Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Inheritance

  The Inheritance
Author:  JoAnn Ross
Publication Information:  HQN. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1335503196 / 978-1335503190

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

Opening Sentence:  "Conflict photographer Jackson Swann had traveled to dark and deadly places in the world most people would never see."

Favorite Quote:  "It's not easy being a mother. We raise our children, given them wings to leave the nest, but we have no control where they will fly off too."

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


Sometimes a feel good book about sisters and family with some romance thrown in is just what is needed. This book fits that bill. It adds in a beautiful setting in wine country in Oregon's Willamette Valley. It even throws in just a bit of World War II history. Calling this book historical fiction is a stretch though for the history consists of the following: Girl joins French Resistance. Girl saves American pilot. They escape and live happily ever after.

The story centers on a man who dies at the very beginning yet his actions and his past are the foundation of the entire story. He is depicted as a troubled and enigmatic yet at the same time kind and charming man. He is father to three daughters, through three different relationships. The daughters, now all adults, each have a unique relationship with (or at least emotions towards) their father.

His death and the cryptic requirements of his will reading bring the three together. Tess is a child TV star who went on to become a pop star and is now a successful author. Charlotte is a successful designer, struggling with the demands of her marriage. Natalie is a photographer like her father but making a name for herself in urban street photography. Each carries the scars of her own life.

The fourth woman of this story is Jackson's mother. Through Madeleine, the book brings in the touch of World War II history. It reinforces the lessons of the courage of ordinary citizens, even young ones, who managed to change lives and the course of the war itself. That being said, historical fiction is not what I looked for in this book. This is all about family - the one we are born with, the one we create, and, in this case, the one we discover along the way if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibility.

This book does and goes exactly where I expect it to. The romances are introduced and clarified early. The sisters, hesitant and emotional, bond quickly and easily. The grandmother welcomes all with open arms. The women are beautiful, and the men are handsome. The lifestyle is that of the rich and famous. The issues all resolve quickly and expectedly.

Yet, the emotions ring true. A child who never truly recovers from not having her father in her life. A woman who loses herself in attempting to fit into the model of the perfect daughter and wife. A mother who provides a haven for her son despite not always understanding his choices. A widowed father attempting to be a single parent to a teenage girl. A couple afraid to see if their friendship could survive a relationship that could be more.

Ultimately, this story is also one of forgiveness and of coming to terms with the past. Each of the daughters finds a way to reconcile the memories of their father to the reality of who he was and to the reality of all three of their experiences. That reconciliation of a childhood to an adult reflecting on that past in one we can all relate to.

About the Book

When conflict photographer Jackson Swann dies, he leaves behind a conflict of his own making when his three daughters, each born from a different mother and unknown to each other, discover that they’re now part owners of Maison de Madelaine, the family’s Oregon vineyard—a once famous business struggling to recover from a worldwide economic collapse.

After a successful career as a child TV star, a disastrous time as a teen pop star, and now a successful author, Tess is, for the first time in her life, suffering from a serious case of writer’s block and identity crisis.

Charlotte, brought up to be a proper Southern wife, has given up her own career goals to support her husband while having spent the past year struggling to conceive a child to create a more perfect marriage. On the worst day of her life, she discovers her beloved father has died, she has two sisters she’d never been told about, and her husband has fallen in love with another woman.

Natalie, daughter of Jack’s long-time mistress, has always known about both half-sisters. Still mourning the loss of her mother, the death of her father a year later is a devastating blow. And she can’t help feeling that both her sisters may resent her for being the daughter their father decided to keep.

As the sisters reluctantly gather at the family vineyard, they're enchanted by the legacy they've inherited, and by their grandmother’s rich stories of life in WWII France and the love she found with a wounded American soldier who brought her to Oregon where they started Maison de Madelaine

About the Author

New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author JoAnn Ross has been published in twenty-seven countries. The author of over 100 novels, JoAnn lives with her husband and many rescue pets — who pretty much rule the house — in the Pacific Northwest.


Excerpted from The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross, Copyright © 2021 by JoAnn Ross. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.


Aberdeen, Oregon

Conflict photographer Jackson Swann had traveled to dark and deadly places in the world most people would never see. Nor want to. Along with dodging bullets and mortars, he’d survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, gotten shot mere inches from his heart in Niger and been stung by a death-stalker scorpion while embedded with the French Foreign Legion in Mali.

Some of those who’d worked with him over the decades had called him reckless. Rash. Dangerous. Over late-night beers or whatever else passed as liquor in whatever country they’d all swarmed to, other photographers and foreign journalists would argue about whether that bastard Jackson Swann had a death wish or merely considered himself invincible.

He did, after all, rush into high-octane situations no sane person would ever consider, and even when the shit hit the fan, somehow, he’d come out alive and be on the move again. Chasing the next war or crisis like a drug addict chased a high. The truth was that Jack had never believed himself to be im-mortal. Still, as he looked out over the peaceful view of rolling hills, the cherry trees wearing their spring profusion of pink blossoms, and acres of vineyards, he found it ironic that after having evaded the Grim Reaper so many times over so many decades, it was an aggressive and rapidly spreading lung cancer that was going to kill him.

Which was why he was here, sitting on the terraced patio of Chateau de Madeleine, the towering gray stone house that his father, Robert Swann, had built for his beloved war bride, Madeleine, to ease her homesickness. Oregon’s Willamette Valley was a beautiful place. But it was not Madeleine’s child-hood home in France’s Burgundy region where much of her family still lived.

