The Secret of Clouds @AlysonRichman

From the #1 international bestselling author of The Lost Wife and The Velvet Hours comes an emotionally charged story about a mother’s love, a teacher’s promise, and a child’s heart…

the-secret-of-cloudsMaggie Topper has left the bustling life of a New York public relations world to become a teacher on Long Island, a job she adores and one at which she is quite good. She is approached to tutor a homebound child who is too ill to attend daily classes and, although Maggie is uncertain at first due to a past trauma of her own, she comes to enjoy and look forward to her time with Yuri, the young Ukrainian-American boy who is quite ill. Soon they are bonding over baseball and their mutual love of reading and writing. As  her weekly visits become routine, Maggie discovers more about Yuri’s parents’ tragic life that they left behind in Ukraine, including their survival of the horrific Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

This is so much more than just Maggie and Yuri’s story. Told in alternating timelines, there are flashbacks to Katya and Sasha’s time spent in Ukraine. We read as their love unfolds and grows and their struggle to reach a decision about leaving their families behind to come to the US. We also have Maggie’s interactions in her private life as she struggles with relationships: private, familial and with her other students in the classroom. It is a joy to watch as she grows as a woman, as a teacher and as a friend to those around her.

The Secret of Clouds touches on so many important topics and, if there was one critique, and really there are none but if there was to be a minor one, it would be that there almost were too many important topics covered. The Holocaust is a recurring topic and a very poignant section of the book is when one of Maggie’s co-workers recounts a memorable story of an art teacher who taught Jewish children in the concentration camps, most of whom were killed. The story is tragic and beautiful but brief. There is Chernobyl and the horrific after-effects of this disaster, how even today this tragedy still is playing out physically and mentally in those who were affected and their offspring and even in their offspring. And then there is Maggie and her parents, her familial relationships, her budding romance, her work as a teacher. It was quite a lot for a short book. All of that not withstanding, Richman does an incredible job weaving it all together seamlessly and the book flows brilliantly so that it is over before you realize and far sooner than you wish for it to be.

This is a rare book about friendship on so many varied levels. It is a look at cross cultural relationships and how important it is for each of us to interact with one another. Most importantly, it is about hope and love and learning to live a life with a full and open heart. It will make you smile, cry, and laugh but, most of all, it make you ponder long after you turned that very last page.

With a grateful heart to #Edelweiss, #AlysonRichman and @BerkleyPub

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Baby Daddy Mystery: Shady Hoosier Detective Agency @DaisyPettles

I’ve been reading some very grim thrillers, gritty urban fiction and heartbreaking women’s fiction lately and I seriously needed a change of pace. How fortuitous that Daisy Pettle would publish the next book in Shady Hoosier Detective Agency series.

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For those of you who may be unaware, “Hoosiers” is the official name for those of us who are lucky enough to live in the midwestern state of Indiana. You can ask a dozen people where the nickname originated and you will receive a dozen different answers but it is now our official title. That said, this series with its quirky characters, often real-life Hoosier settings and true to life, ethnocentric humor, had me laughing-out-loud from start to finish. I adored the first book, The Ghost Busting Mystery, but The Baby Daddy Mystery was just too terrific, even better than the first!

Ruby Jane and Veenie are back and have been hired by one of the wealthiest women in town to verify the paternity of her late husband’s mistress’s children. However, the dead bodies soon begin to pile up as RJ and Veenie get closer to learning the truth. It doesn’t help that it is spring in PawPaw County and everyone – literally – is having a spring fling with somebody else’s spouse. What can I say? The Hoosier hills come alive in the spring time. 😉

These books are meant to be read with tongue in cheek. The joy of reading them is in their massive amount of humor and it comes in buckets. This one did, in fact, have a bit more actual sleuthing than the first and that made it a tad more enjoyable for me but I would read anything that featured RJ and Veenie. It is so incredibly rare for women their age to be featured as anything other than doddering old fuddy-duddies and I absolutely adore the fact that Veenie, well, is actually a lot like me! Now if only I could find that elusive pie hut I would be in heaven!

