The Loving Kitchen, book review

The Loving Kitchen, book reviewA collection of comforting recipes straight from the kitchen of popular food blogger LeAnn Rice.

The Loving Kitchen: Downright Delicious Southern Recipes to Share with Family, Friends and Neighbors by LeAnn Rice

About this book: (from the publisher) You know the feeling you get when you’re an overnight guest in someone’s home, and you awaken to a hot-off-the-griddle breakfast? Or when a coworker brings in a pan of her famous brownies to celebrate your recent promotion? Doesn’t it feel great when dinner at the neighbors’ house includes multiple courses of scratch-made recipes and conversation that lingers beyond dessert and that last cup of coffee?

For many of us, these are the moments in which we feel most loved. That’s the idea behind The Loving Kitchen. Get your family’s day started right with LeAnn’s fluffy Pumpkin Spice Pancakes, or a bowl of Almond Coconut Granola and yogurt. Keep your favorite sports fans fueled through the entire game with hearty servings of Hot Sausage and Spinach Dip, or toss together a Grilled Chicken and Berry Salad for lunch with your dearest girlfriends.

Want a signature dinner you can serve on those special occasions? Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Orange Cranberry Glaze with Creamy Smashed Baby Potatoes is the perfect meal to celebrate a milestone. LeAnn’s sunny narrative and ideas for bringing people together will remind you that the best meal you’ll ever cook is the one you prepare as an act of love.

About the author: (from the author herself) LeAnn Rice is a foodie, author, dishwasher, lover of dark chocolate, hater of lima beans, mom of Mancub, overworked and underappreciated servant of an ornery cat, shower singer of showtunes, and Nathan Fillion’s soulmate. (Sadly, he hasn’t yet been informed.) [editor's note: :) For more of such delightfulness, you'll want to check out LeAnn's charming blog, Trust me, you will.]

Genre: Non-fiction/cookbook

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Does a Southerner crave sweet tea?

Reminds me of… Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist for its similar focus on food as a gift and centerpiece of hospitality.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you are a Southern home-cookin’, comfort-food junkie.

Why did I read this book?  As a BookLook Blogger, for Thomas Nelson for review.       

Would I read another by this author? You bet, as well as her blog.

My take: What homemaker can resist a gorgeous cookbook that includes not only a wealth of DIY deliciousness but warm-hearted advice besides? Goodness knows, I can’t. Exhibit A: The Loving Kitchen in my hands.

If you’re looking for a cookbook that provides as much pleasure in the reading as it does in the eating, look no further. The author’s personality sparkles on every page, while full-color photographs of her food entice you to try. As she dispenses her wise and witty insights on the subject, LeAnn Rice fashions hospitality into an art.

My one caveat would be that this is not cookery for the faint of heart. While the cooking processes are simple enough (and well enough detailed for even the most beginner of cooks), most recipes employ more dirty dishes than I prefer (unless I know someone besides myself is cleaning up after ;-) ), and involve more calories (and cholesterol) too. Though I am a firm proponent of the “everything in moderation” philosophy, I would have a hard time adding these rich ingredients to my food on an everyday basis, as they tend to call for more butter, cream and cheese than you can shake a stick at.

Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful book. Know anyone getting married this summer or moving into a new house? Would make a lovely bridal or housewarming gift.

Thanks to BookLook for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: While we’re on the subject of cooking, I’m curious: Are you a clean-up-as-you-go kind of cook, or create-a-pile-and-wash-it-after? Me? I fall somewhere in the middle, and I’m also a lucky gal: I have a husband not afraid to pitch in and make things spotless again once all the guest go home. 

The Stories We Tell, book review

The Stories We Tell, book reviewBestselling author Patti Callahan Henry is back with a powerful novel about the stories we tell and the people we trust.

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry

About this book: Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family.

But things may not be as good as they seem.

Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.

About the author: Patti Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including Between the Tides, And Then I Found You, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Yes, I like its shadowy nuances.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for language

Reminds me of… Kristin Hannah

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy contemporary women’s fiction with lots of relationship drama, a hint of the south, and a strong undercurrent of mystery.

Why did I read this book? For St. Martin’s Press for review

Would I read another by this author? Happily. I liked this one, in fact, much more than her last novel, which delighted many critics but somehow missed my mark.

My take: From its first pages, I was drawn into this story. Right off the top, I liked its title, premise, cover art, and the prologue, which was a terrific set-up for the story, hinting at oncoming conflict while introducing the main character. Nicely done. 