Family. Jack understood that to many, the American dream featured a cookie-cutter suburban house, a green lawn you had to mow every weekend, a white picket fence, happy, well-fed kids and a mutt who’d greet him with unrestrained canine glee whenever he returned home from work. It wasn’t a bad dream. But it wasn’t, and never would be, his dream.

How could it be with the survivor’s guilt that shadowed him like a tribe of moaning ghosts? Although he’d never been all that introspective, Jack realized that the moral dilemma he’d experienced every time he’d had to force himself to re-main emotionally removed from the bloody scenes of chaos and death he was viewing through the lens of his camera had left him too broken to feel, or even behave like a normal human being.

Ten years ago, after his strong, robust father died of a sudden heart attack while fly-fishing, Jack had inherited the winery with his mother, who’d professed no interest in the day-to-day running of the family business. After signing over control of the winery to him, and declaring the rambling house too large for one woman, Madeleine Swann had moved into the guesthouse next to the garden she’d begun her first year in Oregon. A garden that supplied the vegetables and herbs she used for cooking many of the French meals she’d grown up with.

His father’s death had left Jack in charge of two hundred and sixty acres of vineyards and twenty acres of orchards. Not wanting, nor able, to give up his wanderlust ways to settle down and become a farmer of grapes and cherries, Jack had hired Gideon Byrne, a recent widower with a five-year-old daughter, away from a Napa winery to serve as both manager and vintner.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call them?” Gideon, walking toward him, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses, asked not for the first time over the past weeks.

“The only reason that Tess would want to see me would be to wave me off to hell.” In the same way he’d never softened the impact of his photos, Jack never minced words nor romanticized his life. There would be no dramatic scenes with his three daughters—all now grown women with lives of their own—hovering over his deathbed.

“Have you considered that she might want to have an opportunity to talk with you? If for no other reason to ask—”

“Why I deserted her before her second birthday and never looked back? I’m sure her mother’s told her own version of the story, and the truth is that the answers are too damn complicated and the time too long past for that discussion.” It was also too late for redemption.

Jack doubted his eldest daughter would give a damn even if he could’ve tried to explain. She’d have no way of knowing that he’d kept track of her all these years, blaming himself when she’d spiraled out of control so publicly during her late teens and early twenties. Perhaps, if she’d had a father who came home every night for dinner, she would have had a more normal, stable life than the Hollywood hurricane her mother had thrown her into before her third birthday.

Bygones, he reminded himself. Anything he might say to his firstborn would be too little, too late. Tess had no reason to travel to Oregon for his sake, but hopefully, once he was gone, curiosity would get the better of her. His girls should know each other. It was long past time.

“Charlotte, then,” Gideon pressed. “You and Blanche are still technically married.”

“Technically being the operative word.” The decades-long separation from his Southern socialite wife had always suited them both just fine. According to their prenuptial agreement, Blanche would continue to live her privileged life in Charleston, without being saddled with a full-time live-in husband, who’d seldom be around at any rate. Divorce, she’d informed him, was not an option. And if she had discreet affairs from time to time, who would blame her? Certainly not him.

“That’s no reason not to give Charlotte an opportunity to say goodbye. How many times have you seen her since she went to college? Maybe twice a year?”

“You’re pushing again,” Jack shot back. Hell, you’d think a guy would be allowed to die in peace without Jiminy Cricket sitting on his shoulder. “Though of the three of them, Char-lotte will probably be the most hurt,” he allowed.

His middle daughter had always been a sweet girl, running into his arms, hair flying behind her like a bright gold flag to give her daddy some “sugar”—big wet kisses on those rare occasions he’d wind his way back to Charleston. Or drop by Savannah to take her out to dinner while she’d been attending The Savannah School of Art and Design.

“The girl doesn’t possess Blanche’s steel magnolia strength.”

Having grown up with a mother who could find fault in the smallest of things, Charlotte was a people pleaser, and that part of her personality would kick into high gear whenever he rolled into the city. “And, call me a coward, but I’d just as soon not be around when her pretty, delusional world comes crashing down around her.” He suspected there were those in his daughter’s rarified social circle who knew the secret that the Charleston PI he’d kept on retainer hadn’t had any trouble uncovering.

“How about Natalie?” Gideon continued to press. “She doesn’t have any reason to be pissed at you. But I’ll bet she will be if you die without a word of warning. Especially after losing her mother last year.”

“Which is exactly why I don’t want to put her through this.”

He’d met Josette Seurat, the ebony-haired, dark-eyed French Jamaican mother of his youngest daughter, when she’d been singing in a club in the spirited Oberkampf district of Paris’s eleventh arrondissement. He’d fallen instantly, and by the next morning Jack knew that not only was the woman he’d spent the night having hot sex with his first true love, she was also the only woman he’d ever love. Although they’d never married, they’d become a couple, while still allowing space for each other to maintain their own individual lives, for twenty-six years. And for all those years, despite temptation from beautiful women all over the globe, Jack had remained faithful. He’d never had a single doubt that Josette had, as well.

With Josette having been so full of life, her sudden death from a brain embolism had hit hard. Although Jack had im-mediately flown to Paris from Syria to attend the funeral at a church built during the reign of Napoleon III, he’d been too deep in his own grief, and suffering fatigue—which, rather than jet lag, as he’d assumed, had turned out to be cancer—to provide the emotional support and comfort his third daughter had deserved.

“Josette’s death is the main reason I’m not going to drag Natalie here to watch me die. And you might as well quit playing all the guilt cards because I’m as sure of my decision as I was yesterday. And the day before that. And every other time over the past weeks you’ve brought it up. Bad enough you coerced me into making those damn videos. Like I’m some documentary maker.”