If you haven’t read anything in this series yet – well, what are you waiting for!?

Thank you so much to #Netgalley, @DaisyPettles and #HotPantsPressLLC for my copy of this delightful book!

Dear Rosie Hughes @Melanie_Hudson

Those of us who write book blogs obviously adore reading, literally consume books, or we would have blogs about sports or politics or some other random interest instead. Often I find myself writing about how much I “love” a book and how terrific it is – and it is – because it is rare that I don’t thoroughly enjoy a book with its power to transport me to a different place or another time, to escape for just a little while. So when a book comes along that genuinely surprises me, catches me off-guard and completely rocks me to my core, often I am left speechless. Such was the case with Dear Rosie Hughes, a beautiful book written by Melanie Hudson. I finished this book very early on Christmas morning before anyone else was awake. The family woke to find me sitting in front of the fire bawling my eyes out wondering what, on earth, was the matter with their poor old mom! It has taken me several weeks to compose myself and my thoughts well enough to write this review and even now I know I will not do it justice.

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When I received Dear Rosie Hughes I assumed it was a sweet, cozy read. The cover is cute, the premise is precious. Two adult women who have been lifelong friends since childhood fell out of touch over something that happened in their early adulthood. When Rosie signs up to go to the Persian Gulf as a meteorologist, she and Aggie begin writing to one another again – just to pass the time while Rosie is away. The book itself is a series of letters between Aggie and Rosie, Rosie and her parents, Rosie’s fellow soldier and Aggie, and various other peripheral characters that come in and out of their lives throughout the story. As the book unfolds we learn more about each of the women, their relationships with one another, with their parents, their town, with Rosie’s husband whom she may or may not be divorcing, the child Rosie lost and Aggie’s myriad of interesting dates. We watch as Rosie first adapts to life in the desert, then becomes dejected as the truth is revealed about why they actually are there, her horror as the war begins, her struggle as one of the few women in the camps. We read about Aggie who uses humor, hysterical, laugh-out-loud humor, to cover her pain of rejection that she has suffered throughout her life and we see her growth as she takes on the responsibility of writing her own book as well as running a café in Scotland. The growth in friendship and maturity for everyone involved is a beauty to read and behold as it unfolds.

As I began reading, I was somewhat dismayed that the entire book was nothing except correspondence between various people but as I continued reading I realized that this truly was one of the most intimate methods of communicating thoughts and feelings that I’ve ever come across in fiction. By the time I concluded the book, I was so completely and utterly invested in these characters’ lives that I felt as though they were my friends, my daughters, my son, my town. Perhaps it is because my husband was in the military and we were involved in the Persian Gulf, the first one not the second, and we had friends who fought and who died there. Perhaps the relevancy was so close to me that I identified with the hope, the joy and the pain. Or, perhaps, Hudson captured it all so perfectly that we all can identify with these women and their friendship, their family, and their loss. Regardless of why this book affected me so deeply, I only know that it did and it is, by far, one of the very best books I have read in a long time. If you don’t read another book that I recommend in 2019, please read this one. Rosie and Aggie’s story are waiting for you.

My eternal gratitude to @Netgalley, @HarperImpulse and @Melanie_Hudson for allowing me the honor of reading #DearRosieHughes

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Unmarriageable, as many no doubt know, is an entertaining re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – with a twist.

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If you are familiar with the original Austen story, then the premise of Unmarriageable will be familiar to you; it is, in fact, the same. The difference, and what works so well, is that it is set in today’s modern Pakistan. If you are unfamiliar with the history of Pakistan, it once was part of India, separated now after a war for Independence, and is a thriving democracy that still very much is based on its British colonial past that it learned while it was part of  British colonial rule. All that to say, they study English classics more often than many westerners outside of the UK and have a fascination with British literature rarely seen outside of Europe. And, while so much of Pakistan is quite modern, its class structure still is very much stuck in the colonial past. The roles of women, while evolving, still is stuck there as well. That is why this particular setting for this particular book is so utterly fascinating.

