Book Review │ The Nun’s Betrothal by Ida Curtis

Anyone else feeling the pressures lately of the pandemic? I know it is getting the better of me. It is very hard to be buying and selling a home while teaching from home at the same time with two babies underfoot. There are days where I just want to scream because I feel myself getting pulled in a zillion directions. I must have repeated over a hundred times, “I just need 20 minutes to myself” to my husband…daily.

When I finally started to get those 20 minutes daily, I knew I needed more of an escape so I picked up Ida Curtis’s The Nun’s Betrothal. I was immediately transported to ninth-century France where Gilda, is just about to take her vows to enter the convent. A long cry from my modern working-mom life in New Jersey!

However, just as Sister Gilda is about to take her vows, she becomes tasked, along with the handsome Lord Justin, to investigate the marriage of Count Cedric and Lady Mariel for evidence of the need for an annulment. Together, they uncover that Lady Mariel believes that she actually married Cedric’s half-brother, Phillip, at the their marriage ceremony and that Cedric is planning to marry Lady Emma once the annulment is granted.

Rather quickly, Gilda and Justin are thrown head first into the dramas and struggles of courtly life as they try to sort out the truth while fighting to ensure that everyone gets their happy ending. Curtis shines in her mystery of being able to set the mood of a historical period well. It brought to life the court of King Louis, the Pious and really illuminated the mystery that Gilda and Justin were working to solve. Along the way, the two do fall in love and there is a separate romance that develops between them.

Unlike other romance pieces, Curtis takes a different approach and rather than having an overbearing father or even the King, disapprove of their match, she rather has the struggle be Gilda’s desire for her own freedom to be what causes tension between the two. Gilda has to decide if she wants the freedom that life as a nun would give her in terms of her independence or if she will too find that in Justin and in true love. I enjoyed the breaking away from traditional romance tropes and that Curtis allows her characters to marry for love or decide to not marry at all…which realistically probably would not have occurred many times during this time period, but it was a fresh approach overall and if you’re also like me and can do without the bodice-ripping genre of romance…then you will enjoy this novel.

The Nun’s Betrothal is the second book of a series with Song of Isabel being the first. Ida Curtis was a Connecticut native that went on to call both Canada and Seattle her home. She was a retired college advisor and a polio survivor. She resided in Seattle with her husband Jerry until her passing in January 2020.

Book Information

The Nun’s Betrothal by Ida Curtis was released on July 7, 2020 by She Writes Press under ISBN 1631526855. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │Have you Seen These Children? by Veronica Slaughter

As this pandemic feels like it will never end in New Jersey, I am struggling to balance virtual teaching, a newborn, a toddler, selling our house and buying our new one all while trying to keep myself writing. It is a crazy time in the Hart Home for sure. Sleep is a short lived commodity, so it was a very big deal for me to give up a night of it to finish Veronica Slaughter’s Have You Seen these Children?.

Her memoir tells the story of how her American father kidnapped her and her siblings from their mother in the Philippines, bringing them to the USA where they moved constantly from state to state to avoid being found. They lived a life full of fear and abuse as the hands of their father. As a mother, I was immediately drawn to the story because I wanted to make sure that these children eventually got home to their mother and away from their abusive father. I was taken down a late-night roller coaster of emotions that left me sobbing in parts reading what Veronica, Valerie,Vance and Vincent endured and lived through at the hands of their manipulative father.

As a mother, this memoir encapsulated my worst fears: having my children kidnapped and having no way of protecting or rescuing them. They were taken from their mother at such pivotal ages that even after being reunified, their experiences at the hands of their pathological father shaped their adult lives and their future trials. Veronica was 8-years old at the time she was taken, and while not the eldest still had the maturity to know the importance of keeping them all together as well as raising and protecting her younger brother. In many ways, it is her wherewithal that keeps the children together and makes this tragedy one that could have had a much worse ending.

Overall, Have You Seen These Children? is a bitter-sweet memoir that will keep you glued to its pages until you have finished it. It will make you laugh and cry as well as play on some of your worst fears. At its heart, it is a tale of love and the trials that we face in ensuring that love remains even if we don’t all get a Hollywood ending. Even in all of the hate and tragedy, the message is still clear: love and sibling bonds can and will survive even when evil wants to destroy them.

Book Information

Have You Seen These Children?: A Memoir by Veronica Slaughter was released on August 18, 2020 from She Writes Press with ISBN 1631527258. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │ Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov

Written as a travel log meets commentary on the state of the global drug-trade, former drug dealer Niko Vorobyov weaves a true crime narrative that asks the age-old question: why aren’t drugs legal?

Born in Leningrad during the last days of the Soviet Union, Niko Vorobyov enjoyed a comfortable upbringing from two well-educated parents before falling into the drug trade in London. His crimes would take him all over the world from the streets of St. Petersburg to the mountains of Chile and into the suburbs of Colorado. Vorobyov weaves together his experiences with the history of drugs from around the world including the policies and laws that dictate them.