To Jack’s mind, documentary filmmakers were storytellers who hadn’t bothered to learn to edit. How hard was it to spend anywhere from two to ten hours telling a story he could capture in one single, perfectly timed photograph?

“The total length of all three of them is only twenty minutes,” Gideon said equably.

There were times when Jack considered that the man had the patience of a saint. Which was probably necessary when you’d chosen to spend your life watching grapes grow, then waiting years before the wine you’d made from those grapes was ready to drink. Without Gideon Byrne to run this place, Jack probably would have sold it off to one of the neighboring vineyards years ago, with the caveat that his mother would be free to keep the guesthouse, along with the larger, showier one that carried her name. Had he done that he would have ended up regretting not having a thriving legacy to pass on to his daughters.

“The total time works out to less than ten minutes a daughter. Which doesn’t exactly come close to a Ken Burns series,” Gideon pointed out.

“I liked Burns’s baseball one,” Jack admitted reluctantly. “And the one on country music. But hell, it should’ve been good, given that he took eight years to make it.”

Jack’s first Pulitzer had admittedly been a stroke of luck, being in the right place at the right time. More care had gone into achieving the perfect photos for other awards, but while he admired Burns’s work, he’d never have the patience to spend that much time on a project. His French mother had claimed he’d been born a pierre roulante—rolling stone—al-ways needing to be on the move. Which wasn’t conducive to family life, which is why both his first and second marriages had failed. Because he could never be the husband either of his very different wives had expected.

“Do you believe in life after death?” he asked.

Gideon took his time to answer, looking out over the vine-yards. “I like to think so. Having lost Becky too soon, it’d be nice to believe we’ll connect again, somewhere, somehow.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, there are days that I think this might be our only shot.”

“Josette came again last night.”

“You must have enjoyed that.”

“I always do.”

Social Links

Author Website
Facebook: @JoAnnRossbooks
Instagram: @JoAnnRossBooks

Buy Links

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Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island

  The Invisible Husband of Frick Island
Author:  Colleen Oakley
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1984806483 / 978-1984806482

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

Opening Sentence:  "At first, when Piper scanned the docks and didn't see the familiar rickety white-pine-and-fir fisherman's trawler, she thought nothing of it."

Favorite Quote:  "Every human being - every single one of us - wakes up each morning hoping, believing, that today is not our day. Not our time. That the storm is not yet here. That our island will not be wiped out. That we will see the sunrise the next morning. That life is worth living. Otherwise, we wouldn't bother getting out of bed."

A books that begins with a tragic death in a storm ends up a sweet, sometimes silly feel-good summer beach read. The story ends up about a community - a family - takes care of its own and the way it envelops a member that is hurting.

The book just takes a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to telling the story. A storm. A death. Possible mental trauma. Depression. Therapy. Climate change. Development vs stewardship of natural resources. Journalism and the reputation of journalists. Podcasts. Family illness. Unresolved childhood issues. And bugs! Perhaps, more than that but that is a sufficiently diverse list of topics covered in this book.

Frick Island is a tiny strip of land in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Maryland. It has a small year-around community of about ninety people. That expands somewhat in the summer when a dwindling number of tourists arrive. Other than tourism, the main industry is fishing and crabbing, but that too is dwindling. Per the author's note, Frick Island is loosely modeled on the actual Smith Island in Maryland.

This is the island that Tom and Piper Parrish call home. The book begins as Tom's boat is lost in a storm, and young Piper is an inconsolable widow. The trauma of the loss has her talking to Tom as if he is still there. Out of love, so are the rest of the Frick Islanders!

Anders Caldwell is a journalist with dreams of the Washington Post and the New York Times. He is currently employed by a small local paper on the mainland. He comes to Frick Island to do a story on the Frick Island Cake Walk. He meets Piper.

In pursuit of his dreams, Anders is also a podcaster. His podcast currently has one listener - his stepfather. On a whim, he does an episode about Piper, the island, and the "invisible husband." His podcast takes off. He pretends on the island to be researching climate change and returns time and again to gather material. Of course, this leads to all kinds of questions.

Can you see where this is leading? A young woman in grief and at a crossroads. "... she realized that was the thing about loneliness. It made you susceptible to doing a whole manner of things you might not otherwise do." A young man with dreams but with empathy and love. A small town community that takes care of its own. Add to that the encroachment of "development" into the island way of life.

The story goes exactly where you expect it to go. It is at times over the top and silly, but in a way that has me laughing at the twists included. It is at the same time sweet and charming, perfect for a summer beach read.

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Kitchen Front

The Kitchen Front
  The Kitchen Front
Author:  Jennifer Ryan
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0593158806 / 978-0593158807

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

Opening Sentence:  "A glorious spring morning poured its golden splendor through the tall kitchen window as a whirlwind of boys raced in, shooting at each other in a ramshackle reconstruction of Dunkirk."

Favorite Quote:  "My grief is only equal to what I had that was lost, and if my sorrow is immeasurable, it is because the depth of our love, our world, and the joy we created, was so immense on the other side of the balance. I would not be without it for all the world."

Wars are fought on many different fronts including, as the title indicates, the kitchen front. This story is of World War II in England where food shortages abounded. The book touches on the bigger tragedies of the war, but the focus in on the kitchen front. Food shortages were prevalent; food rationing began in 1940 and did not end until 1954. 