Kamal’s writing is tight and, while she doesn’t have a flare for wit like Austen (few do,) her characters are charming and their observations about the Pakistani culture are very much on point. I have several friends from Lahore, Pakistan and while reading Unmarriageable I could hear their voices and see their streets come alive in my mind. Although Kamal now lives in America, her Pakistani roots still very much shine through in her writing and those of us who rarely get a glimpse of the sub-continent are able to see a bit of it through her work.

Whether you are an Austen fan or just a fan of great fiction, you will find Unmarriageable delightful, entertaining as well educational.

My copy was furnished by #Netgalley, #RandomHousePublishing, #BallentineBooks

 

 

Northern Lights by Raymond Strom

There is something magical and a bit thrilling reading the debut novel of an author as brilliant as Raymond Strom, one you know is going to be a rising voice in today’s gritty, contemporary domestic-noir fiction. Northern Lights is a challenging book to read but one that rewards its reader in the end with the satisfaction of knowing characters who are surviving in a world that is meant to cripple or kill them.

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The bleakness of that cover underlies the dark ambiance found throughout Northern Lights. Shane is an androgynous youth in search of the mother who abandoned him years before. His father has died and his uncle has thrown him out of their family home. Before he begins university, Shane takes the summer to go to the last known place his mother lived: Holm, Minnesota. The first person he runs into sums up Shane’s entire existence with the question, “are you a boy or a girl?” It’s a question Shane often asks himself – not necessarily about his physical self but who he is psycho-sexually. As he wanders through town searching for his mother, he discovers those who hate him, accept him, wish to kill him, wish to love him and all parts in between. He cobbles together a group of “misfit” friends who live on the fringe of this small town; who exist in the shades of grey and have you questioning if there are real values of black and white. Although set in the time-frame of the early 90s, the novel has the feel of today’s setting with so much division, so much hate and far too much vilifying based on sexual identity and the color of one’s skin.

I read Northern Lights in one sitting. The narrative was tight and flowed in a such a manner that once I began, I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading until I finished. It was difficult – there is nothing lite or pretty about this book. Small town, rural life in middle America is not what it’s cracked up to be, but then I’m not sure life in America anywhere is any more. People are struggling. Our youth, with few exceptions, are struggling and “at risk,” and no one seems to be noticing or caring. It is easier to get immersed in reality television than it is to get involved in reality. That is the ultimate take-away from Northern Lights: look at these kids, see them, understand them. Look at the people in this town. They are all of us. While I know that this book will not be for everyone, of course, I do wish it was required reading for high school students everywhere; for those who need to read books with characters who are like themselves and for those who need to read books to understand the bullies that they have become.

I am grateful to #Netgalley, #RaymondStrom, and @SimonSchuster for allowing me to read and review Northern Lights.

NOTE: I’m also pleased as punch to be participating in two challenges. One is the Netgalley/Edelweiss 2019 challenge and the other is Pop Sugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge. Northern Lights meets the “Debut Author” prompt for that challenge.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Fiona Barton, bestselling author of The Child and The Widow, is back with her newest thrilling suspense novel, The Suspect.

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Reporter Kate Waters is back in this third offering of Barton’s, along with DI Bob Sparkes. For Kate getting the story, being first on the scene and first to press is key to her success so when she hears about two British girls who have gone missing in Thailand, she manages to find a way into the confidences of the girls’ families. The girls, teens on their “gap year” abroad, were supposed to follow an itinerary but it soon becomes apparent that the girls are not where they were meant to be and are no longer phoning home. As Kate calls on resources in Thailand, she learns that the bodies of two young girls have been discovered in a “flop house.” Their deaths have been ruled accidental. But Kate and the families want answers – they want to know what happened to the girls. Or do they? The answers to the questions will have far reaching implications that fall closer to home than any parent could possibly imagine.