For years, the United States has had a war on drugs and has dealt out harsh punishments with most of our criminal justice system overrun with drug dealers and users, however, the US is still one of the hardest hit nations when it comes to the drug epidemic. Vorobyov brings to the forefront the fact that countries that have legalized drugs have lower drug-related offenses and even lower drug abuse overall which will leave you wondering…what is the “right” way to handle controlled substances?

In Dopeworld, we’re taken on a mixed ride of personal experiences, historical facts and the social and economic divides that make someone who is able to control a drug habit versus someone who is quickly labelled a crack whore and written off from society. Told in an Anthony Bourdain type of voice, Vorobyov blurs the lines between cultures and people, bringing to the light the taboo subject that has divided people for ages: drugs and how we use them.

About the Author

Niko Vorobyov is a former drug dealer turned writer who spent time incarcerated over his dealings with drugs. He has written several articles for numerous websites with Dopeworld being his first novel. Born in the former Soviet Union, he currently resides in the United Kingdom.

Book Information

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov is scheduled to be released on August 18, 2020 with ISBN 9781250270016 from St. Martin’s Press. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was received from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

If you are someone who enjoys horror novels that build on suspense and intrigue throughout before delivering a by your seat kind of ending, then The Only Good Indians is a summer read that you’re going to have to pick up. In a similar vein to Stephen King’s It, Jones plays on the idea that what you uncover years ago will eventually come to find you. There is no running from your past and what your past has created or in Lewis’s case, manifested by his younger self’s poor decision making to elk hunt in a place where they had no right to do so and, who along with his friends, took more than they would ever need. Their kills manifested something powerful that now, a decade later, is wanting its revenge.

We meet up with Lewis, a Blackfeet, who is now in his 30’s. He has lived off the reservation for sometime and works for the post office. He is happily married to Peta and has a solid life. One night, a light appears above the mantel in his home and so he climbs a tall ladder to see what is causing it. When he looks down, he sees the bloodied body of an elk that he has killed years ago and still holds its hide. Startled, he loses his footing and is sure that he is about to meet certain death on the brick beneath him when his wife intervenes and saves him. His friend Ricky, an accomplice to the illegal hunt years ago, is not so lucky, however. He has already met his end in the parking lot of a bar at the end of an elk’s antlers.

Thus, we are thrown into the world where Lewis and his remaining friends are fighting for their lives along an unseen force that is bent on revenge for their choices they made when they were young. These group of men are relentlessly chased by the monster they manifested when they killed the elks years ago. We shift from third person to first person as the she-elk-monster seeks her revenge on them and then back to third for the grand finale. There is much blood and gore and yes, if you are like me, the killing of the dog and the descriptive nature of the scene will leave you marred for days afterwards, but overall, this horror novel that mixes with Native American lore is a great pick for a late night read when you’re looking to stay up late and have your darkened living room feel like a creepy den of subtle horrors.

What I liked most about this novel is that it was not only a well-written horror piece, but it was also generally well-crafted and invited higher literary elements into the text such as the use of Native American lore, symbolism and several themes that helped to drive the tension of the novel including Lewis’s guilt over marrying a white woman, life outside of the reservation and the plays on sanity versus descent into madness.

“Death is too easy. Better to make every moment of the rest of a person’s life agony.”

About the Author

Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American author with over 20 titles to his name. He holds degrees from Florida State University, University of North Texas and Texas Tech University. A native of Texas, Jones is currently the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. For more information be sure to visit his website.

Book Information

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones was released on July 14, 2020 from Gallery Saga Press with ISBN 9781982136451. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │ Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey

I was first introduced to Kristy Woodson Harvey last spring with the conclusion of her Peachtree Bluff series, The Southern Side of Paradise. It made me fall in love with her light, southern style and immediately got me in the mood for all of the summer reads that I had lined up. I was very excited when I had an advanced copy of her latest novel, Feels Like Falling.

In times like these, it was really nice to pick up a stand alone Woodson novel that takes you into complex situations: loss of a parent, strain in familial relationships and the loss of a job, but mixes in the importance of friendship and renewal that despite the gravity of her character’s situation, makes the book flow in the light-hearted summertime beach read that Woodson is so great at.

Gray has had the perfect life and it is one that she has worked so hard for, but in a moment it all seems to be falling apart. Her mother passes away, her sister runs off with an extremist preacher and her husband up and leaves her for a younger woman.

Diane is a local woman who is not as well off as Gray and once she loses her job at a local store, she finds herself living in Gray’s guest house. Together, the two forge a friendship as each woman tries to build their new life. Old and new love eventually comes knocking for them both, making them question their own ideals and what life could be like if they just dove in.