In an effort to help, BBC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Food, began a radio cooking show. The show titled "The Kitchen Front, the cookery program helping Britain's housewives make the most of wartime food rations." The show aimed to educate the British housewife in creative use of rations. The show aired for four years in over 1,000 episodes.

Given that the women faced most of the challenges on the kitchen front, the show was aimed at women. This book picks up on this history and tells the story of a group of women in a small English village. Through the background of these women, it tells the story of war, of resilience, of a sisterhood rising to lift one another up. "Sometimes life doesn't turn out the way we expect. Sometimes we need to stand together."

The premise is a simple one. The radio show hosts a contest to be held in three courses - appetizer, main course, and dessert. The winner will have the opportunity to be a host on the radio show. The contestants are a war widow trying to provide for her children, a lady of the manor with secrets that belie the appearance of the manor, a shy maid who is a talented cook but who lacks the confidence in her abilities, and a trained fine dining chef relegated by circumstances to a country village factory kitchen. Through these four women, the book tells a story of the issues faced by women - the war, abandonment, unwanted pregnancies, working conditions, family affairs, motherhood, grief, medical illness, and so much more.

Being a book centered around a cooking show, the book does come with recipes:  hominy pie, Lord Woolton pie, curried salt cod, scrod St Jacques, sweet pickle chutney, hare with elderberry wind sauce, sardine rolls, spam and game raised pie, sheep's head roll, chicken cacciatore, whale meat and mushroom pie, to name a few. Based on the ration ingredients, I don't think I will be trying these recipes any time soon. However, as someone who enjoys cookbooks and food history, I do enjoy reading about them and the ingenuity of these wartime cooks.

Ultimately, this story of war turns into a feel good story about family we create and women banding together to better each of the lives individually and all their lives collectively. "Sometimes things seem to drown us... But then one day becomes a week, and then a month, and slowly you being to get on with life. The world readjusts around you, and you find new skills and talents you never know you had."

I leave this book, having learned yet a new aspect of World War II history. I also leave it inspired by the courage and strength of women in trying circumstances who rise above their challenges to meet life and who do it in a supportive, uplifting way. A feel good story of war if such a thing is possible.

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

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mango and Peppercorns

  Mango and Peppercorns
Author:  Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Nguyen
Publication Information:  Chronicle Books. 2021. 224 pages.
ISBN:  1797202243 / 978-1797202242

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

Opening Sentence:  "As the Vietnam War came to a close in the spring of 1975 with North Vietnam victorious, people began to flee impending Communist rule."

Favorite Quote:  "Refugees are here because they have no choice. They also bring enormous gifts and talents, as Tung did. They just need an opportunity. I  hope our story inspires others to understand that people from different backgrounds can find common ground if we just listen to each other. We can all be bigger than our individual selves. We all have tremendous power to change the lives of others and help the world become more mixed and accepting ... Everyone can get to know people who are different than they are. Everyone can help where they see a need. We all have stories to tell, and the best thing we can do for ourselves and the world is to listen to each other."

Tung Nguyễn fled Vietnam in 1975, 23 years old, pregnant, and alone. She landed in Miami and had the good fortune to meet and be given shelter and friendship by Kathy Manning. Kathy Manning was a graduate student at the time and opened up her home to refugees. Upon their meeting, neither imagined how far their friendship and partnership would flourish. Neither imagined that they would become friends, family, and business partners. "Why has their friendship endured for so many years, despite so many differences in culture and personality? Their values are the same. They share a firm sense of right and wrong. They take care of others who need help, even when doing so makes their own lives harder. They both always stand on their own two feet, proudly defining and making their own success."

This is a story of the immigrant roots of our nation, the welcoming shore, the contribution of immigrants - first generation and beyond - to this nation. "In all this strangeness, this tree gave me comfort and familiarity and strength. It was once a young tree, planted in new soil. Now it had grown higher than Kathy's roof. its red flowers providing cover for the yard and the house. I began to think of myself as a tree, too: a young tree, planted in new soil in the land of America. Now that I had water and dirt, I, too, would grow - roots, branches, and soon, the first young leaf."

This is also a story of food. Tung Nguyen learned how to cook in her family home. The food comes from the heart, and she is an inspired cook. Kathy Manning saw the potential and encouraged a career based on that talent and passion. They began with home parties and went on to create the immensely popular restaurant Hy Vong. Tung was the chef, while Kathy managed the business. This led to both progress and conflict.

Sadly, the restaurant closed in 2015, but its following remains. The book, which includes family photos and 20 recipes from Hy Vong, is marketed both as a memoir and a cookbook. According to its website, the restaurant offers pick up on certain dates with a menu that changes with each pick up date.

Ultimately, this is a book about the American dream, and the challenges and hurdles that face who try to achieve it. Both Tung and Kathy face different struggles, each in their own way searching for that elusive ideal. This book chronicles their challenges and the occasional moments when they appear to have achieved it. This book gives a face - one of many - to refugees and immigrants wanting and working so hard to achieve the ideal they believe possible. Through Tung's story, it highlights just one story of why someone may leave all they love and know behind to begin again. It brings to life the challenge of life as an immigrant, where, at times, you seem to fit not in your adopted home and not in the place you left. In Kathy's story, it epitomizes the welcome and the support that created the melting pot of this nation. Given the political climate in this nation at this point, this is a timely book.

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

How to Order the Universe

How to Order the Universe
  How to Order the Universe
Author:  María José Ferrada (Author). Elizabeth Bryer (Translator).
Publication Information:  Tin House Books. 2021. 180 pages.
ISBN:  1951142306 / 978-1951142308

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

Opening Sentence:  "D began his career selling hardware items:  nails, saws, hammers, handles, and door viewers, brand name Kramp."

