Book Review│Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Although a fictional recreation, Miss Austen gives us an explanation as to a question that have puzzled Austen academics for years: why did her younger sister burn all of her letters after her death?

Hornby creates for us a believable adventure that centers around these letters and the life of Jane’s sister, Cassandra. We are taken through the years before and after Jane’s death as Cassandra settles into a life of routine in a rural English cottage. She goes on to visit a family member at a vicarage that is about to be cleared out for its new occupant. The mother of the vicarage has in her possession letters that were written between Jane and Cassandra and they are ones that she prefer not to give to the world.

Cassandra takes possession of the letters and begins to read them as she is drawn back in time to the events and emotions that are present in the letters. Hornby beautifully weaves together the fictional retelling of the letters with events and the loves of both of the Austen girls. While the plot is not outlandish and over the top, Horny has a talent for creating realism in her historical fiction that lifts the family of Austen off of the page, endearing them to the reader.

This was a charming take to read that made for an intriguing take on the famous Austen letters and a plausible reason as to why Cassandra chose to destroy them rather than allow the world to have them. Any Austen fan will love to curl up with this well-written novel as they daydream about bonnets, pinafores and endless English county sides.

Book Information

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby was released on April 7, 2020 from Flatiron Books with ISBN 978-1250252203. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby

This is the 11th book in Crosby’s Wine Country Mystery Series…and my oh my, does this one have it all!

Lucie Montgomery runs the vineyard that we have fallen in love with throughout this series. She is still engaged to Quinn and in this segment, both of her siblings have returned home for the season. Mia takes the front seat in this installment when she becomes suspected of murdering a man found in the Vineyard after he had trashed a local gardener’s methods. Her grandfather is due back to celebrate Cricket’s 90th birthday and with his arrival, the past and present begin to collide.

This all swirls around the intrigue that has been created around a very famous Jackie…that’s right! Let’s say for a minute, that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had had a lover before she met JFK and when she had that secret lover, someone had kept a few journals about the affair and now someone had their hands on it! All of this had been set into motion because Jackie, while study abroad years ago and having a fling, also bought small portraits of Marie Antoinette by a little-known 18th century female artist and those paintings were now going to be sold. Then, when Lucie’s grandfather visits from France, he confirms his knowledge of the journal and is also holding onto a huge secret of his own, casting this cozy mystery into the fringes of this sub-genre. A mix of the lore of Camelot and powerful, rich people with secrets that are capable of undoing generations if all goes to plan…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eager to pick up the ones that have come before it in this series. This was great as a standalone novel as I had no prior knowledge of the series, but it also made me want to go back and delve into the earlier books. This was a great read on a weekend when I wanted an escape into a world of wine, intrigue and people with a lot of money and too many problems. If you are a fan of the Agatha Raisin series on Acorn TV, you will love this book.

Book Information

The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby will be released on April 6, 2021 from Severn House with ISBN 9780727891013. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│Contempt by Michael Cordell

Thane Banning is a former real estate attorney who has spent the last five years of his life in prison, some of it on death row over a murder he claims he did not commit. Released on a technicality, Banning is determined to clear his name and prove that he did not murder Assistant District Attorney Lauren McCoy, that they are claiming he did. However, life on the outside is proving just as hard as it was for him on the inside. The victim’s father wants him dead and everyone he comes into contact with are either scared of him or want him to pay for his crime since he was released on a technicality and not because he cleared his name. Banning is up against a lot as he tries to navigate his life after prison and prove his innocence.

Then, he gets a call from his old jail friend and fellow ex-inmate, Skunk. He has been charged with the murder of retired police Detective Ted Gruber who also happens to be the officer that arrested Thane on the night that he was charged with the murder of Lauren McCoy. Despite having no experience in trying murder cases as an attorney, Banning decides to take on Skunk’s case which is where this legal thriller really takes off.

Not only does the powers shift with Banning’s taking on of Skunk’s case, but the DA that put Banning away for McCoy’s murder is not only trying Skunk’s case, but is also up for re-election. District Attorney Stone’s re-election, however, is not looking too promising as he won his first election on the back of winning Banning’s murder trial years before. Stone becomes obsessed with winning Skunk’s murder conviction to win public favor and thus, his re-election as district attorney.

Alongside the murder trial, there is also the personal life of Thane Banning. He is trying to put prison behind him, clear his name as well as navigate his relationship with his wife that he hasn’t seen in three years because he wanted her to move on from him. All of which is extremely difficult to do when you have the general public believing that you got away with murder and have the victim’s father out to ruin you because he wants justice for the loss of his daughter. All spun together, this makes for a well-paced legal thriller that will keep you turning the page.

Cordell is a trained screenwriter and it shows throughout the novel. He is also a playwright and novelist, and has sold three screenplays to Hollywood including “Beeper,” which became an action-thriller starting Harvey Keitel. He has an extraordinary ability is casting a scene that yo can easily visualize as you read. Contempt does not disappoint!

Book Information

Contempt by Michael Cordell was released on July 27, 2020 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610805. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn

At the heart of this legal thriller, are the family dynamics between two brothers: Travis and Jake Lynch. The two have been at odds for ten years and even their mother nor their wives can seem to get the two to make a mends. However, outside events are going to bring these two feuding brothers together whether they like it or not. Fate has an ironic sense of humor when the death penalty is what makes the two brothers face each other after being torn apart for years over the very same thing.

Years ago, Travis begins to turn his back on his privileged upbringing when he was working on a capital murder case. He goes so far as to even hide evidence to get the killer out of facing the death penalty. This is his turning point where he becomes a virtue-singling jerk bent on living in poverty and taking on any and all pro-bono work at the expense of his family and marriage. In stark juxtaposition, his brother Jake becomes a staunchly masculine character that is prone to heavy drinking and who has maintained his weekly lunch dates with his parents while Travis as remained distant and obtuse. Thrown into the mix is their successful sister, Claire as well as their wives, Shirley and Rita and crime reporter, Christine Morton who are all well-written characters who help drive the plot of the story with their own bits of drama and manipulations.

The feuding brothers are reunited in court under a drug-deal gone wrong. Dubbed “The Rich Kid Murders,” Jake acts as prosecutor wanting to put behind bars the sociopath that killed two “rich kids” and left a third one paralyzed, Sam Park. Travis in contrast, eagerly takes on Sam as a client because he feels indebted to Sam because he failed Sam’s brother years ago. We learn early on that both Sam and his brother are sociopathic killers who gleefully committed their crimes which seems odd since Sam’s parents are described as being sympathetic to him, but yet still managed to raise not one, but two cold-blooded sons.

Hartshorn weaves an intricate crime scene with a killer that is not overly discoverable at first and casts it among a group of well-written characters and family dynamics that are not only believable but interesting in their own right. Overall, Hartshorn creates an in-depth legal thriller that will leave you wanting more after each page. It is well-paced and filled with scenes that will keep you reading– there were many where the tension between characters, especially the two brothers became almost palpable.

Book Information

The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn was released on March 1, 2020 from TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610732.This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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.

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.