ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism, Romance, Short Stories

Five Goodreads Reviews

In an effort to not get too far behind, I’m going to do some copy/pasting from Goodreads.

The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is the Young Adult novel, You’ve Reached Sam. It is about a teenage boy who is killed in a car accident and, when his girlfriend calls his number just to hear his voicemail message…he answers. That’s right. He answers. It’s as tender and goosebump-inducing as it sounds. I loved it.

Available January 17, 2023
Available April 11, 2023
ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

August Reads & September Faves

Here are the books I read and/or listened to in August! I rated them throughout the month so I could share them with you. Some will still be reviewed on this site (mainly You’ve Reached Sam, which touched me deeply.) If a book has 4 or 5 stars, I really enjoyed it. If it has 3 stars it means it’s good, but flawed. Anything with 2 or 1 star…you’ve been warned! All of these are just my opinion, of course.

Lastly, here are two advanced copies I read a while ago that I enjoyed very much. Both are coming out in September:

Right now I’m rereading Katherine Center’s The Bodyguard because my husband and I plan to listen to the audio book this week. Next I’ll be doing a buddy read of The Art of Racing in the Rain with one of the ladies in my online book club. There’s always something to read!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

The Abandoned Ones…

I’ve been asked: “Aren’t there books that you didn’t like?” The short answer is YES. We’ve all started a book and realized it wasn’t for us, right? This year I’ve read nearly two hundred books, but I’ve also left plenty in the discard pile. I get most frustrated when it is a book that others love, but I can’t help how I feel, so I go on to the next one. It could be because there’s a lack of character development or a really unlikable main character. It could be a plot that doesn’t hold my interest. It could be too much gratuitous swearing. Sometimes it’s all of those things.

The reasons may vary, but there should be no guilt. Reading time is too precious to waste and there are too many great books to discover! So give yourself some grace and move on to something you enjoy.

Here are the “abandoned ones” in my pile lately. Apologies if you see one of your favorites!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

We Are The Light, by Matthew Quick

AVAILABLE November 1, 2022

This was a very interesting story. High school counselor Lucas Goodgame is a widower whose wife and sixteen others were killed in a random, violent shooting similar to the one in Aurora, Colorado. Through letters to his former analyst, Lucas describes his life after the tragedy, which includes mentoring the younger brother of the shooter. Eighteen year old Eli Hansen, now perceived as guilty by association, has set up a tent in Lucas’s backyard. Numbed by loss, he cries for days, consumed by a visceral sadness one only achieves when any kind of hope for the future seems impossible.

Over a year we see Lucas, Eli, and others as they try to heal and move forward long after the world has forgotten what happened in their small town. As is common with grief, it comes in waves, it comes unexpectedly, and can be triggered by the smallest (but significant) event. Ever the reluctant hero, Lucas tries to reassemble his life while helping others, convinced that surviving is more than just getting angry, but getting whole. While partnering with Eli on a special project, Lucas has his own team of supporters, ready to pick him up when he needs it the most.

Beautifully written with a hint of magical realism (or perhaps hallucination,) Lucas’s letters touch on everything from the mundane to the profound. His insights show great humanity and emphasize the importance of community after such a shocking event, one which recent history has shown us is, sadly, becoming more and more common.

Author Matthew Quick, who also wrote the powerful Silver Linings Playbook, is no stranger to experiencing or writing about mental illness. His acknowledgments go into detail about how this novel is his first after emerging from a three year writing slump. It is likely that he inserted himself into Lucas, showing the ebb and flow of depression, something to which many of us relate.

8.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Suspense

Now Is Not The Time To Panic, by Kevin Wilson

AVAILABLE November 8, 2022

I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Only 50% in, not knowing its conclusion, my mind was bursting with things I wanted to say about it. In fact, most of this review is from notes that flowed out of me before I even knew how it ended.

It is 1996 in Coalfield, Tennessee. Partly out of boredom, with a bit of mischief and a desire to make their marks in a world that was ignoring them, Frankie and Zeke combine their talents and make a poster. Frankie, the writer, creates a cryptic, poetic phrase of which she is very proud. Zeke, the artist, draws a picture to match the phrase.

Next, the two sixteen year olds make hundreds of copies of the poster and start putting them in public places. The rush they get from the town’s initial reaction is exactly the motivation they need to make more…and more…and more. But the more creative they get with the posters’ placement, the more things spiral out of control.

