Friday, December 31, 2021

When the Stars Go Dark

  When the Stars Go Dark
Author:  Paula McLain
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0593237897 / 978-0593237892

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The mother who tore off her dress when the  police came to her house with the news and then ran down the street in only her shoes, while her neighbors, even the ones who knew her well, hid behind their doors and windows, afraid of her grief."

Favorite Quote:  "For the longest time, I stand on Lansing Street thinking about beauty and terror. Evil. Grace. Suffering. Joy. How they're all here every day, everywhere. Teaching us how to keep stepping forward into our lives, our purpose. Long ago Corolla told me that it's not what happens to us that matters most, but how can learn to carry it. I'm starting to understand the difference, and how maybe the only way we can survive what's here, and what we are, is together."

The author's note for this book points out. "Every 73 seconds someone in America becomes the victim of sexual assault. Every nine minutes one of those victims is a child. 82% of victims under the age of eighteen are female." These are mind boggling statistics.

Within this statistic, the book weaves in the actual history of Polly Klaas. In 1993, twelve year old Polly Hannah Klaas was kidnapped from her home during a sleepover. The search for Polly lasted almost two months. During this time, the information about her disappearance was shared far and wide, with thousands of people at a grassroots level involved in the search for Polly. Sadly, only her body was found. She had been strangled. I don't know if Polly's family gave permission for the inclusion of her case in this book or if the information used is public record. I would hope that it would not hurt them in any way and perhaps even bring peace that their daughter is remembered and that talking about her may save someone else. I, for one, would not know about Polly Klaas except for this book.

Within these statistics and this historic case, the book builds the fictional story of a missing teenager in Mendocino and that of detective Anna Hart. Anna Hart is a product of the foster care system. A fortunate placement with a couple in Mendocino brought love and a home, but she has not been back for years. She is passionate about her work as a police detective, often working with the most fragile of victims. Trauma in her adult life brings her "home" again. News of a missing teenage forces her to get involved. That sets her on the trail of a kidnapper but also brings her fact to face again with the traumas of her own past.

To me, this book is not really about the suspense of who the kidnapper is. I do guess that relatively early on simply because there are not that many characters in the book. To me, this book is also not really about the life Anna is running from - her husband and her child. I do wish more had been explained about those relationships.

To me, this book is about the damaged, flawed characters all dealing with the traumas of their past. It is about the emotional and psychological impact of childhood traumas. It is about bringing attention to the so very important issue of abuse and violence against women, particularly against children. The book is dark - by title, by subject matter, and by tone. However, it ends on a note of hope and light in some ways. It brings the statistics to life in a tragic, visual way that I will remember for a long while.

The author's note comes at the end of this book. I am very curious as this book is such a departure from the historical fiction I have read so far from the author, and I want to understand from what the story emanates. This is certainly not what I expect. "Writing a novel is such an interesting mix of effort and surrender, of control and vulnerability. It wasn't until late in the stages of drafting that it fully dawned on me just why I was so drawn to tell this articular story and not any other. My troubled detective, Anna Hart, is obsessed with trauma and healing, with intimate violence and the complex hidden connection between victims and predators, because I'm obsessed with those things, and long have been. I've given her other parts of me too - a version of my childhood spent in foster care, and my abiding love of the natural world as deep medicine. What Anna knows and thinks about the hidden scars of sexual abuse, I know as a sexual abuse survivor." Wow. Just wow.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Beautiful Ones

The Beautiful  Ones
  The Beautiful Ones
Publication Information:  TOR Trade. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250785561 / 978-1250785565

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Hector was like a castaway who had washed up on a room of velvet curtains and marble floors."

Favorite Quote:  "All we ultimately have to do is believe. We focus our mind on one single point, one single purpose, and we push. We grasp. We manipulate wood and glass and iron. However, the greatest trick is the belief. Belief is what makes it read."

Who are the beautiful ones of Loisail? They are the notable, wealthy elite. "Nothing matters more than money to us, the Beautiful Ones who walk down these city streets in pristine gloves and silk-lined garments. You can give yourself the luxury of love because you are not one of us. That is why you are my friend: because despite everything, at heart you remain an innocent."

Amongst the beautiful ones are two relative outsiders. Antonina "Nina" Beaulieu has been sent to her cousin's house for the Grand Season; she comes with her family's hopes that she will make good match. Hector Auvury is telekinetic who has traveled the world as a performer but who has returned to Loisail in the hopes of reconnecting with his former fiancé Valérie Beaulieu. Valérie Beaulieu, as the name might suggest, is married to Nina's cousin. As a way of approach, Hector decides to get to Valérie by courting Nina instead.

So begins this triangle. It weaves through the drawing rooms, walks, and balls that comprise the Grand Season. Hector and Nina find more in common than they might have imagined. Hector still has to reckon with Valérie's betrayal when they were both young. Nina knows nothing of this past. Valérie bears her own regrets about trading love for wealth and security. "We say a great many things when we are young. Eventually, we grow wiser." With those regrets come anger and grudges.

The telekinetic skills add a mystery and fantasy to the story. The triangle includes twists that surprise. The era of the Grand Season and the wealthy adds a Victorian touch with "proper" behavior, societal censure, and even duels. The story is slow to begin but builds to a dramatic, unexpected conclusion. 

Through the book, the sweet, somewhat innocent country-cousin-come-to-the-city Nina evolves and finds her own strength. I find myself rooting for her in life and in love. Hector is the hero from the wrong side of the tracks trying to make good. Although his actions are not all likable, overall, he too is a character to root for.

What I find most fascinating of all is the dramatic difference between this book and the first I read by the author. Gods of Jade and Shadow is based in mythology, with gods and goddesses and the characters traveling through time and space. This one has its magical element but is a story very much of this earth and the have and the have nots. The villain in this one is very much human. That being said, both books are about young, independent female protagonists - completely different from each other yet both on a journey of discovering and honoring their own strengths. For that, both stories work. I look forward to what Silvia Morena-Garcia writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Betrayals

The Betrayals
  The Betrayals
Author:  Bridget Collins
Publication Information:  William Morrow. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0062838121 / 978-0062838124

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Tonight the moonlight makes the floor of the Great Hall into a game board."

Favorite Quote:  "We search for the divine everywhere, she could say, and we may find it in the grand jeu or in the liturgy or both. There were grands jeux played in the Hagia Sophia and in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and at the Western Wall. It is modern arrogance to imagine that the divinity we hope to touch through the grand jeu is better than, or even different to, the deities of other religions. A young way to worship is not necessarily a better way, not is it the only way..."