The Suspect is every parent’s worst nightmare – a missing child, the subsequent death of a child, and mountains of international bureaucratic red tape that stymies all questions. I truly empathized with these parents, perhaps because I have grown children who travel abroad nearly as often as they stay at home in the states and they have done so since they were teens. There is such a fine line between trusting your kids and knowing when to be wary of what they are telling you. So, for me, these parents and their reactions were very believable. I also have been a small-time reporter in my much younger days so Kate is someone with whom I also identify. In the end, the entire story – while focusing on the girls’ travels and exploits – ultimately is about the parents, their lifestyles, decisions and, in the end, what they will do to protect their children and their families.

This is, of course, the third book in what appears to be a series but, maybe I’m just dense, I didn’t read it as part of a set. Yes, Kate has been in the previous books but until The Suspect she was not a focal character. She and Sparkes are recurring characters, and I hope they continue to be, but certainly this book could be read as a stand-alone. It should be noted, I suppose, that there is a lot of graphic sex, drug use and descriptions of dead bodies. I’ve grown somewhat callous to this type of thing in suspense/thrillers but I’m noting it just the same. I adore Barton’s writing style and have loved each of her books. She has become an author whose book I know I will relish and I hope that you will enjoy this, her latest book. I couldn’t wait to read it and, now, I cannot wait to read her next one.

Much appreciation to #Edelweiss, @BerkleyPub and #FionaBarton for my copy of #TheSuspect

Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong #NGEW2019

Casey Duncan is back in this fourth installment of the Rockton saga – a series involving the secluded town and its people in the frozen Yukon of Canada.

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Admittedly, Watcher in the Woods is part of my favorite series. It’s got a terrific cast of characters, all of whom are quite flawed or they wouldn’t be in the town of Rockton. Rockton, you see, is a secret, very secluded town for those who need to escape either because they are the worst in society or from the very worst in society. It makes for an eclectic and often frightening mix of personalities. In addition to the town’s people, you have a two group of renegades living (wandering/surviving) in the forest surrounding Rockton: those who are true survivalists who didn’t want to go back down south after their time in Rockton was finished and those who are simply too savage to live anywhere at all. They add an additional layer of worry and suspense to the story line.

Watcher in the Woods takes place approximately 2-3 weeks after the last book which means the characters are still reeling from a murder, a crazed woman whom they intimately trusted and a wounded man who is part of their patrol. They have been without a doctor in the town since the former doctor was killed and they desperately need to get medical help for their resident, Kenny. Secreting away in the night, Casey and the sheriff bring back help but they also bring back more than they bargain for as they are followed by a US Marshall looking for his bounty. He refuses to say who it is or why it is so important that he finds “his man” – or woman. When the Marshall is killed, it becomes imperative that Casey – the town’s only detective – discovers who the Marshall was after and why. More importantly, she has to find out how the Marshall was able to follow them and plug any leaks there might be regarding Rockton’s well kept secret location.

All of the Rockton tales are action packed and full of secrets, double backs and, yes, romance. That is what makes them so entertaining to read. This one, however, was a bit slow for me in the beginning and I suspect that it was because there was a great deal of minutia laid out for readers who might be joining here at book four rather than at the beginning. There was quite a bit of repetitiveness, who’s who, explanations about the town and how it works, which is fine if you are new to the series but by the fourth book in, it was a little tedious. Once that was past, the book was actually better than any of the previous stories. It was more complex, there was more action, an introduction of new characters, two of whom I suspect are going to be key in future books, and quite a few secrets revealed that led to some “aha” moments. All of this had me looking forward to the next book already and forgetting the tedium that had me skimming in the beginning.

If you haven’t read any of this series you should be able to read this one as a stand alone but I highly recommend that you begin at the start and work up to this one. There is a lot of back story and past history that will make it more interesting for you. Then you can join me in skimming over the mundane catch-up in this book but completely enjoying the majority of the rest. It IS a series that I highly recommend. It’s fun, entertaining, suspenseful and, generally, a quick read.

My thanks to #Netgalley, @StMartinsPress, @MinotaurBooks and Kelley Armstrong for my advanced copy of #WatcherintheWoods.