It never fails to intrigue me how subjective the enjoyment of a book is. What works for me doesn’t for you, and vice versa. Similarly, the same writer can hit my mark once but the miss it the next time. Or the other way around, which is what happened for me here. As a She Reads reviewer, I recently read And Then I Found You and wasn’t delighted with it. I didn’t connect with the characters–as I recall, I had a hard time identifying with some of the main character’s life choices–and consequently, the rest of the story fell flat.

So not the case for me with this story. In that elusive way that is such a big part of bookish magic, the combination of conflict, characters and setting hit me in all the right places. This, even though Christianity is stereotypically portrayed in a very negative light (the sisters, Eve and Willa, endured childhoods damaged by all the wrong, hypocritical ways religion can manifest in human beings), and even though I wasn’t in total agreement with Eve’s choices, I could at least understand them. And–more importantly from a literary point of view–wanted to stick with her until she reached them.

Anyway. I’m getting perhaps a bit off the track here. I liked this book. I liked Henry’s prose, which is straightforward yet written from a place of deep understanding and empathy which translates beautifully to the page. I liked the way she strung out the mystery until the end, and how I was really guessing who to trust all along the way, just like Eve. All in all, it was a book I couldn’t put down, which, by my definition, makes it a read well worth my while.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: Kimberley Freeman is another author I’ve read recently whose first book (Lighthouse Bay) I didn’t particularly care for but whose second (Ember Island) I did. It’s hard to say precisely why because they were really quite similar. How about you? Have you had a similar experience?

The Romanov Sisters, book review

The Romanov Sisters, book reviewHelen Rappaport brings the four daughters of the last tsar to life in their own words, illuminating the opulence of their doomed world and their courage as they faced a terrible end.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

About this book: (from the publisher) They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.

The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Helen Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados.

About the author: Helen Rappaport studied Russian at Leeds University and is a specialist in Imperial Russian history and the reign of Queen Victoria. She lives in Dorset, England and can be found online at and

Genre: Non-fiction/Biography

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Oh my yes. Gorgeous. (Family photos included inside are also a plus.)

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. Appropriate for all audiences.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re a student of humankind. Of special interest, naturally, to those interested in Russian history and in the Romanov family in particular.

Why did I read this book? For St. Martin’s Press for review.

Would I read another by this author? Absolutely. Am especially keen to read this volume’s predecessor, The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg.

My take: The double entendre of the subtitle subtly captures the essence of this lush biography: the lives of these four girls were lost both literally and figuratively. It is the loss in the literal sense that we are all most familiar with, but after reading this book, for me the greater tragedy is the figurative loss. By which I mean that because of several factors of their circumstances–including the introversion of their beloved mother and the terminal illness of their little brother, heir to the Russian throne–the true nature of these sisters’ lives and personalities were so hidden from public view. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if their fates might have been altered if the charm and beauty of their characters had been fully revealed and allowed to flourish in the light.

But here, I’m getting ahead of myself–though this is part of the wonder of this richly researched biography. It not only answers many of the questions you may have about this infamous family but fuels your imagination as well.

This is a thick tome–492 pages in all, including copious, meticulous end notes and index–making it perhaps slightly better suited for the serious student of the Romanovs than the dilettante. The depth and breadth of Rappaport’s research is breathtaking; on her website, she is described as “writer, historian, Russianist”–in that order, which fits perfectly. Her vocabulary is a notch above, intended for the educated reader who wishes to become even more so.

In reading this telling of the Romanovs’ story, the biggest surprise for me was realizing the depth of their faith and family devotion. In fact, the author encapsulates this by quoting 1 Corinthians 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Of equal interest were her conclusions about the notorious Rasputin and his connection to the revolution–and ultimately to this family’s awful and untimely demise.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: This clip is worth watching to hear what Helen Rappport has to say about her writing, this book, and her love for Russia.

A Good Year for the Roses, book review

A Good Year for the Roses, book review

Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for Molly lately…

A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil

About this book: (from the publisher) Newly divorced and struggling to find a new home and a way to support her three boys, Londoner Molly Taylor is stunned when her beloved Aunt Helena dies and leaves her Harrington Hall, a three-hundred-year-old manor house on the Devon coast, where Molly grew up. But does Molly really want to run a bed-and-breakfast in an old house where the only thing that doesn’t need urgent attention is Aunt Helena’s beautiful rose garden? Or care for Uncle Bertie, an eccentric former navy officer with a cliff-top cannon? Or Betty, his rude parrot that bites whomever annoys it? Yet Molly’s best friend Lola is all for the plan. “My heart bleeds. Your very own beach, the beautiful house, and Helena’s garden. All you have to do is grill a bit of bacon.”