This book appears set in a controlled, dystopian society where disagreeing with the powers that be will get you banished or worse. There is the Party and the Old Man. Christians are also labeled, forced to identify themselves, and persecuted. In a different context and with a different faith, sound familiar? Unfortunately, the book takes this in such a different direction that it loses a historical correlation for me. I don't want to follow along to see the parallels the book may draw to the history.

There is a school that teaches student the "grand jeu" - the big game. However, the book never explains what that actually is. It is a mix of music, math, magic, and other things. I don't get it, for a book that is based on that, that is too large a challenge to overcome. The book attempts to make a philosophical point:
  • "The grand jeu is not a game. It is the opposite of a game It is our way of paying attention to something outside ourselves. And what is outside ourselves - whatever truly exists - is the divine. We remake the world so that we can submit to it, and what we encounter, in the act of playing the grand jeu, is the truth."
  • "The grand jeu is worship, isn't it? One way for humans to approach the divine. Trying to embody the truth and beauty. A testament to the grace of God in the minds of men."
Unfortunately, I don't see the correlation because I still don't understand what the game is and what it metaphorically relates to. So, I cannot go along for the spiritual journey.

For me, it becomes even more challenging that the experts of this truth seeking are two characters whose very life and pursuit of the truth are based in lies. Again, I don't get it. It unfortunately makes the characters unlikable and unsympathetic. So, I don't wish to go along for their journey.

There is another character named simply the Rat. The backstory and the unfortunate naming as a creature not a character never quite makes her real. Her correlation to the main story also never quite comes together for me. She may have had the most compelling story of all, but the book does not go in that direction.

Characters aside, at over 400 pages, the pace of the book is very very slow. The winding back and forth through two timelines also does not work in this scenario because the "present" is about discovering the lies of the "past" and having that understanding lead to the past making sense for these characters. The confusion of the grand jeu ideas, the unlikability of the characters and the irony of a story about truth being held together with lies extends to both timelines and makes it truly challenging to invest in the story.

To some extent, for me, the book makes an attempt at an intellectual point. Either it does so unsuccessfully, or my intellect does not reach the understanding. At the end of the book, I am left wondering. What did I just read? And why? I walk away, knowing that I was clearly not the right reader for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Secret of Snow

The Secret of Snow
  The Secret of Snow
Author:  Viola Shipman
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1525899813 / 978-1525899812

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP 2021 Holiday Romance Blog Tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "And look at this!"

Favorite Quote:  "But too many of us ... live as though we're dying. We're trapped in fear. we let that define us. But our lives should be defined by our joy, passion, and happiness."

***** BLOG TOUR *****

Book Review

Can you go home again? Can you go home if home is filled with love but also guilt and sorrow? Can you go home if you essentially ran away from home to get away from the guilt and sorrow? What happens when you are forced to go home? How do you cope?

These are the questions Sonny Dunes faces. She is a meteorologist in beautiful sunny southern California. Home is cold and snowy Traverse City in northern Michigan where Sonny's mother still lives. A sudden shift in her job situation leaves Sonny at loose ends. The job shift may have something to do with her over-fifty age bracket and with the technological takeover of certain professions. This is touched upon but not really explored in the book. It is simply the event that sends Sonny home.

A college acquaintance / friend / frenemy offers Sonny a job at a regional TV station in Michigan. It is definitely a step down for Sonny, but she has no other alternatives. Again, ageism and sexism have to do with the lack of alternatives, but that is not the direction of this book.

Home brings her mother and the memories of the death of her father and her sister. Home brings the guilt and sadness associated with her sister's death. Home also brings old friends, old enemies, and new friends.  This book goes exactly in the direction I expect it to, down to the new budding romance.

One touching aspect of this is the friendship and mentorship Sonny develops with a young man named Ron but nicknamed Icicle. He is shy and unsure of himself. His nickname is a reminder of a childhood trauma. He is also intelligent, curious, and hardworking. This is where Sonny's age comes into play as well. She becomes a mentor to Icicle to help him escape the shadows of his past and find his voice as Ron. This actually ends up my favorite aspect of the book and perhaps the most real.

The most touching aspect of this book, however, comes in the unexpected letter to the readers found at the end of the book. Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse; it is his grandmother's name. Although this book is billed as a holiday novel, it really is not that as muchas a very personal statement. The emotion of this book is from Wade Rouses' own experience of  his brother's death. His brother was seventeen; Wade was thirteen. The message of the book comes from his grandmother - the very same Viola Shipman. "The Secret of Snow is a beautiful reminder that, no matter if those we love are no longer with us, family still surrounds us. It is a gentle reminder to reach out to those who need a hug, to let them know you care and that the names of all we’ve lost and still love shimmer as brightly as tinsel, and that their memories will never fade away as long as we refuse to let them."

A sweet story with a lovely message.

About the Book

When Sonny Dunes, a So-Cal meteorologist who knows only sunshine and 72-degree days, has an on-air meltdown after she learns she’s being replaced by an AI meteorologist (which the youthful station manager reasons "will never age, gain weight or renegotiate its contract."), the only station willing to give a 50-year-old another shot is one in a famously non-tropical place--her northern Michigan hometown.

Unearthing her carefully laid California roots, Sonny returns home and reaclimates to the painfully long, dark winters dominated by a Michigan phenomenon known as lake-effect snow. But beyond the complete physical shock to her system, she's also forced to confront her past: her new boss is a former journalism classmate and mortal frenemy and, more keenly, the death of a younger sister who loved the snow, and the mother who caused Sonny to leave.

To distract herself from the unwelcome memories, Sonny decides to throw herself headfirst (and often disastrously) into all things winter to woo viewers and reclaim her success: sledding, ice-fishing, skiing, and winter festivals, culminating with the town’s famed Winter Ice Sculpture Contest, all run by a widowed father and Chamber director whose honesty and genuine love of Michigan, winter and Sonny just might thaw her heart and restart her life in a way she never could have predicted.

About the Author 

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother's name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.


Excerpted from The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman. Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

“And look at this! A storm system is making its way across the country, and it will bring heavy snow to the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes before wreaking havoc on the East Coast. This is an especially early and nasty start to winter for much of the country. In fact, early models indicate that parts of western and northern Michigan—the lake effect snowbelts, as we call them—will receive over 150 inches of snow this year. One hundred fifty inches!”