Favorite Quote:  "... most of the time, a good silence is more valuable than a good piece of advice."

Some pragmatic facts to start with. This book is a very fast read. Its 180 pages have plenty of white space so it reads even faster than the short length would indicate. I do not feel that anything is lost in translation. The translation paints a factual and emotional picture. I cannot say it is the picture the author intends, but it is a picture that works for me.

Seven year old M's father D is a traveling salesman. D sells hardware supplies. To M, her father's life on the road - the travel, the car, the restaurant, the sense of being on holiday, the people, the perceived importance - seems ideal. Her mother maintains the order of school and life. M dreams of life on the road. She and her father often orchestrate situations in which M travels with him with her mother being none the wiser.

The book, told from seven year old M's point of view, is that child's view. Presumably, it is her attempt at seeing an order to her own universe. The author and translator manage to successfully create that idealized view of D and his life in a Chile run by dictator Augusto Pinochet. This was a time of persecutions, censorship, and military rule. That background, however, fades as this is a child's story.

Between the lines of the child's narration are realities an adult reader sees. Traveling sales is a dying business. D's life and lifestyle is perhaps not in the best interest of his family or even his own. The political climate creeps in. Between the lines, the relevance of regime also comes through for its impact is the story of M's mother. What this narrative does not say and spell out is almost as important, if not more so, than what it does say.

Along the way, D & M meet E, a photographer who photographs ghosts. In a regime with military rule and persecution, perhaps ghosts are what remain. The connection is an important and impactful one for all three even though the child may not realize it.

The idealism is sadly, shattered violently one day. M's life is perhaps never the same.

As with coming of age stories, M comes of age and begins to see the reality of her father's actions. The change is inevitable and at the same time so abrupt and tragic. It leaves me wonder that as a teenage M grows and matures further, perhaps in the future, she may make a different choice.

The fact that I think beyond the end of the book is a statement to the success of the story and the storytelling. I wonder what happens to these two people further in life.

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Dangerous Women

Dangerous Women
  Dangerous Women
Author:  Hope Adams
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0593099575 / 978-0593099575

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

Opening Sentence:  "I wish I didn't know, she thought."

Favorite Quote:  "That's what we, too, are like, us women. We're a patchwork. One person next to another, then her next to a third, and on and on, different people pushed together. Some neatly beside our neighbors, some out of shape and awkwardly sewn into a botched closeness. "

The history of this book is fascinating. The "dangerous women" are women incarcerated in England for crimes ranging from petty theft to prostitution to murder. In the 1800s, the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners founded by Elizabeth Fry, set out to offer prisoners tasks deemed useful to keep them busy during their incarceration. Needlework was one such tasks. As the law dictated, some women were taken from the prisoners and essentially deported to Van Diemen's Land, a British colony on Tasmania. The intent was to offer the women a fresh start.

One such transport included 180 female prisoners on a ship named the Rajah. Along with the women came sewing supplies. The project created by the end of the journey is the Rajah Quilt. It is supposed that the project was led by Kezia Hayter, who was a free woman in charge of the prisoners. The Rajah Quilt still exists and is housed in the National Gallery of Australia and can be viewed only once a year due to its fragility.

Within this history is the story of this book, which reads somewhat like an Agatha Christie mystery. In fact, it reminds me of Murder on the Orient Express in structure and flow but not ending. The Rajah is in the middle of the ocean. The cast of character is limited to those on board. A woman is stabbed. The list of suspects, by definition, is limited to those on board. Is it one of the sailors? Is it one of the women? Why? What are the stories behind each individual's actions.

The story goes back and forth between the investigation (current time) and the introduction of the women as they come aboard (the past). Each woman has a story and, perhaps, a secret she hides. Some of the stories intersect as do some secrets. In this way, the story is more about this mystery than the creation of the Rajah Quilt, but the history is still one I would not otherwise have learned.

The story itself and the characters themselves hold interest as well. Through each woman's story, the author paints a vivid picture of the conditions - the poverty and the desperation - that leads these women to the crimes they committed. It creates an understanding of the risk they took, more often than not for their families, particularly their children. It speaks to the fear of an unknown land and what awaits them. This is the other historical aspect of this book. Through fiction, it brings to life the emotion of the history.

The conclusion of the mystery, when it comes, is more tragic than suspenseful. It adds to the history of these women and the impact on mental health of the tragedies these women have faced.

The book, however, ends on a hopeful note, perhaps to mirror the intent of these transports - a new beginning in more ways than one.

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Love Proof

  The Love Proof
Author:  Madeleine Henry
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 288 pages.
ISBN:  978-1982142964

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

Opening Sentence:  "Before they met, Jake Kristopher was sitting in the third row of Woolsey Hall, Yale's biggest auditorium, glancing up at the balcony behind him."

Favorite Quote:  "The most valuable insight of my life has been that the best use of time is to love. It's not a sophisticated idea, and that's exactly the point. People overvalue intellect. Life should be lived from the heart ... So, whenever I have the choice, I should spend my time with other people. Even if that means I leave less of a mark on the world at large."

I love the premise of this book. A young prodigy studying time at Yale. A young female prodigy. I love strong female characters and to follow a young scientist seems intriguing. The fact that she is to study time theory is even more fascinating. I want to be caught up in the science and a young woman's pursuit of scientific knowledge. I want to see a young woman balance relationship and career. I want to see a man be present and support of a strong, intelligent woman.