At the risk of spoilers, I’ll say no more about the plot except that it is brilliant. The idea that something as obscure as a poster can escalate into the level of panic that happens is nothing short of genius. Genius that is scary in its truth of the way humans behave. Any kind of extremism throughout history can be traced to an initial idea–or the interpretation of an idea. We’ve seen plenty of that in the last few years.

So is the poster about art? About the interpretation of art? Personal branding? Or is it about people trying to be a part of something bigger than themselves? Politics? Religion? It could be about any, or all, or none of these–making the book as open to discussion as the poster itself.

I highly recommend this book when it becomes available in November. There is some language–these are teenagers, after all–but the concept is so intriguing and the plot so cleverly woven, this really is a book not to be missed.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction

Two Fun, Witty Reads…

Here are two books I read recently that are extremely enjoyable. Happily, they also have intelligent, witty characters and plots with plenty of depth. A win-win!

THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL, by Abbi Waxman–seriously, one of the funniest books I have ever read! Laugh-out-loud-at-crazy-hours-in-the-morning funny. There were times I would try to read a passage aloud to my husband and it was so hilarious that I couldn’t even get the words out because I was laughing so much. So who is Nina Hill? She is an introverted employee of a bookstore–one of a tiny group of women who work there–and a trivia team champion. Her recall for facts is amazing (once you learn about racehorses’ birthdays, you’ll never forget) and all of her time is spent reading for competitions, reading for her weekly book group, and reading for fun (Thursday nights only.) Her life is all about planning and learning as much information as possible. This is all fine and good until some unexpected family secrets come to the surface, upending Nina’s organized existence, but also giving her insight into why she is this way. A delight from start to finish with excellent supporting characters. 9/10 Stars

WHEN IN ROME, by Sarah Adams will be available September 20th. I’d seen fellow readers talk about it and was happy when my request for an advanced copy was quickly approved. A fun companion book to Norah Goes Off Script and The Bodyguard where a celebrity and a “normal” person find their lives intersecting. Pop star Amelia “Rae” Rose idolizes Audrey Hepburn and, taking a cue from Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, decides to escape her chaotic life by driving to Rome–Rome, Kentucky, that is, where she ends up stranded in the front yard of grumpy pie shop owner Noah Walker. In a plot that’s a hybrid of Notting Hill and Sweet Home Alabama, Amelia finally has a chance to breathe and reevaluate her life. Like with the previous book, When in Rome also has wonderful supporting characters, partly because they are actually supportive. Another 9/10 Stars.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Circus Train, by Amita Parikh

AVAILABLE December 6, 2022

Have you ever shelved a book, wondered why you had it in the first place, then finally read the book and thought–Wow! Why did I wait so long to read this?? That is my experience with The Circus Train. I guess I thought it was going to be about a circus and have so many characters I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them all. Who knows? Happily, I was very wrong. Wrong in the best way.

Yes, there’s a circus and, yes, there’s a circus train, but they are only the backdrops for this marvelous story that takes place throughout Europe while tensions are building during World War II.

Over twenty years we follow Theo, a Greek illusionist; his daughter, Lena, who was crippled by Polio as an infant; and Alexandre, a French orphan who Theo finds and mentors. Theo, always honing his craft, sparring with the circus owner, and being overly protective of his daughter. Lena, who longs to go to school and be part of the academic world, her inquisitive mind never at rest. Alexandre, Lena’s closest friend, a keeper of secrets, and the story’s hero as the children become adults.

There is friendship, devotion, betrayal, separation, and a connective thread of love and determination during that separation that cuts through the absurdities and atrocities of the time period.

This is a magnificent book, one I recommend most highly. We’re still a few months away from its release, but keep it on your radar. It is worth the wait.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism

Magical Realism Done Right…and Wrong

MAGICAL REALISM: Magical realism is a genre of literature the depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. Within a work of magical realism, the world is still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world. Like fairy tales, magical realism novels and short stories blur the line between fantasy and reality. (from Masterclass.com)

When I think of magical realism, I think of a world in which I would like to live. One where unusual things “could happen” but have no real explanation…little coincidences, legends that seem very real, intuitive talents that some people appear to have…unless…IS that our current world? And, while I’m not really a reader of fantasy, magical realism feels just true enough (in the right hands) that maybe, just maybe… Well, it’s a nice thought.