I turn away from the green screen in my red wrap dress and heels.

“But here in the desert...” I wait for the graphic to pop onscreen, which declares, Sonny Says It’s Sonny... Again!

When the camera refocuses on me, I toss an adhesive sunshine with my face on it toward the green screen behind me. It sticks directly on Palm Springs, California.

“’s wall-to-wall sunshine!”

I expand my arms like a raven in the mountains taking flight. The weekly forecast pops up. Every day features a smiling sunshine that resembles yours truly: golden, shining, beaming.

“And it will stay that way all week long, with temperatures in the midseventies and lows in the midfifties. Not bad for this time of year, huh? It’s chamber of commerce weather here in the desert, perfect for all those design lovers in town for Mid-Century Modernism Week.” I walk over to the news desk. The camera follows. I lean against the desk and turn to the news anchors, Eva Fernandez and Cliff Moore. “Or for someone who loves to play golf, right, Cliff?”

He laughs his faux laugh, the one that makes his mouth resemble those old windup chattering teeth from when I was a girl.

“You betcha, Sonny!”

“That’s why we live here, isn’t it?” I ask.

“I sure feel sorry for the rest of the country,” says Eva, her blinding white smile as bright as the camera lights. I’m convinced every one of Eva’s caps has a cap.

“Those poor Michigan folk won’t be golfing in shorts like I will be tomorrow, will they?” Cliff says with a laugh and his pantomime golf swing. He twitches his bushy brows and gives me a giant wink. “Thank you, Sonny Dunes.”

I nod, my hands on my hips as if I’m a Price Is Right model and not a meteorologist.

“Martinis on the mountain? Yes, please,” Eva says with her signature head tilt. “Next on the news: a look at some of the big events at this year’s Mid-Century Modernism Week. Back in a moment.”

I end the newscast with the same forecast—a row of smiling sunshine emojis that look just like my face—and then banter with the anchors about the perfect pool temperature before another graphic—THE DESERT’S #1 NIGHTLY NEWS TEAM!—pops onto the screen, and we fade to commercial.

“Anyone want to go get a drink?” Cliff asks within seconds of the end of the newscast. “It’s Friday night.”

“It’s always Friday night to you, Cliff,” Eva says.

She stands and pulls off her mic. The top half of Eva Fernandez is J.Lo perfection: luminescent locks, long lashes, glam gloss, a skintight top in emerald that matches her eyes, gold jewelry that sets off her glowing skin. But Eva’s bottom half is draped in sweats, her feet in house slippers. It’s the secret viewers never see.

“I’m half dressed for bed already anyway,” she says with a dramatic sigh. Eva is very dramatic. “And I’m hosting the Girls Clubs Christmas breakfast tomorrow and then Eisenhower Hospital’s Hope for the Holidays fundraiser tomorrow night. And Sonny and I are doing every local Christmas parade the next few weekends. You should think about giving back to the community, Cliff.”

“Oh, I do,” he says. “I keep small business alive in Palm Springs. Wouldn’t be a bar afloat without my support.”

Cliff roars, setting off his chattering teeth.

I call Cliff “The Unicorn” because he was actually born and raised in Palm Springs. He didn’t migrate here like the older snowbirds to escape the cold, he didn’t snap up midcentury houses with cash like the Silicon Valley techies who realized this was a real estate gold mine, and he didn’t suddenly “discover” how hip Palm Springs was like the millennials who flocked here for the Coachella Music Festival and to catch a glimpse of Drake, Beyoncé or the Kardashians.

No, Cliff is old school. He was Palm Springs when tumbleweed still blew right through downtown, when Bob Hope pumped gas next to you and when Frank Sinatra might take a seat beside you at the bar, order a martini and nobody acted like it was a big deal.

I admire Cliff because—

The set suddenly spins, and I have to grab the arm of a passing sound guy to steady myself. He looks at me, and I let go.

—he didn’t run away from where he grew up.

“How about you, sunshine?” Cliff asks me. “Wanna grab a drink?”

“I’m gonna pass tonight, Cliff. I’m wiped from this week. Rain check?”

“Never rains in the desert, sunshine,” Cliff jokes. “You oughta know that.”

He stops and looks at me. “What would Frank Sinatra do?”

I laugh. I adore Cliff’s corniness.

“You’re not Frank Sinatra,” Eva calls.

“My martini awaits with or without you.” Cliff salutes, as if he’s Bob Hope on a USO tour, and begins to walk out of the studio.

“Ratings come in this weekend!” a voice yells. “That’s when we party.”

We all turn. Our producer, Ronan, is standing in the middle of the studio. Ronan is all of thirty. He’s dressed in flip-flops, board shorts and a T-shirt that says, SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT! like he just returned from Coachella. Oh, and he’s wearing sunglasses. At night. In a studio that’s gone dim. Ronan is the grandson of the man who owns our network, DSRT. Jack Clark of ClarkStar pretty much owns every network across the US these days. He put his grandson in charge because Ro-Ro’s father bought an NFL franchise, and he’s too obsessed with his new fancy toy to pay attention to his old fancy toy. Before DSRT, Ronan was a surfer living in Hawaii who found it hard to believe there wasn’t an ocean in the middle of the California desert.

He showed up to our very first official news meeting wearing a tank top with an arrow pointing straight up that read, This Dude’s the CEO!

“You can call me Ro-Ro,” he’d announced upon introduction.

“No,” Cliff said. “I can’t.”

Ronan had turned his bleary gaze upon me and said, “Yo. Weather’s, like, not really my thing. You can just, like, look outside and see what’s going on. And it’s, like, on my phone. Just so we’re clear...get it? Like the weather.”

My heart nearly stopped. “People need to know how to plan their days, sir,” I protested. “Weather is a vital part of all our lives. It’s daily news. And, what I study and disseminate can save lives.”

“Ratings party if we’re still number one!” Ronan yells, knocking me from my thoughts.

I look at Eva, and she rolls her eyes. She sidles up next to me and whispers, “You know all the jokes about millennials? He’s the punchline for all of them.”

I stifle a laugh.

We walk each other to the parking lot.

“See you Monday,” I say.

“Are we still wearing our matching Santa hats for the parade next Saturday?”

I laugh and nod. “We’re his best elves,” I say.