I walk away from this book frustrated because none of that happens and because I do not understand the why. The book focuses so completely on the romance (yes, I know love is in the title). Sophie's pursuit of science becomes an afterthought. In addition, because of the choices depicted, the two main characters end up relatively unlikable. The fact that the book then follows their story over decades without much change means I invest in it even less.

So many unanswered questions! So much unexplored potential!

From the beginning. How and why Sophie gives up on the dream of her lifetime so quickly after meeting Jack? How does an intelligent, coherent young adult turn into a simpering woman with no thought other than of a young man?

To the middle. How does a college romance have such long reaching impact? Why does the dream of love overshadow all other dreams?

To the end. Really? It was all a choice. Why does one individual make the choices, leaving no room for a conversation, a discussion, or a mature relationship between two adults?

This final question becomes my major stumbling block. Love and relationships exist or should exist between adults who are partners in that relationship. In this one, I feel that Jake makes all the decisions without ever consulting Sophie (who, by premise, is a smart young woman). That is annoying. The fact that Sophie lets it be and goes along with his decision seems not in keeping with her character of questioning and study. "A lot of people think science is sterile ... and heartless and boring, but not me. I've always had this feeling that there are eyes in everything that the world is alive down to the atom. But we grow up and start to see things the way we expect. We stop questioning, listening, but I think the universe is always talking to us: through symbols, our guts, or feelings we can't explain. I want to know as much as I can, especially about the big building blocks of reality." This is the same girl who asks no questions in a relationship. Really?

Just, why? The book is a lovely premise with a frustrating execution.

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Where I Left Her

  Where I Left Her
Author:  Amber Garza
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0778332063 / 978-0778332060

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Mystery/Thriller Summer 2021 tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Whitney wanted to get rid of her daughter."

Favorite Quote:  "When I tell you what happened, it will be easy to blame me. TO say it was my fault. But that's not fair. We all make our own choices, sure. But we don't live in a bubble. People influence us. Shape us into who we ultimately become."

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


Whitney is a single mother to teenage Amelia. Ever since the Whitney and Dan's divorce, it's been the two of them. However, lately, Amelia is no longer Whitney's little girl. She is a sullen, withdrawn teenager. Whitney tries hard to find a way back into Amelia's world and to keep her daughter engaged. She wishes for the closeness and joy they once shared.

One way Whitney tries to keep the peace includes making the decision not to ask too many questions when Amelia asks to be dropped off for a sleepover at her friend Lauren's house. Lauren is a new friend, and not one Whitney knows a lot about. Actually, Whitney knows very little about Amelia's new friends. The issue is that Amelia disappears, and Whitney doesn't know where, how, or with who. She is not even sure entirely where she left her daughter. She has no last name and no address.

So begins this psychological thriller. It uses a 2 timeline structure - the weeks prior to the disappearance and the hours following the disappearance. In between are sprinkled other flashbacks, sometimes a line or two to sometimes a few paragraphs. The narrator of these flashbacks is unclear at the beginning, but becomes clear with the big reveal. The book keeps me guessing until the end as to how all three tie together. Once revealed, my reaction is that of course, that comes together. Implausible or not, the story comes together in the end. It all makes sense.

The book pulls together a lot of disturbing elements - an unreliable narrator with secrets in her past, an ex-husband in another country who has doubts about his ex-wife's past, a boyfriend with secrets of his own, teenage girls possibly engaging with older men online, a new girl on the scene, and shifting teenage friendships and sexual exploration. A grounded best friend is the perfect foil as a reminder of a well-adjusted adult in the midst of all the chaos of the main characters. The police are, of course, involved, but this book is really about a mother and her child.

My favorite aspect of this book is the author's depiction of a parent's anguish at the thought that her child is missing. However, the progression from a thought that something is of concern, anger at the thought of a willful child, growing anxiety, to full-blown panic is an interesting one to watch. I hope no parent ever has to know these set of emotions, but, as a parent, I could relate.

Some of the direction the story goes in is a little over the top and conveniently implausible, but it really does not matter. It takes me along for an entertaining, escapist, adventure ride. The ending does leave me wondering about what happens next. It provides a conclusion as to what happened but definitely leaves an opening as to what comes next. Wonder if a sequel might be coming?

About the Author

Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California.

Book Summary

From the author of WHEN I WAS YOU comes a spine-tingling new thriller about a mother's worst nightmare come true, when she goes to pick up her daughter from a sleepover, and she's nowhere to be found.

Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter off for a sleepover last night. She's never met the friend's parents, and usually she'd go in, but Amelia clearly wasn't going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead she waved to her daughter before pulling away from the cute little house with the rosebushes in front.

But when she goes back to get her, an elderly couple answers the door--Amelia and her friend are nowhere to be found, and this couple swears she's at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of secrets and lies her daughter has told her--from Finsta accounts to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she's raised, and can she find her before it's too late?

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from Where I Left Her by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2021 by Amber Garza. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

FRIDAY, 5:00 P.M.

WHITNEY WANTED TO get rid of her daughter.

How awful is that?

Not forever, of course, but for the night. She was weary of the sixteen-year-old attitude. The rolling of eyes, stomping of feet, the judging glances and biting remarks.

That’s why she wasn’t paying as much attention as she should’ve been when dropping Amelia off at Lauren’s. Her mind was back in their apartment, her butt planted on the couch, bare feet propped on the table, a pint of ice cream in her lap.