SOUTH OF THE BUTTONWOOD TREE, by Heather Webber takes us to the small town of Buttonwood, Alabama. Legend says that the Buttonwood Tree has answers for those who believe, but only one question is allowed per year–and you’d better follow the advice the tree offers, or else. The main characters, Blue Bishop and Sarah Grace, friends from opposite “sides of the tracks,” are at crossroads in their lives, with their paths intersecting in the most unusual ways. There’s a bit of magic in the wind, in houses, in books, and in a newborn baby who becomes the center of attention. This book is beautifully written. I highly, highly recommend it. 9.5/10 Stars

OTHER BIRDS, by Sarah Addison Allen, available August 30 is mainly set at The Dellawisp building on Mallow Island, South Carolina. Eighteen year old Zoe has traveled there to visit her late mother’s condo. The other residents are an eccentric bunch–part Melrose Place, part Exotic Marigold Hotel–with their own quirky backgrounds and secrets. The problem is the amount of characters and the lack of individual stories for each. Then there are the three ghosts. And the birds. And the imaginary bird. And…it’s odd and kind of a mess. I would love to see this cast of misfits pared down and reworked, but, alas. 7.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

Theme: Bookish Women Afraid to Love

The term “bookish” is becoming increasingly popular these days. It refers to people whose lives revolve around books, their characters, the authors, etc. Sometimes the lines between characters and real romantic interests blur to the point that the reader creates impossibly high expectations. (Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester are particular favorites of the bookish.) Between those high expectations and past heartbreak, the bookish can get jaded when it comes to love–“the real thing.”

Here are three bookish women characters who are wary, but lonely. Their hopes are quickly eclipsed by doubt. All it takes is the right person to help them emerge from the pages and step into the real world. One is writing a dissertation using true crime examples. One is a ghost writer coming off of a bad breakup. One is a librarian who was left at the altar. Knowledge of classics and popular modern authors definitely make plots like these more enjoyable.

But…sometimes the stars do not align. That was the case with Love in the Time of Serial Killers, by Alicia Thompson, which will be released on August 1st. My main criticism is the main character, Phoebe Walsh, who is one of the most unlikable protagonists I’ve ever met. Phoebe has immersed herself in true crime stories so much that she even suspects her mild-mannered neighbor, Sam, of being a murderer. It’s a cute premise, except that she’s rarely nice to him–bordering on terrible. So, why does he show any interest? Frankly, I have no idea. Best to skip this one. 3/10 Stars

The Dead Romantics, by Ashley Poston, just released on June 28 and has been on my radar for a while. Happily, I was not disappointed. It’s a delight, and my favorite of these three novels. Florence Day is a ghost writer for famous romance author, Anne Nichols, whose age and reclusive lifestyle have rendered her unable to produce any more books. Florence poses as Anne’s assistant, the one who negotiates and meets new editor, Benji Andor. And, oh, one more tiny thing…Florence can see ghosts. This all comes to a head when Benji appears the next day as his ghostly self. This story has “mild romantic steam” but was extremely enjoyable, with wonderful characters and a superb ending. 9/10 Stars

Authentically, Izzy, by Pepper Basham, releases on November 15th. This book is for a certain audience who likes super clean plots with a combination of epistolary and narrative. Isabelle “Izzy” Edgewood is a quiet librarian living in Virginia. Raised by an aunt and uncle, she stays in close contact with her cousins Josephine, Penelope, and Luke. When the meddling Josephine creates an online dating profile for Izzy, she finds a kindred book-loving spirit who lives several thousand miles away. The first half is mostly emails between Izzy and her cousins. This section is fun, but unnecessarily long. The second half is where a romance blossoms, written in narrative form, with a few emails. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It has great potential. Unfortunately, it was a cumbersome, sometimes frustrating read. 8/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Nonfiction

Amazing Surgeons: Two Books

Two books: one nonfiction and one fiction.

Two doctors: a pediatric neurosurgeon and an embittered heart surgeon.

One goal: save the patient.

I always say that books seem to enter our lives at the right time, and these two are no different. There is something special and similar about them that made me feel they needed to be grouped together. I highly recommend both.

First, ALL THAT MOVES US, by Jay Wellons. Dr. Jay Wellons, to be exact. An experienced pediatric neurosurgeon with decades of operating and teaching experience, this is his memoir and love letter to the profession. We follow him from patient to patient, those that he saved and those he couldn’t, year after year. As expected, certain patients stand out and have left imprints on his heart. The writing is excellent and his humility is admirable. Be prepared for some detailed medical explanations, but it is never boring. A great, timely autobiography. 9.5/10 Stars