“You mean his sexiest news elves,” she says. She winks and waves, and I watch her shiny SUV pull away. I look at my car and get inside with a smile. Palm Springs locals are fixated on their cars. Not the make or the color, but the cleanliness. Since there is so little rain in Palm Springs, locals keep their cars washed and polished constantly. It’s like a competition.

I pull onto Dinah Shore Drive and head toward home.

Palm Springs is dark. There is a light ordinance in the city that limits the number of streetlights. In a city this beautiful, it would be a crime to have tall posts obstructing the view of the mountains or bright light overpowering the brightness of the stars.

I decide to cut through downtown Palm Springs to check out the Friday night action. I drive along Palm Canyon Drive, the main strip in town. The restaurants are packed. People sit outside in shorts—in December!—enjoying a glass of wine. Music blasts from bars. Palm Springs is alive, the town teeming with life even near midnight.

I stop at a red light, and a bachelorette party in sashes and tiaras pulls up next to me peddling a party bike. It’s like a self-propelled trolley with seats and pedals, but you can drink—a lot—on it. I call these party trolleys “Woo-Hoo Bikes” because...

I honk and wave.

The bachelorette party shrieks, holds up their glasses and yells, “WOO-HOO!”

The light changes, and I take off, knowing these ladies will likely find themselves in a load of trouble in about an hour, probably at a tiki bar where the drinks are as deadly as the skulls on the glasses.

I continue north on Palm Canyon—heading past Copley’s Restaurant, which once was Cary Grant’s guesthouse in the 1940s, and a plethora of design and vintage home furnishings stores. I stop at another light and glance over as an absolutely filthy SUV, which looks like it just ended a mud run, pulls up next to me. The front window is caked in gray-white sludge and the doors are encrusted in crud. An older man is hunched over the steering wheel, wearing a winter coat, and I can see the woman seated next to him pointing at the navigation on the dashboard. I know immediately they are not only trying to find their Airbnb on one of the impossible-to-locate side streets in Palm Springs, but also that they are from somewhere wintry, somewhere cold, somewhere the sun doesn’t shine again until May.

Which state? I wonder, as the light changes, and the car pulls ahead of me.

“Bingo!” I yell in my car. “Michigan license plates!”

We all run from Michigan in the winter.

I look back at the road in front of me, and it’s suddenly blurry. A car honks, scaring the wits out of me, and I shake my head clear, wave an apology and head home.

Buy Links

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Sunflower Sisters

  Sunflower Sisters
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 528 pages.
ISBN:  978-1524796402

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "No one suspected the blond boy's cargo as he drove his crude pony cart through the streets of Charleston."

Favorite Quote:  "Don't listen to naysayers ... You're head and shoulders above them, and those who discourage you do so to justify their own lack of imagination and will never accomplish anything extraordinary."

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly brings the reader to Poland during World War II. Sunflower Sisters, for it cheery title, brings me to the United States during the Civil War. The historical basis for this story is that of Georgeanna Woolsey and her family. "Georgey" is born and raised in a New York family, taught the value of education and independence for a woman, and given strong abolitionist values. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Georgey volunteers as a nurse. She works in New York, Washington DC, and on hospital ships that bring her and her sister to the south.

The story builds on this history of the Woolsey sisters and adds the story of Jemma, a girl born in slavery in the south and Anna-May, Jemma's owner. From these three perspectives, the book studies the history and atrocities of slavery, those who supported it, and those who fought against it. Through these three women, the book also explores the way in which the Civil War divided families, with family members falling on opposite sides of the battle depending on their allegiances. The book travels from the drawing room of the New York to hospitals to battlefields to plantations in St. Mary's County in Maryland and back again. It describes the toll war takes on all ends of the battle.

It depicts the individual personal stories of these women, and through them, brings to life a tine and place in history. The book is billed as the third in the Lilac Girls series because each book in the series picks on a history of a woman (or women) in the family of Caroline Ferriday introduced in Lilac Girls. However, the book deals with a different time period and a different history. The "series" is really only technically a series. Each book stands alone.

Although Georgey Woolsey is the feature character in the book, I actually find the stories of Jemma and Anna May the more compelling ones. Georgey's story is also one of her family, their comfortable life in the north, the philanthropic efforts, and even a love story. Jemma's story is that of the graphic atrocities of slavery; it is of the courage to stand against that world and fight. Anna May's story is that of losing a world and taking whatever steps - right, wrong, or otherwise - to maintain a way of life. The juxtaposition of Jemma as the heroine and Anna May as the villain draw their stories even closer together, making Georgy's story stand further apart. Georgy's view becomes that of someone looking in on the story, while Jemma and Anna May are the story.

I would definitely recommend reading the author's note at the end. It describes the research, the actual history of the book, and the boundary between the history and the fiction. It adds a lot to the depth and understanding of the fictional story.

The book includes a caution or challenge as Jemma learns to read. "Careful though. You change once you read some books. Get more thoughts about things." What a delightful thing that books exist such that we can "get more thoughts" and understand our history so as to learn from it.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Dictionary of Lost Words

The Dictionary of Lost Words
  The Dictionary of Lost Words
Author:  Pip Williams
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0593160193 / 978-0593160190

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "before the lost word, there was another."

Favorite Quote:  "Women don't have to live lives determined by others. They have choices, and I choose not to live the rest of my days doing as I'm told and worrying about what people will think. That's no life at all."

This book is completely not what I expected. I choose to read it because - well, dictionary and words, lost ones at that! The title itself draws me in. The description then references the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary is an integral part of life and education. It has always existed in my life. I have never really given much thought to the fact that at one time, there was no dictionary. I have never really look at the history of how a dictionary might be created. Who creates it? Who defines each word? How? Who chooses what word to include and which word not to? "All words are not equal (and as I write this, I think I see your concern more clearly: if the word of one group are considered worthier of preservation than those of another...well, you have given me pause for thought.)"

I am a firm believer in that words have power. However, what gives a word its power? "I prefer to say that I give them substance - a real word is one that is said out loud and means something to someone."

All that draws me into the book.

At the beginning, I am taken aback. The main character is a child at the feet of her father, who is involved in the creation of the dictionary. More than that, the child is a girl. This is significant. In the author's own words:
  • "This book began as two simple questions: Do words mean different things to men and women? And if they do, is it possible that we have lost something in the process of defining them?"
  • "This novel is my attempt to  understand how the way we define language may define us. Throughout, I have tried to conjure images and express emotions that bring our understanding of words into question. By putting Esme among the words, I was able to imagine the effect they might have had on her, and the effect she might have had on them."
  • "From the beginning, it was important that I weave Esme's fictional story through the history of the Oxford English Dictionary as we know it. I soon realised that this history also included the women's suffrage movement in England as well as World War I. In all three cases the timelines of events and the broad details have been preserved. Any errors are unintentional."
The combination of the history of words themselves and the history of women makes for a powerful story. "It came back to me then, and I realized that the words most often used to define us were words that described our function in relation to others."