But with Molly’s conniving brother running the family hotel nearby, the return of a high school flame with ulterior motives, and three sons whose idea of a new country life seems to involve vast quantities of mud, this is not going to be easy. And then Harrington Hall begins to work its magic, and the roses start to bloom…

About the author: Gil McNeil is the author of The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, Needles and Pearls, and Knit One Pearl One. She lives in Kent, England, with her son.

Genre: Fiction/General

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Do roses bloom in June?

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for language (including a shocking number of f-bombs, which tapered off as the story went on). What little sex there is, is very discreetly handled.

Reminds me of… rather a English-country version of Jennifer Weiner

You’ll want to buy this book if … you like chick-lit-ish novels about women–particularly single moms–starting over. Will likely especially appeal to Anglophiles.

Why did I read this book? For Hyperion for review.

Would I read another by this author? In the right mood, yes.

My take: Not many novels can actually make me laugh out loud, but this one did. Molly makes a delightfully human, overwhelmed heroine that harried moms on both sides of the Atlantic will happily relate to. Add to this a whimsically quirky cast of characters and a charming country setting, and a bit o’ magic ensues. Particularly when young Alfie comes on the scene. Oh my. Or Betty, the parrot. Oh, and I positively adored the gregarious and opinionated Lola, who made the most appealing BFF I think I’ve encountered in contemporary fiction.

Though there’s some rough language, on the whole I found this novel as light as a soufflé. What is it about dry British wit that so tickles the American funny bone? (And is it reciprocated? Somehow, I can’t see it.) Gil McNeil has the one of the deftest touches I’ve seen when it comes to this kind of humor. Is it chick lit? Yeah, I’d say so, which doesn’t normally appeal to me a great deal. And I have to admit, the ongoing travails did seem to go on a bit at length, but nonetheless, every page was delightful in itself.

All in all, a warm, entertaining read, perfect for summertime.

Thanks to Hyperion for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: If you liked this review, please consider leaving a comment (makes my day when I hear from you) or subscribing to this blog. See that little + Follow button in the lower right-hand corner? Click that and the rest is easy. 

The Widow Waltz, book review

The Widow Waltz, book review“Koslow…is a sharp observer of Manhattan’s elite…and smart enough to make the once-pampered Georgia a sympathetic character.” ~ USA Today

The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow

About this book: (from the publisher) Georgia Waltz has an enviable life: a plush Manhattan apartment, a Hamptons beach house, two bright twenty-something daughters, and a seemingly perfect marriage. But when Ben dies suddenly, she discovers that her perfect lawyer-husband has left them nearly penniless. As Georgia scrambles to support the family, she and her daughters plumb for the grit required to reinvent their lives, and Georgia even finds that new love is possible in the land of Spanx.

Inspiring, funny, and deeply satisfying, The Widow Waltz is a compulsively readable tale of forgiveness, healing, and the bonds between mothers and daughters.

About the author: Sally Koslow is the author of three novels. She lives in New York City and can be found online at

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Yes. I like how the author herself describes it when praising its designer, who “captured the ultimate optimism of this book while demonstrating that fifty-year-old women can still have great legs.” Amen, sister.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for the usual suspects: language and sex

Reminds me of… Elizabeth Berg

You’ll want to buy this book if …you enjoy sophisticated literary humor about society’s elite.

Why did I read this book? For Plume for review

Would I read another by this author? Yes, even though she espouses a worldview not my own. But isn’t that one of the primary purposes of reading a wide range of types, to expose ourselves to people and opinions unlike our own?

My take: A novel like this fascinates me because it proves what a gifted writer can do: take a cast of characters whom I don’t particularly like, with whom I seemingly have little common, and make their story one I want to read. In this case, the characters and I hold different values, moral codes, religions, lifestyles; we even live on opposite coasts. And yet…what do share is the most important thing of all, and that is that we are human. Therefore we similarly struggle and hope and fail and try again. We have growth edges.

In this case, the growth edge is courage. Being brave, even when it means faking it…until it becomes real. And then letting the reality transform a life (or two). This, I found, was a truth I could wrap my arms around. As I suspect you could too, no matter who you are.

Despite our differences, I liked journeying with the remnants of the Silver-Waltz family as they each found her way to wholeness and healing. And in the hands of Sally Koslow, their improbable conclusion became not only plausible but hoped for.

Thanks to Plume for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: What’s your opinion on fictional characters who don’t share your bedrock values? Does it make a difference as to whether you will or will not read a book? Or like it?

Follow me to Books and Beverages

Follow me to Books and BeveragesFriends, just the quickest of notes to encourage you to come say hi over at one of my new fave blogs, Books and Beverages, where I have the privilege of making a guest appearance today. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my acquaintanceship with its lovely and friendly creator, Jamie. And I’ll bet once introduced, you’ll find her blog one of your faves too.