Overall, a great standalone from Woodson who offers us a light beach bag read that will take your mind off of the craziness of the world right now.

Book Information

Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey was released on May 1, 2020 from Gallery, Pocket Books with ISBN 9781982117702. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was received from the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│Life in Pandemic Filled NJ

None of us were expecting for us to come home from Florida at the beginning of March to the world pretty much shutting down. We had taken our son to Disney World and attended my doctoral graduation. It was our first real family trip. We had also finally listed our starter home and were about to get out of attorney review on our new house. I was completely relieved because our house at the shore was most likely going to sell quickly and while our new home needed extensive renovation, it was a single family home with a lot of land and we would be able to be in there well before our second son was due in the summertime.

pandemic

Then we got back and the world fell apart. I had several days to plan online learning. Our new home fell through. No one wanted to look at our home. And then I was suddenly being a full-time mom while trying to teach both middle school and college from home.

I was absolutely exhausted. Online school was 24/7 and it required so much of me–chasing kids down, actually teaching, grading in creative ways, making sure kids had food and internet and also listening to them because so many were just as lost as I felt.

I was very happy to see school end in June.

I also moved into using my real estate license while taking care of Logan. He loves that I am home so much more and truthfully, I am much happier too. This has definitely become a time of recovery and re-figuring out what I want my life to look like. I have worked in an under-funded high poverty school for almost 10 years already. And I don’t think you realize how much of a toll it really does take on you until you’re away from it.

I’m a better mom with a lot more patience. I enjoy doing things for my family that previously I was just too tired to do like cooking dinner and baking. I also realized how much I have missed reading and writing.

I am down to weeks left in my pregnancy. Unlike with Logan, I am not fearing my maternity leave but rather really looking forward to the time I will have with both of my boys and hopefully finding just a little time for myself. I mean, I wrote a dissertation when I was out with Logan…maybe now I can get caught up with my book reviews and maybe even finally start sending in some of my research to educational journals. That’s my goal at least.

It’s a weird time to be alive. It was also a very weird time to be pregnant. And don’t even get me started on what it’s been like to try and sell a house during all of this either…I am hoping the end of summer and the fall brings us what we need.

Book Review│Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

cover174871-mediumAfia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a richly detailed narrative that takes us back to the pre and post Civil War South through the eyes of Miss May Belle and her daughter, Miss Rue. The chapters alternate viewpoints between the two women to showcase how different and still yet similar life is for women of color in the South during and after the war when freedom really didn’t mean that these women were in fact free.

For Miss May Belle, it is 1854. She is a practicing midwife and conjurer. Her special talents give her a life with benefits that she wouldn’t have had other wise or as she puts it,  “Hoodoo is black folks currency.” Other slaves seek her out for help and at times, so do the wealthy white men who are too embarrassed by an ailment to seek out a doctor. Rue is young and growing up under Miss May Belle’s watchful eyes, learning her secrets and seeing first hand what conjuring can do to a person’s body and soul.

The two live in a large plantation owned by the prosperous Marse Charles and his daughter, Varina. His young daughter becomes a playmate for Rue who is eager to act out her rebellions which usually ends in punishment for Rue. Miss May Belle knows that her talents afford her freedoms, but that she is still a slave and as such must adhere to the unspoken rules of the white-men who control her life. She makes sure Rue learns her place while learning the ways of hoodoo and conjuring to ensure that Rue keeps her place with Marse Charles long after she is gone.

For Rue, it is 1867 and the war is over. Her mother is long gone and she has taken over the hoodooing that Miss May Belle had abandoned after a horrific tragedy. Rue is intimately involved in many of the townspeople’s lives as she has delivered every baby since the war. When a fair skinned, black eyed child is born the town views the arrival more as a curse than a blessing and the praise they used to give Rue turns to criticism as suspicion begins to swirl. Suspicion is only heightened with the arrival of a preacher to town who is bent on ruining Rue because the bible marks her as impure and evil with her hoodoo and magic. However, is the preacher all that pure and truthful himself? Rue’s story is filled with suspicion and conniving scheming that fuels much of the conflict in her story.

Fear overtakes the town and trust is lost. Rue is overwhelmed by the burden of the secrets and magic that she carries. Will she ever truly be free or will she be forever bartering for other people’s well-being while sacrificing her own? Ultimately, what is the price of her freedom?

Afia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a fantastic debut novel that makes Atakora an author to watch. Her poetic prose and use of magical realism make the details of this novel come to life. You become immersed in her world–a fantastic read that brings the world of slavery and life before reconstruction to life.

Book Information

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Random House Publishing with ISBN 9780525511489. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe

cover171056-mediumStep into a  bygone era where travel was luxurious and living abroad was just a thing that young, rich couples did with Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns. It is 1933 when America Jesse Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and into the exotic world of pre-war Vietnam. Along with their young daughter, Lucie, Jesse has accompanied her husband Victor Lessage, cousin to the French rubber barons Edouard and André Michelin, for a three year period where he will over see the rubber plantations.