I find myself not only following Esme's story but also looking up and reading the history of the dictionary, the women's suffrage movement, and the timing of that history. The stories of the other women that surround Esme herself are equally powerful. That power is depicted as Esme herself realizes the significance of the experiences of these woman and how they parallel and differ from hers.

This book does what I absolutely love about historical fiction. It introduces me to a history I might otherwise never have read. In this case, it allows a glimpse not into history I might never have read but also history I have never really considered.

"Words are like stories ... They change as they are passed from mouth to mouth; their meanings stretch or truncate to fit what needs to be said." This story has made me stop and think about the words we use. For that lesson, it will stay with me for a long while.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Bounty

The Bounty
  The Bounty
Author:  Janet Evanovich and Steve Hamilton
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1982157135 / 978-1982157135

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The target is approaching the Vatican."

Favorite Quote:  "The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused."

The Bounty is book seven in the Fox and O'Hare series. Nick Fox is an ex-con who is caught and given the option to shift to helping the FBI. Kate O'Hare is the FBI agent tasked with managing Fox. A friendship and relationship, of course, develops. Each book is a new adventure involving these two. The first five are co-authored by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. The sixth is co-authored by Janet Evanovich and Peter Evanovich. This one is co-authored by Janet Evanovich and Steve Hamilton. Steven Hamilton has authored another series on his own.

Clearly, the Fox and O'Hare series is in transition. As such, I imagine the tone and style of the books have shifted as the authors shifted.  However, this is the first I have read in the series. I have no preconceptions of tone, structure, character, plot. In this case, with the shifting authors, that may actually be an advantage as I am comparing this book to another or several others. 

Clearly, there is a back story and a history. However, this book also stands alone. Enough of the history and the relationships is explained for it to not stand in the way of enjoying this book.

The adventure of this book involves the back story in a way. The initial villain they chase is none other than Nick's father. However, is he actually the villain, or are there bigger forces at play? Clearly, there is only one right answer to that question for how else would the book move forward. In fact, the resolution to this question comes relatively early in the book.

In some ways, the book reminds me of The DaVinci Code and National Treasure. There is symbolism and history involved in the untangling of this mystery. There is supposedly an actual treasure. The links here lead to Nazi Germany, the appropriation of treasures by that regime, and an organization called the Brotherhood. There may be a literal pot of gold at the end of this chase.

Once it begins, the book is nonstop action, going from place to place. Many locations involve a tourist landmark. The good guys find a clue. They chase it down, which usually involves some jaw-dropping feat. The bad guys catch up. The good guys escape with their lives and jump ahead. The cast of good guys and bad guys expands and contracts according to the situation. For some characters, the question as to whether they are part of the good guys or the bad guys needs to be determined. So, it continues beginning to end.

The "action" somewhat repeats location to location, but the pace makes for a fun read. The relationships seem to take a back seat to the action in this book. Nick and Kate. Nick and his father. Kate and her father. Kate and her boss. Yet, the relationships are all there, and I see glimmers of the depth they could achieve. Will they? Who knows? I suppose it depends on whether or not there are more books coming, and it depends on who writes them. Whether or not more is to come, this iteration was an entertaining read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Author:  Lisa Genova
Publication Information:  Harmony. 2021. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0593137957 / 978-0593137956

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Picture a penny in your mind's eye."

Favorite Quote:  "And yet even when the meaningful is forgotten, memory doesn't define what it means to be human ... Nor is memory required for feeling the full range of human emotions. You don't need memory to love and feel loved ... Take it seriously. Hold it lightly. Memory isn't everything."

Lisa Genova holds PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University. Her fiction novels are inspired by neuroscience and its impact on individuals lives. Her first book, Still Alice, dealt with Alzheimers. Her fiction writing is based in research but focuses on the story of people grappling with neurological diseases. The stories attempt to document the challenges of life with the diseases so as to educate and encourage understanding but do so by putting a memorable face and a story to the disease.

This book takes a different tack. It is Lisa Genova's first nonfiction book, and it attempts to make the science of memory accessible to the lay person. The book is sectioned into three parts - How We Remember, Why We Forget, and Improve or Impair. The Appendix: What to Do About it All presents a summary of the sixteen key takeaways. Interestingly, the book includes a suggested reading list for the scientific base of the book but does not include an index that would be expected in a nonfiction book on a scientific topic.

The tone of this book is conversational. It is written not for the scientists but definitely for the layperson with a casual interest in the subject. That is clear by looking at just the table of contents with chapter titles like "Your Brain's Wikipedia" and "Fuggedaboutit". I am somewhat torn about this tone. One the one hand, I would likely not read a scientific tome about the science of memory. On the other hand, does the tone imply a "dumbing down" of the information itself? The book is entertaining and easily read. I confirm ideas I already knew and learn some new ones. So, overall, the book works. Yet, at times, the tone infringes on the information and the knowledge on which the book is based.

In addition to the general education about the science of memory, this book seems to have another recurring theme. Repeatedly, it highlights the difference between what might be considered "normal" or expected and what might the be result of a neurological disease. Repeatedly, it attempts to dispel the fear that may begin with the forgetting of some information particularly as one ages. The conversational, at times almost humorous tone of the book, would fit well with this purpose.

This theme of diseases such as Alzheimer's ties back to the author's fictional work Still Alice. Perhaps, it implies an audience for this book beyond someone who just has an interest in the topic. Perhaps, the intended audience is someone struggling with memory concerns and the fear of disease or someone who sees a loved one struggle. Perhaps, this book may become an initial source of information. It may lead to a conversation with a physician.

For providing another tool in the arsenal to help someone deal with such a situation, I applaud the book. For providing an approachable yet scientifically based text, I applaud the book. For its tone, I question the book. Yet, this is one I think I may reread occasionally such that I can remember its lessons.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Memory Collectors

  The Memory Collectors
Author:  Kim Neville
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 400 pages.
ISBN:  978-1982157586

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The air beneath Evelyn's paper mask is hot and damp, and even though a shaft of sunlight from the open barn door reveals sawdust swirling ion the air, she pulls the mask up to her forehead and allows herself a breath of cool air."