“The destination is on your right.” She turned the steering wheel, following the instructions given by the disembodied voice of the GPS in her daughter’s phone. Amelia held it up, giving the illusion that her palm was talking. The house in front of them was nondescript. A tract home, painted tan with beige trim, a cream door, two large windows overlooking the narrow front walkway. The only thing that set it apart from the others was the row of rosebushes lining the left perimeter of the yard, scarlet red petals and thorny, jagged stems.

Whitney pulled her car over, tires hugging the curb.

Amelia hopped out the minute her mother’s foot pressed down on the brakes, as if she was desperate to be free of her.

“You sure this is her house?” Whitney asked.

Amelia shrugged, glancing down at her phone and then back up. “This is the address she gave me.” Her tone was impatient, irritated. That’s how she’d been lately. Distant and moody. Everything her mom said and did annoyed her.

Originally, she’d planned to walk Amelia up to the front door and meet Lauren’s mom. But on the way over here, Amelia had begged her not to do that, pointing out that she was no longer a little girl.

As much as Whitney hated to admit it, she could see her point. Amelia was sixteen. As soon as she finished her driver’s training and passed her test, she’d be driving on her own and then Whitney wouldn’t even have the option of dropping her off at her friend’s. It was time she learned to let go, loosen the death grip a little.

Instead of following her daughter, Whitney stayed inside the car, watching through the smudged glass of the passenger-side window. Amelia’s dark hair swished down her spine as she sped to the front door. When she reached it, she readjusted the blue overnight bag that was secured on her shoulder while lifting her other hand to knock.

Lauren appeared in the doorway, flashing a smile at Amelia. She wore a pink headband that made her look much younger than seventeen. Amelia peered over her shoulder before stepping forward, her lips curling at the corners as she threw her mom another wave. It was the largest grin Whitney had gotten in days, and she welcomed it, grabbed hold of it and then gave it back.

After watching them both disappear inside, Whitney pulled away from the curb. Without even looking in the rearview mirror, she sped toward her night of freedom, dreaming of a couch to herself and a movie Amelia couldn’t make fun of.

SATURDAY, 10:00 A.M.

Whitney had been up for hours, and still hadn’t heard from Amelia. Last night was restful. Quiet. Peaceful. All the things Whitney had wanted it to be. Much needed. But this morning she was suffering from a serious case of mom guilt. She missed her daughter. Was anxious for her to come home, attitude and all. Unlocking her phone, she shot her a quick text: Ready for me to pick you up?

Even after several minutes, no response came. Not that she was shocked. When Amelia had friends over, they stayed up all night giggling and talking. No matter how many times Whitney would remind them to keep it down, within minutes their muffled voices would return, drifting through the adjoining bedroom wall. Most likely, she’d done the same at Lauren’s and they were both still asleep.

The house smelled like Saturday morning—coffee, creamer, maple syrup.

French toast had been a weekend tradition for years. When Amelia was little, she’d wake up early and bound into her mom’s bedroom, eager for breakfast. But lately it seemed Whitney ate alone more often than not. Even when Amelia was home, there was no guarantee she’d join her. Amelia lived in her room, earbuds perpetually plugged in her ears, as if she’d grown another extremity. Still, Whitney couldn’t bring herself to stop the tradition altogether. The French toast would get eaten, even if it took a couple of days. Whitney didn’t mind leftovers, anyway. Not that she had many this morning. She’d gone for an extra-long jog and had been ravenous.

After cleaning up the kitchen, Whitney went back into her phone and clicked on the Snapchat app. Amelia may have been quiet around the house lately, but she had no problem sharing her life with the rest of the world. Whitney expected to be greeted by smiling selfies of her and Lauren, maybe some photos of the food they were eating, proof to all the other teenagers on social media that they were having a blast on their Friday night together. But nothing had been posted on her story in the last twenty-four hours.

With slick fingertips, Whitney closed out of Snapchat and checked Instagram. Nothing there either. A chill brushed over her neck, causing the hairs to stand on end. She shook the feeling away with an abrupt jerk of her head. Whitney had always been like this. Anxious. A worrier, especially when it came to Amelia. Perpetually thinking the worst. Amelia hated it. So had her ex-husband. It was one of the many things they fought about. And it was probably one of many reasons why Dan had ended up marrying that sunny, smiling, high-pitched preschool teacher. If Whitney had to take a guess, she’d say there were no skeletons in Miss Karen’s closet. No past indiscretions she was afraid of coming to light. No monsters from her past lurking around the corner.

No secret buried inside, so deep the roots had become invisible.

When Dan married Karen, Whitney remembered thinking how he had succeeded in finding someone completely opposite from her, just like he said he would. It didn’t take him long either. He’d met Karen less than a year after they’d split up. He and Karen were friends for a while, and then dated for several years before marrying.

That was how he always defended it.

We were friends first.

We took it slow.

But that was never the point. He should have made Amelia his priority. Whitney hadn’t dated at all while Amelia was growing up—she’d only started within the last couple of years. Once Amelia hit high school and started having a life of her own, Whitney figured it was time she did too.

Leaning against the counter, she stared out the kitchen window. There wasn’t a view. The window overlooked the apartment across the way. A man stood in his kitchen, his back to Whitney as he drank coffee. His build vaguely reminded Whitney of Jay, and it made her smile.

Going into her last text thread with him, she typed, I miss you.

Then she bit her lip. Too forward? Too soon?

They’d been dating for a couple of months, and he’d only been on an overnight business trip. He was returning later today. She didn’t want to come on too strong.

Backspace. Delete. She tried again: Hope your trip was good.

Too formal?