However, everything is not as it seems as Jesse is hiding deep secrets of her own about the life that she left behind in America. The epitome of the modern woman in most respects, Jesse narrates the novel with sympathy and compassion as her story unfolds. She explains the struggles of living in Indochina and those of her husband as he struggles to maintain the plantation while up against political and personal attacks that stem from the rise of communism in the region as well as workers who are wanting their fair share.

Outside of the politics of Indochina in the novel, you also have the politics of love and relationships fueling the novel. Similar to Jesse, Marcelle is another who arrives in Hanoi, eager to put her rural, underprivileged life behind her, but who is also bent on revenge against the Michelin family. She has come to Hanoi to be near her love, who is part of a wealthy silk family who is not her husband and she plans to befriend and use Jesse to her advantage– having studied her from afar for sometime before their paths inevitably crossed.

Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns has it all: politics, colonialism, love affairs and revenge all set against the vast backdrop of Vietnam in the early 1930’s. The lushness of the setting drives the novel and turns this work of historical fiction into a thriller in most parts– eager to find out who survives, who benefits and ultimately, who falters. Tanabe’s talent for bringing the world of the elite and how it often clashes with those around them shines in her fifth novel.

It is gearing up to be a busy time for the author as Tanabe’s earlier work, The Gilded Years,  is scheduled to become a major motion picture starring Zendaya and produced by Zendaya and Reese Witherspoon for Sony/Tristar according to the author’s website. Karin Tanabe is a former reporter whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer and in the anthology Crush: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing and the Lasting Power of Their First Celebrity Crush. Currently, she works as a journalist focusing on lifestyle pieces and book reviews. This is her first novel for St. Martin’s Press.

Book Information

A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe is scheduled for release on April 7, 2020 from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250231475. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

 

Book Review│Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

jackJL Markham is a 15-year-old girl who is out of sorts with her world around her. She lives with her mentally-ill mother, has lost her best friend to a group of other girls and her dad is on a business trip that keeps getting extended. She decides to write a long-flowing letter to her friend Aubrey, letting her know what has happened since the two girls had parted ways. She is hopelessly trying to cling to things from her old life even if those things are leading her down a path of self-destruction. 

Additionally, JL is also madly in puppy love with a senior named Max who is rough on the outside, but also shows her that on the inside he has the soul of a poet. Their age difference causes problems in that Max is ready to pack up and get the heck out of town once senior year ends, but what about JL? At only 15, she’s stuck between staying and disobeying her parents to run away with Max.

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story of coming of age and the frailty of female friendships during that pivotal time in young women’s lives. JL is stuck between who she is going to become and who she is going to have let go of. It is never an easy time or decision to begin living in your future instead of your past. This is Polisner’s fifth young adult novel and she shines with it. The voice of JL is poignantly 15-years-old and not overly dramatic or overly subtle like some writers go when writing younger characters. Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a believable story of a young girl trying to find herself on the other side of adolescence while not completely losing who and what she was before. I would recommend this book for adults as well as middle-grade readers who are looking for something a little more in-depth.

While a 15-year-old’s love story might not be something most adults would pick up, I think you will find that Polisner has written this so well that it brings you back to your own time as a young girl in love for the first time, trying to navigate your relationships, your friendships and your own dreams. The darkness and the tragedies that befall JL show the strength of youth in times of adversity and how even though we may be young when we face them, we very much feel them every step of our journey through them. When you pick this one up, get ready for an authentic and emotionally raw journey through adolescence and your first love.

Book Information

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250312235. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. All thoughts are entirely my own and I have not received any compensation for this review.

Sponsored: The Hart Home│With Christmas Came Big News

Shortly after my grandmother passed away in November, we got the surprise of the year. I had been feeling off, tired and I was eating everything I could get my hands on. For someone who doesn’t eat a lot, even my husband thought it was weird and looked me dead in the face and told me I was pregnant. And I laughed and then proceeded to take a pregnancy test wherein, I was in total shock to see two pink lines staring back at me.

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The day before Christmas Eve, I had my first ultrasound and our little life puff was growing and had a strong heartbeat. We were so incredibly excited! Our Logan might wind up sharing a birthday, but I know that he is going to love being a big brother and having someone to grow up with. I still can’t believe that by this summer I will be a mom of two. I have a strong feeling that I am having another boy, but we won’t know for sure until February and it’s only slightly killing me because I can’t wait to shop for a newborn again. In honor of our big news, and because I can’t buy anything yet, I am hosting the following sponsorship. Goumi Kids is one of my favorites stores to order cute clothes from and with the code and link below you will be able to snag yourself some free shipping with your order:

Goumi Kids