Favorite Quote:  "Facts are only part of the truth. So much can be learned from books beyond what can be found in the words printed on the page ... It's a treasure hunt, an intricate dance through a paper maze, moving from one book to the next in search of nuggets of information, and what untold diversions might be discovered along the way. She's lost entire days in libraries, forgetting why she came in in the first place."

The start of The Memory Collectors creates the image of a dark, desolate almost steampunk-like environment. The story itself, however, is set in current day Vancouver. As the author's bio states, "most of her stories take place in real-world settings with a twist of strangeness to cast the everyday in a new light."

Ev is a young woman who has a gift that can often seem a curse. She can feel the emotions encapsulated in objects. She feels overwhelmed by a need to protect herself from those emotions and the possibility that those emotion-filled objects have the potential to destroy her. Perhaps, the story of Ev's fear lies in her  past.

Harriet is seemingly a hoarder. Like Ev, she too can feel the emotions of objects. She is older and considers all her objects to be treasures. She looks for the bright ones. Perhaps, Harriet has a story all her own behind the hoarding.

Perhaps there are others who share this gift and cope with it in their own way. Some successfully ands safely, and some not so much.

Ev is afraid of letting the objects in. Harriet is afraid of letting the objects go. Perhaps, between the two, there is a balance to be found. "Remember, the object only reflects a feeling that came from a human. It holds a story from where it came from, but it's not alive."

Ev's sister Noemi and Ev's friend Owen are the other characters that feature in the book. Although this is definitely Ev's story and the other characters are not as well developed, the individual stories of all four elicit an emotion and a reaction.

It turns out that more than a shared gift unites Ev and Harriet. Harriet is aware of their connection that lies in Ev's childhood. Ev is not. What will happen when that connection emerges? Will Ev survive it? Will Harriet?

I do know that I want to follow along and I want things to work out for both of them. The story is at times dark, at times magical, and at times family drama. This book makes me care about the characters - the sign of a good read. 

Perhaps, the thought I will carry forward with me from this book is the idea of  "bright things" - objects that hold and bring forth happy memories and create brightness in life. The book reminds us. "People matter most, Evelyn. Not things. Never forget that." Yet, objects can bring us back to people, places, and time. The book also points out. "Maybe you can't force happiness on a person. But you can build a place where a person could find happiness when they're ready for it." I know that I certainly have my share of bright things that are concrete reminders of joy.

Considering that The Memory Collectors is a debut novel, I look forward to seeing what Kim Neville writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Women of Pearl Island

The Women of Pearl Island
  The Women of Pearl Island
Author:  Polly Crosby
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2021. 350 pages.
ISBN:  0778311147 / 978-0778311140

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Marianne bent over the ragged remains of the poor butterfly's broken wing."

Favorite Quote:  "Some things are private for a reason ... Not just because I'm a stubborn old woman who enjoys keeping things from you. You have to understand that I am not a story to be unraveled. I may be old and crotchety, but I have feelings and emotions, too, just like you."

***** BLOG TOUR *****

Book Review

The recurring statement of this book set on an isolated island off the coast of England is, "The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness." As is this book.  At one point, a further restatement is made. "The sea will give up its secrets when it wishes." This book decides to keep many of its secrets. What actually happened on this island? How did Marianne end up in the predicament she found herself in - both as a young woman and now as an old woman? What is Tartelin's back story? Is there a further connection between Marianne, Nan, and Tartelin? Why? "There's something about this place that I can't quite get a grip on. It's as if it's trying to tell me something, but I don't know the language."

This slow-moving book leaves many questions unanswered. This is a book very much about the "where" and the "who"? The descriptions of Dohhalund, the small island setting of this book, conjure up not as much an image as a feeling of abandonment, desolation, and mystery. An abandoned military installation, salt flats, wells that appear and disappear with the sea, a crumbling old house, and the odd, intriguing creatures - human and animal - that are found here. The feeling of cold and sadness permeates even as peacocks, birds, and butterflies can be found in abundance. An odd contrast.

The "who" is Marianne and Tartelin - the two voices of this book. There is a sadness to both of them. The reasons emerge somewhat throughout the book, but some I am still left wondering about. Surrounding them are the stories of other women - Marianne's mother, Nan, and even Tartelin's mother who never actually appears in the book. Each has a burden to bear and secrets of her own. Collectively, these are the "women of Pearl Island." Even for Marianne and Tartelin, by the end, I feel that I see an outline of a sketch of the women. I want some of the back story and the gaps in the story filled out. The gaps cannot be described in this review because they would lead to spoilers. Suffice it to say that the jump in Marianne story is huge - too much so to create a full picture of her as a character I invest in. Tartelin's back story is never really explained. Perhaps, a connection is hinted at towards the very end, but it is left unclear.

I am not sure what to make of the romance that is included in the book other than a reinforcement of the idea of acceptance of differences. However, in many ways, it seems extraneous to the main story of the women, and its seems rather too instant. Again, more questions than answers.

Despite the sweetness of the romance, the overall feel of the book's sadness will linger with me a while, and I will wonder what really happened. Perhaps in leaving that question and the wish that I knew, the book finds its success.

About the Author

Polly Crosby grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives deep in the Norfolk countryside. THE BOOK OF HIDDEN WONDERS was awarded runner up in the Bridport Prize's Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel, and Polly also won Curtis Brown Creative's Yesterday Scholarship, which enabled her to finish the novel. She currently holds the Annabel Abbs Scholarship at the University of East Anglia, where she is studying part time for an MA in Creative Writing. THE WOMEN OF PEARL ISLAND is her second novel.

About the Book

With the same atmosphere and imagination of THE BOOK OF HIDDEN WONDERS, Polly Crosby’s new novel, THE WOMEN OF PEARL ISLAND is set on a lush, secluded island where family secrets bring together an unlikely friendship.

On a secluded island off the British coast, an elderly woman named Marianne collects butterflies and memories from her past. No longer able to catch butterflies herself, she enlists the help of a young woman named Tartelin who has peculiar birthmark on her cheek. Tartelin’s mother has recently passed, leaving her unmoored and eager for new beginnings on the island.