Next, WHEN CRICKETS CRY, by the incomparable Charles Martin. I truly believe Martin is one of our greatest living novelists, and I’ve only read four of his books with many more left to discover. It is, perhaps, a minor spoiler to identify the main character as a surgeon because he spends most of the story building and restoring boats with his brother-in-law, Charlie (who deserves his own book.) But whether he is known as “Reese Mitch: boat builder” or “Jonathan Reese Mitchell: heart surgeon extraordinaire,” he is still a lonely, broken man. When Reese meets Annie, a little girl selling lemonade who is ill and wise beyond her years, he must ask himself if the time is right to emerge from his shell of grief and uncertainty and tap into his incredible gifts. 9.5/10

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism

The Matchmaker’s Gift, by Lynda Cohen Loigman

AVAILABLE September 20, 2022

Right now I’m experiencing a combined euphoria and frustration that only happens when I’ve finished a book that is so good, I wonder if I can do it justice. Even explaining what The Matchmaker’s Gift is about does not come easily, but I know it is about things that mean a great deal to me, personally: family, ancestors, tradition, connections, intuition, and a bit of the unknown.

In two brilliantly woven story lines we learn about Sara and Abby. Sara is an immigrant in the early 1900’s. Crammed into New York tenement housing with her traditional Jewish family, she learns early on that she has a gift for matchmaking. A gift that borders on the supernatural. This does not bode well with the community matchmakers, a bullying group of stodgy men who care more about profit than people. Add to that, the fact that Sara is a young, unmarried girl who demands no fee. Most importantly, she is never wrong.

Fast forward to the 1990s. Abby is Sara’s granddaughter. An attorney who works in family law (i.e. divorces and prenups,) Abby has grown up listening to her grandmother’s stories and imparted wisdom. Jaded by her parents’ divorce, her father’s broken promises, and continual office drama, Abby’s expectations for love are pretty low. Thankfully, her innate sensitivity and relationship with her grandmother sustain her.

When Sara dies and leaves Abby several notebooks for her to read, the parallels begin. Side by side we see a young Sara and Abby, the struggling lawyer, navigate a harsh world that is all about the bottom line. Both crusade to improve their own little corners, rallying against others who think they know better. They have their allies, their obstacles and–through a special gift–they have each other.

The more we learn about those they help, the more we see that thread that binds us all. I even found myself making guesses about which characters were destined for each other. “A lid for every pot,” as Grandma Sara would say. And, speaking as someone who met her future spouse in the most unlikely way in 2009, you just never know.

Mark your calendars for September 20 when this book becomes widely available. It’s a gem.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced copy.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Suspense

The Water Keeper/The Letter Keeper/The Record Keeper, by Charles Martin

Beyond the comfort of our iPhones, Kindles, and smart TVs lies a grim world that we rarely, if ever, think about. It is the world of sex trafficking. Flesh for sale. If you’ve read Timothy Ballard’s Slave Stealers, which I highly recommend, you also know that it is one of the largest, fastest growing, most lucrative, horrifying industries on our entire planet.

These are not hardened women or shiny gigolos. These are children as young as five or six years old. Some are stolen, some are lured. All are deceived, sold, or auctioned off to the highest bidder. In the eyes of their captors they are simply chattel. A means to an end. A dollar sign with terrified eyes, but easily replaceable.

When I applied to read an advanced copy of The Record Keeper, by Charles Martin, I had no idea what lay ahead, yet I felt compelled to read the first two books in the Murphy Shepherd series before tackling the final installment. Little did I know I would be discovering an amazing author and a series that will stay with me forever.

Think of the novels as a jigsaw puzzle. The Water Keeper keeps those puzzle pieces relatively scattered, but organized enough to motivate the reader to pursue the second and third books. Our main character, Murphy Shepherd, is broken yet heroic. He is solitary but part of a network. He is spiritual but a man of action. Lots of action. He is also covert, compassionate, philanthropic, and mysterious.

But, above all, Murphy is selfless. His mentor, Bones, chose and trained him because of this specific quality. The person to be rescued is always, ALWAYS the first priority. Exhaustion, hunger, and even gaping wounds come second. We see examples of Murphy’s drive and skill in The Water Keeper. We also meet important characters whose lives will intertwine with our hero in the future.

In The Letter Keeper, we learn more about Murphy Shepherd’s backstory. More of the puzzle pieces come together with each rescue. We understand what drives him, his greatest loss, and his ultimate catharsis. Humble man that he is, even Murphy doesn’t realize the extent of his positive influence.

Last in the series is The Record Keeper, due out in July 2022. Before a shepherd is needed to rescue the sheep, there is the wolf that first endangers them. This wolf is the worst of the worst and he sold his soul long ago. But to pursue him we must first understand him. How did he become that way? There are always reasons.