Whitney paused, thinking.

Why am I making this so hard?

She really liked Jay. That was the problem. He was the first guy in a long time she felt hopeful about. Usually by month two of dating someone, the red flags popped up and her interest waned. That hadn’t happened yet with Jay.

Turns out, she didn’t need to stress over what to text. Jay beat her to it.

Boarding the plane now. Will call you when I’m back, he texted.

Sounds good, she responded.

It was 10:30. There were a million things on the agenda today and waiting around for Amelia wasn’t one of them.

After hitting the grocery store and Target, Whitney swung by Lauren’s, using the memory of how they’d gotten there yesterday as her guide. It was a little tricky, since she hadn’t paid enough attention to Amelia’s directions yesterday, but after a few minutes of circling the neighborhood, she came upon a familiar street and turned on it. A couple of houses in, she recognized the rosebushes.

It had been well over an hour since she’d sent the last text to Amelia. Although there hadn’t been any response yet, Whitney was sure she was up by now. Probably hoping to buy more time with her friend.

Whitney had gotten Amelia a bag of gummy worms. She pulled it out of one of the grocery bags. It crinkled as she set it on the passenger seat. Amelia probably wouldn’t even eat them. Certainly, they didn’t fit within the parameters of her latest diet, but, still, Whitney couldn’t resist. Whitney’s habit of picking up treats at the store had started back when Amelia was a toddler, when she’d surprised her with a bag of cookies one afternoon when picking her up from preschool. Whitney would never forget how wide Amelia’s eyes got, how broad her smile became as she clutched the little bag. A lot of things may have changed between them over the past few years, but Whitney didn’t want that to be one of them.

After getting out of the car, she slipped the key ring around her finger and walked up the front walkway, flip-flops slapping on the pavement. It was a warm, spring day. Kids played outside a few houses down. A lawnmower kicked on. A couple rode their bikes past, bright neon helmets bouncing up and down like beach balls bobbing in the waves. Amelia used to love to ride bikes. For a while, it had been a weekend tradition. Whitney couldn’t remember the last time they’d hit the trails together, but she made a note to ask her about it. Most likely her answer would be a big resounding no, coupled with the same cringey, horrified look she had whenever Whitney suggested they hang out. Still, it was worth a shot. Sometimes Amelia surprised her with a yes, reminding Whitney of the girl she used to be before the teenage monster took over.

When Whitney reached the door, she lifted her hand to knock the same way she’d watched Amelia do the day before. A minute passed and no one answered. That funny feeling returned, but she shoved it down, feeling silly.

She knocked again, this time so hard it stung her knuckles. The girls were probably listening to music or something. Or maybe they were in the backyard. It was a nice day. Ears perked, she listened for the sound of her daughter’s voice or of music playing inside. Hearing neither of those, she frowned.

Finally, Whitney caught the hint of footsteps inside.

The door creaked open, an older woman peering out, eyebrows raised. She looked to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies.

Whitney was taken aback. She’d never met Lauren’s mom, but there was no way this was her. Maybe Lauren’s grandparents lived with them. Recently, Whitney had watched a news report about how the cost of living had gone up, causing multigenerational homes to become a growing trend. And Lauren had mentioned that her parents were divorced. Whitney knew firsthand how financially taxing it was to raise a child alone.

“Hi, I’m Whitney. Amelia’s mom.” Smiling, Whitney jutted out her hand.

But the elderly woman just stared at it, not saying a word. She glanced over her shoulder where a man around her same age stood. He furrowed his brows and stepped forward. Whitney’s body tensed.

Maybe she’s got dementia or Alzheimer’s or something. Whitney caught the old man’s eyes. “Hi, I’m Amelia’s mom. She spent the night here.”

“Nope. Not here.” Shaking his head, he came closer. “You must have the wrong house. They all kinda look the same in this neighborhood.”

Whitney glanced around. Hadn’t she thought the same thing yesterday? She must’ve turned down the wrong street or something.

Face warming, she backed away from the door. “I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

“No bother at all,” the man said, and the woman offered a kind smile.

Whitney turned on her heels and made her way back to the car. She turned on the ignition and pulled away from the curb. The couple had already disappeared inside. Whitney drove to the main street and turned right. When she came up on another street, she turned onto it. The man was right. There were lots of houses that looked like theirs. She pulled up in front of one, scanning the yard.

Nope. No roses.

That’s what had set the other house apart. The one she dropped Amelia off at.

She moved farther down the street, carefully looking to the right and to the left, searching for a one-story house, roses lining the perimeter. Coming up empty, she swung the car around. Maybe her mistake had been turning right at the main street.

Backtracking, this time Whitney turned left.

This street was almost identical to the other two she’d just been down. Same tract homes. Manicured lawns. Shuttered windows. A sea of tan paint and beige trim. The odd red door or colorful lawn art. But, again, no roses. At least, not in the correct spot.

Turning onto another street, she finally found it. The simple house. The roses lining the side.

After parking in front, she leaped out and hurried to the front door. It was answered after only a couple of knocks.

She gasped, taking in the elderly man standing in the doorway. The same one she’d just spoken to a few moments ago.

Oh, my God.

She’d ended up right back where she’d started. As she backed away from the door, apologizing profusely, she took in the shuttered windows, the manicured lawn, the roses lining the perimeter of the yard. Peering back at her car, she envisioned Amelia in the front seat holding her phone, the voice of the GPS speaking in her palm.

There was almost no doubt in Whitney’s mind—this was where she’d left her.

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Twitter: @ambermg1
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Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.