory chest. It's mostly enjoyable but at times can leave one feeling a bit tired out by it all. What mainly keeps the reader invested are all the questions the plot raises, namely the breadcrumbs of clues and details regarding the story of Rosmarie and her mysterious, traumatic death in the house. 


The wounds came with the house; they were part of my inheritance. And I had to take at least one look at them before I could stick the plaster of time back over them.


While a touch of magical realism is woven into the plot, the kind of magic discussed isn't so much that of witches, fairies and such... but more in the lyricism of Hagena's wordplay itself, the way she describes a kitchen scene or a night at the lake... the magic of nature itself, human or environmental. Ultimately, the story ends up being more about family bonds and secrets... how a house can be the vessel of generations of secrets and scandals, but does the strength of those secrets --- the consuming, sometimes detrimental need to keep them locked away --- come from the moment of perceived offense itself OR how much stock we ourselves invest in them over the years, maybe in connection to other unpleasant history within a family? Is that skeleton in the closet really as bad as we've made it out to be, all these generations later?



opening quote from The Taste of Apples

3 Stars
Just Who Will You Be? by Maria Shriver
Just Who Will You Be? - Maria Shriver

Just Who Will You Be is a candid, heartfelt, and inspirational book for seekers of all ages. Inspired by a speech she gave, Maria Shriver's message is that what you do in your life isn't what matters. It's who you are. It's an important lesson that will appeal to anyone of any age looking for a life of meaning. In her own life, Shriver always walked straight down her own distinctive path, achieving her childhood goal of becoming "award-winning network newswoman Maria Shriver". But when her husband was elected California's Governor and she suddenly had to leave her job at NBC News, Maria was thrown for a loop. Right about then, her nephew asked her to speak at his high school graduation. She resisted, wondering how she could possibly give advice to kids, when she was feeling so lost herself. But in the end she relented and decided to dig down and dig deep, and the result is this little jewel. Just Who Will You Be reminds us that the answer to many of life's question lie within -- and that we're all works in progress. That means it's never too late to become the person you want to be.






Published in 2008, this book form of Just Who Will You Be? serves as an extension of the commencement speech Maria Shriver gave at her nephew's high school graduation. 


 Traveling with her father as he ran for Vice President in 1972, the media coverage of that year inspired young Maria towards the goal of becoming an award-winning journalist / news anchor. Starting as a coffee runner, Shriver eventually does work her way up to a position at NBC News... a job she was asked to resign ("conflict of interest") once husband Arnold Schwarzeneger became Governor of California. Shriver also touches a bit on her famous family; being a part of the Kennedys, the niece of John, Robert and Ted; how her father, Sargent, founded the Peace Corps while mother Eunice created the Special Olympics.


The structure of the book is set up as 1) Intro 2) Main Speech 3) Thoughts after giving speech. At the back of the book Shriver also includes a "Pledge List", a list of ten affirmations she uses to keep herself motivated and includes blank lines for readers to write in their own favorite affirmations. My favorites of the ones Shriver shares are "I pledge to use my voice to empower myself and others" and "I pledge to avoid using the word 'just' to describe myself (ie, 'just a mother)."


Shriver encourages her audience to determine what their core values and beliefs are and use those as a foundation for working toward future successes. If you want to go for fame, ask yourself what you want to be famous FOR. She also incorporates reminders that it's okay, even healthy, to change and adjust your beliefs as you go along. Basically, her message boils down to the often used, if sometimes vague, "be yourself".


There's also an original Shriver poem included, though she does pull some inspiration from Dr Seuss's Oh, The Places You Will Go!. The poem itself is a little cringey, the rhythm a little off. There's a definite "pep talk from mom" feel to it, but the sentiment is nice.

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