I will admit, I had to take breaks with this series. It is intense. It is also beautifully written in an old-world style that forces our imaginations to do all the work. The way Charles Martin is able to craft such a bleak underbelly of society without graphic language or vulgar scenes shows his genius. He creates a brilliant balance of darkness and light. I highly, highly recommend these three books and very willingly give them a rare 10 Stars on this site. They are worth your time.

10/10 Stars

***It is impossible not to feel helpless when reading about this subject. Please take a moment to visit “real-life Murphy Shepherd,” Timothy Ballard’s site Operation Underground Railroad. They always need donations to fund their worldwide efforts to bring children home. Thank you.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Mystery, Romance

Beyond the Moonlit Sea, by Julianne MacLean

AVAILABLE June 14, 2022

I’ve never read a book by Julianne MacLean before, but she is an author I will definitely seek out in the future. I absolutely LOVED Beyond the Moonlit Sea. It is nothing like what I expected, but that’s OK. It’s fun to be surprised and intrigued!

The synopsis said it is about a woman named Olivia Hamilton whose husband, Dean, goes missing around the Bermuda Triangle in a plane he was piloting alone. True. It also said there was a woman named Melanie Brown, a student doing a dissertation on why planes disappear in that section of the ocean. Also true. I knew these women’s paths would eventually intertwine–which they do–but not all at like I initially guessed. I like being wrong! Predictability is much less entertaining.

This novel has the mystery, romance, high-quality writing, and momentum of The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave, which is one of the highest compliments I can offer. I could NOT put it down. Many plots have multiple points of view from different characters, but this one did it expertly, allowing the reader to really see inside the minds of Olivia, Dean, and Melanie. We get a glimpse of the three main characters’ motivations and inner turmoil over several years. We’re also reminded that sometimes our circumstances are the results of our own choices and sometimes by the choices of others. Sometimes a tangled combination of both.

Beyond the Moonlit Sea is a winner and one of the best novels I’ve read all year. Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the advanced copy.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance

I’ll Be Seeing You, by Robin Lee Hatcher

AVAILABLE June 7, 2022

When Brianna Hastings is asked to interview the oldest person in her family for a college assignment, she has no idea the impact it will have on her. The “interviewee” is her 98 year old great-grandmother, Daisy, whose teenage life in Boise, Idaho during World War II mirrors Brianna’s in ways she didn’t expect.

Most of the novel is set in the 1940s, as Daisy crushes on her older sister, Lillian’s, boyfriend, Brandan, right before he is deployed. A fateful choice brings next door neighbor, Todd Kinnear, to Daisy’s rescue. Todd, who is mature beyond his years but classified 4-F and cannot enlist, is as heroic as they come, yet has always been more like a brother to Daisy and Lillian. Still, he was the best part of the story.

I’ll Be Seeing You could be classified as Christian Fiction because of the amount of Biblical references and characters’ internal dialogue reconciling their actions with God’s teachings. However, the sisters’ immaturity and bad choices are so blatant that it appears they haven’t learned a thing, which makes the teachings feel heavy-handed and out of place.

The message of learning from others’ mistakes is fairly clear, as well as “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” but it is plot-driven more than character-driven. My motivation to keep reading was finding the answers to certain questions, some of which, frustratingly, never materialized. In the end, it read more like a Young Adult novel (and not a great one) than any other genre.

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Publishing for the advanced copy.

8/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Faith, Nonfiction, Self-Help

Raising Emotionally Strong Boys, by David Thomas

AVAILABLE June 14, 2022

I am so impressed with this book! Although I’m not a parent, I have taught hundreds of boys ages 4-11 in my teaching career. I could not help but think of the variety of personalities and levels of emotional strength in my young students.

The insights and tools in this book are excellent. It emphasizes the importance of teaching boys not only to manage their emotions, but to give themselves permission to have them in the first place. It talks about how essential it is for boys to see examples of other men being vulnerable, asking for help, losing a competition, and mourning a loved one, all without compromising their manliness. That is something I appreciated greatly, being married to a very masculine, but also a sensitive man.

I also thought about the other men in my life: my second generation absent father, my brother who broke that cycle and is an extremely involved dad to his children, an amazing grandfather who often stepped into the father role, cousins and uncles, circling back to my husband, who is one of the most emotionally strong men I know.

While I welcome them, I was not prepared for the amount of Biblical references. They may, unfortunately, limit the book’s audience. The author uses Christ as the ultimate example of emotional strength. Who better to pattern your life after?

This would make a great book club selection, a terrific gift, and an interesting read for parents, grandparents, and teachers. Thank you NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

9.5/10 Stars