Marianne has spent most of her life on the island, her family having owned it for generations. She begins to tell her young assistant her family’s story – from the prosperous days when they harvested pearls and held banquets, to the harder times and her father’s desperate money-making schemes. But during WWII, the British government commandeered the island for nuclear testing and they were all forced to leave. Though, secret to everyone, Marianne stayed behind and experienced something she calls “the blast,” an event that changed everything for her. Now, the older woman is obsessed with tracking the changes in butterflies and other creatures on the island to prove what she witnessed so many decades before.

With a mystery spanning decades, this is an emotional and atmospheric story of a young woman coming into her own as she forges an unlikely friendship with her employer, both women grieving their pasts and together, embracing a new future.

Q&A With the Author

Which of your characters would you want to share a campfire with, and why?
This is such a great question! There is a mysterious old woman on the island known only as ‘the mermaid.’ The term refers to the herring girls who used to work there in the 1920s, gutting the fish caught by the boats. I’d like to sit with her on the beach one evening, looking out to sea, and listen to her stories of long ago. I imagine she’d have quite a few tales to tell.

Can you briefly describe your writing process for us?
I tend to get a brief idea at first, maybe just a single image. After a while it begins to bloom into a story. Then I read everything I can lay my hands on about my chosen subject - in this case, butterflies, silkworms and pearl cultivation - until I cannot help but start to write! I write in the mornings, usually every day. I write on my laptop, on my phone, on paper and sometimes with voice memos. If it’s going well, I wake up each morning excited to continue. If it’s going badly, I pour myself a very large coffee before I start and a large glass of wine when I finish!

Give us an out of context quote from your book to warm our hearts.
“And it’s only now, as these thoughts come to me, that I realise I don’t want to go; not yet. There is too much on this island that I don’t want to give up: there is the clear, uncompromising light of the sea. There is the taste of briny seaweed and the thrill of finding a pearl. There is the sight of a freshly caught fish, the sharing of photographs and the bright gleam of a butterfly’s wing.”

What’s the last book you read that inspired you?
So many books inspire me, either by the language they use or the ideas they manage to get across so effortlessly. I recently read The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald for the first time (I know! I can’t believe I haven’t read it before!). His prose is so lyrical, and I loved the way it described the glittering excess of that period between the wars. It made me want to write a love story set then, where for a short time, the world was full of hope and anything felt possible. So that’s what I’m trying to do right now! Wish me luck!

Name one song or artist that gets you fired up.
At The River by Groove Armada has always held a special place in my heart. It samples an old song by Patti Page, and the lyrics feel like they’re talking about the little English seaside village where I grew up (when in fact she’s singing about Cape Cod!)

‘If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages everywhere.’

It’s also a great song to get me in the right headspace to write, especially when I’m writing about the sea.

How do you decide on a setting?
With The Women of Pearl Island, the idea came from a place I knew well, called Orford Ness. It’s a desolate spit of land on the Suffolk coast. During World War Two it was taken over by the Ministry of Defence and used very secretively. Even now we don’t know exactly what went on there. The MOD left in the nineties, and for the last thirty years the ness has been left to rewild. It’s such an eerie, secretive place, where all the old crumbling military buildings have been taken over by wildlife. My island, Dohhalund, is based on that idea.

Do you come up with the hook first, or do you create characters first and then dig through until you find a hook?
Quite often for me, I come up with a place first of all. With this novel, it was the island, and for the novel I’m working on now, it’s an unusual derelict mansion half-hidden in a field of reeds. These places almost feel like characters in their own right to me.

Do you take lemon or milk in your tea?
Milk, but just a drop. I drink so much tea when I’m writing, especially in this cold, winter weather. I have a special mug that keeps it hot, because I get so distracted when I’m writing that I forget to drink it in time!

How do you create your characters?
Quite often they come to me fully formed. Marianne Stourbridge, the old lady who owns the island in my novel, was like this. We meet her both as a teenager in the 1920s and as an extremely crotchety old woman in the present. She is quite opinionated and spoilt, but there is a sense that beneath all this, she has a fascinating story to tell.

Who would be your dream cast if WOMEN OF PEARL ISLAND became a movie?
Gosh, that’s a tricky one. I think it would be one of those very British movies, with the rude old Marianne Stourbridge played by a national treasure like Judi Dench. The young protagonist, Tartelin, would probably be someone up and coming and as yet unknown.

If you could grab lunch with a literary character who would it be?
I recently read and adored Piranesi, and I’d like to sit in his beautiful halls surrounded by all the eerie, unusual statues, and watch him catch a fish for our lunch.

What are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex, an incredible locked room mystery about three lighthouse men who vanish from their isolated lighthouse in the middle of the sea. The descriptions of the water and the weather are just breath-taking, and it’s packed full of secrets, which, for me, is what makes a story.

Buy Links 

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Dark Tides

  Dark Tides
Author:  Philippa Gregory
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 464 pages.
ISBN:  150118718X / 978-1501187186

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The ramshackle warehouse was on the wrong side of the river, the south side, where the buildings jostled for space and the little boats unloaded pocket-size cargos for scant profit."

Favorite Quote:  "I am only ever honest to myself. My face in the mirror is the only one that I trust with my secrets. I never lie to myself."

Disclaimer:  Philippa Gregory is an author who has long been in on my list to read. I think I read The Other Boleyn Girl a long time ago, so much so that I don't remember it. Dark Tides is book two in the Fairmile series, which I did not realize when I chose to read the book. I have not read the first, and my thoughts on this one may be impacted by that fact.

Dark Tides, set in the 1600s, is really two stories in one. The first is the story of a family on the banks of the river, trying to survive through commerce. The second is the story of one family member who immigrated to the New World, only to, at times, not find it that different from the Old. The stories are told in almost alternating chapters. They are, of course, related, but really could have existed one without the other.

Ned's story in the New World seems the more tangential one. Although an interesting facet of US history particularly in the relationships with the First Nations, the characters and plot seem to be periphery to the main story in London. Ned himself is the only character is this part of the book who relates to the other. That, in effect, is the reason his story seems extraneous. All the other main character lie on the London side of the story. In many ways, I could have skipped the entire set of chapters about the New World and still have read essentially the same story.

In London, on the banks of the wrong side of the river lies a small wharf warehouse. The story here is of commerce, of the past coming forward to haunt the present, of deceit, of a family standing together, of guilt, and of a group of strong, albeit very different, women. The story has drama, romance, and intrigue. However, most of the characters remain somewhat one dimensional and do not really come alive for me. For example, it is clear that Alys has survived a lot in her past, and she has managed to single handedly create a home and a business for herself, her mother, and her children. That background projects a strong, shrewd businesswoman. Yet, Alys falls for the machinations of someone who is very clearly portrayed as a conwoman. It seems a stretch and unbelievable especially as the story does not really reflect on why and how.

That being said, the most interesting characters end up the conwoman and Sarah, perhaps because most of the "action" in the book centers around these two women. The conwoman is very clearly and unapologetically in pursuit of her own ends. It is clear and one dimensional but nevertheless fun to follow. Sarah's character, particularly in the portion of the book set in Venice, finds the limelight. Perhaps, that is the setup for a third book to come.

I enjoy the picture of the time and place that the book draws. I can envision both the wharves of London and the colonies of the New World. The characters have potential. For that, I would try a different book by the author.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Nanny Dearest

  Nanny Dearest
Author:  Flora Collins
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778311619 / 978-0778311614

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Fall 2021 mystery and thriller blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I wake from my nap."

Favorite Quote:  "What adults don't understand, or maybe choose to forget, is that even the gawkiest, nerdiest, most metal-mouthed teens are experimenting."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Nanny Dearest focuses on two characters - nanny Anneliese aka Annie and her charge Susanna aka Suzy aka Sue. The book focuses on two time periods - one when Suzy was a child and Annie was her nanny, and the other when Sue is an adults and reconnects with Annie. The books uses two narrators - Annie for the past and Sue for the present.

Annie had to grow up too fast with the abuse in her home, the death of her mother, and the caretaking of her injured father and her younger siblings. The job of being Suzy's nanny is an escape from all of that. In many ways, it is a dream of all the things Annie believes should be hers.

Sue has had to grow up too fast with the death of her mother and scars of her childhood that she may not even completely understand. The relatively recent death of her father has sent her in a direction that cripples her ability to function and leaves her holed up in her home.

A chance (or is it?) encounter reconnects Annie and Sue. The story of the past continues to build the degree of Annie's fixation on Suzy and the lengths to which she is willing to go to "protect" that relationship and her world as she thinks it should be. The story of the present begins as Sue finds that connection to her past that seems to offer a lifeline to saving herself in the present. The story of the present builds as Sue disregards those in her life now to cling more and more to the vision Annie presents and the rose-colored memories of a loving childhood relationship. The story crescendoes when Sue learns more and accesses memories that reveal to her her that all may not be as it seems. Her dream may very well have been a nightmare.

The two time period, two narrator technique of storytelling does not work for me in this book. With Annie's perspective on the past, I don't feel that I get to know or care for Suzy the child. As such, Sue's perspective in the present seems to lack that connection of why. What was her childhood after her mother's death? Why does her father's death have such a dire impact? Why does she respond to Annie to the point of disregarding a true lifelong friend? Why does a few meetings with Annie result in a dramatic turnaround for Sue? With all these why's unanswered, Sue does not develop into an empathetic character, and this makes the entire story a challenge.

The one other thing I don't understand at all in this book or many others of this genre is the gratuitous violence against animals. It is completely unnecessary and leaves an unpleasant memory of the book. Why?

To me, the suspense in this book is not so much what happened in the past or even what is going to happen now. It is a matter of what is it going to take for Sue to finally realize what is clear to the reader from the beginning. Something is not right about Annie.

About the Book

Compulsively readable domestic suspense, perfect for fans of THE TURN OF THE KEY and THE PERFECT NANNY, about a woman who takes comfort in reconnecting with her childhood nanny after her father’s death, until she starts to uncover dark secrets the nanny has been holding for twenty years.

Set in New York city and upstate New York, NANNY DEAREST is the story of twenty-five year-old Sue Keller, a young woman reeling from the recent death of her father, a particularly painful loss given that Sue’s mother died of cancer when she was only three. At just this moment of vulnerability comes Anneliese Whitaker, Sue’s former nanny from her childhood days in upstate New York.

Sue, craving connection and mothering, is only too eager to welcome Annie back into her life; but as they become inseparable once again, Sue begins to uncover the truth about Annie’s unsettling time in the Keller house all those years ago, particularly the manner of her departure – or dismissal. At the same time, she begins to grow increasingly alarmed for the safety of the two new charges currently in Annie’s care.

Told in alternating points of views, switching between Annie in the mid-90s and Sue in the present day, this is a taut novel of suspense with a shocking ending.

About the Author

Flora Collins was born and raised in New York City and has never left, except for a four-year stint at Vassar College. When she's not writing, she can be found watching reality shows that were canceled after one season or attempting to eat soft-serve ice cream in bed (sometimes simultaneously). Nanny Dearest is her first novel, and draws upon personal experiences from her own family history.

Q&A with Flora Collins

Q: Please give one sentence/elevator pitch for Nanny Dearest.
A: Nanny Dearest is about a young woman who makes the fatal mistake of reconnecting with her childhood nanny.

Q: Why do you believe thrillers are so popular?
A: It is so easy to get lost in the suspense! A good thriller will keep you turning the pages, immersing the reader in the novel’s world. I also think there’s a strong schadenfreude aspect to it, too; people, at least this is true of myself, read thrillers to feel better about their own day-to-day problems.

Q: Where do you get your ideas? Of course, from your imagination, but do you read, see or hear something that clicks?
A: Mostly from documentaries, other books, stories I hear, dreams. Inspiration really can come from anywhere!

Q: Are you a plotter or panster?
A: Definitely a panster. I start with a basic idea and work from there.

Q: Any tips for would be writers?
A: Read! Everyone says that, but it’s true. And also find a couple of good beta readers whom you trust to give solid feedback. Also, as hard as it may seem, don’t let rejection get you down. Published authors usually had to write multiple stories and manuscripts before they received a book deal. Keep on going!

Q: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
A: Not really, since I read a lot of thrillers that contain many unsavory characters! However, I loved The Princess Diaries growing up, so maybe Mia Thermopalis.

Q: Did you have a nanny growing up?
A: I did! Though no one was as sinister as Anneliese, the nanny in Nanny Dearest, thankfully.

Q:I know authors do not always get to pick their titles. Did you pick this title or know what the title would be when you wrote the book?
A: Nope! My publisher picked the title. It used to be called My Only Sunshine.

Q: What is your favorite season and why?
A: Fall. I love a crisp 45-degree day and the fashion. I am definitely one of those basic white girls who is happy when September rolls around.

Social Links

Instagram: @floracollins_author

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.