Hope to see you there! :)

Spotlight on Cindy Thomson, author of Annie's Stories

Spotlight on Cindy Thomson, author of Annie’s Stories

Spotlight on Cindy Thomson, author of Annie's StoriesIt’s been said the key to unlocking the future is found in the past. I tell stories about those who went before us and left guideposts for us to find. Take up this journey to the past with me and be inspired, entertained, and enlightened.” ~ Cindy Thomson

About Annie’s Stories: (from the publisher) The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great

Spotlight on Cindy Thomson, author of Annie's Storiesbook will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.

But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.

Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.

About Cindy Thomson (from Tyndale Media Center): Cindy is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. She combined her love of history and baseball to co-author the biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, which was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s Larry Ritter Book Award. In addition to books, Cindy has written on a regular basis for numerous online and print publications and is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She is also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Historical Novel Society. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio. Visit her online at

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Historical

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G

You’ll want to buy this book if …you have an interest in genealogy and the story of your family’s past. May also especially appeal to fans of The Wizard of Oz (which marks its 75th anniversary this year).

Q&A: Cindy, as a veteran genealogy enthusiast, what’s your number one tip for those just getting started?

Interview your living relatives. Today it’s so easy with all kinds of voice recorders. You can even get an app on your smart phone, so no excuses. You shouldn’t rely just on family stories, but they provide clues and memories that will otherwise be lost once that person passes away.

Given your passion for genealogy, I’m guessing you believe that uncovering one’s family lineage to be not only interesting but important. Why?

Because it’s only through understanding where we came from and what sacrifices and choices were made that we can learn how we are connected and where we should go from here. I understand that many people are unable to trace their family trees, but I think the stories of the past belong to all of us. Previous generations blazed the trails we travel on politically, spiritually, economically, and in many ways. I believe that leaves us with a responsibility once we understand the traits, personalities, and beliefs of those before us, to continue on to a form a legacy for those who will come after us. We will not live lives mirroring that of previous generations, but appreciating the people they were will have an impact on us. If you’ve ever seen the television show Who Do You Think You Are? you will grasp what I mean. The episodes illustrate the inspiration that comes from learning about one’s family history.

Some people are born storytellers, others aren’t, yet we all have stories to tell. How would you encourage storytelling in those who feel they are not naturally gifted?

It’s true that everyone has a story. That’s why I think genealogy is so fascinating. The important thing is to get that story down in some fashion. The information and the details could be lost if you don’t. You don’t have to be an expert storyteller. Someone may come along who can create a good narrative later. Recording family history seemed to be very important to some people in the nineteenth century. There are numerous accounts people wrote that are now in historical society archives and in libraries. They are not always accurate, and they aren’t always told well, but they are preserved for us today and serve as a stepping-stone to finding out more. Think of your story like that, something future generations will use and cherish.

Thanks to Tyndale for providing me a free copy. All opinions are mine.

End notes: Before I’d even heard of Annie’s Stories, I’d resolved this year to make inroads into my own family’s genealogy, so I’m delighted to get these great tips from a veteran. As my children grow older, I want them to better understand their people, and to let our family’s collective story inform their own. Plus, knowing the places we come from gives a lovely excuse to travel! (Already been to Wales and Sweden, representing the Jones side of the family; now need to explore my own family lineage and make plans accordingly!) I’d like to hear from you. Is digging into your roots important to you? Why or why not?

That Night, book review

That Night, book reviewThey said she was a murderer. They said she killed her sister. But they LIED.

That Night by Chevy Stevens

About this book: (from the publisher) As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

About the author: (from the author’s website) Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. While holding an open house one afternoon, she had a terrifying idea that became the inspiration for Still Missing. Chevy eventually sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book. Still Missing went on to become a New York Times bestseller and win the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.  Chevy’s books have been optioned for movies and are published in more than thirty countries.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband and daughter in the local mountains.

Genre: Fiction/Thriller

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? In that it’s dark and haunting? Sure.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R. Profanity (a lot) and mature themes.

Reminds me of… Lisa Unger

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy dark suspense novels with edgy female protagonists.

Why did I read this book? As the She Reads Book Club pick of the month.

Would I read another by this author? I’ve enjoyed her before and am sure I will do so again.

My take: I’ve read Chevy Stevens before, and in fact found her debut thriller, Still Missing, utterly gripping, if raw and disturbing too. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and I was fascinated by her unconventional storytelling style.

This more conventional novel features Stevens’ same tight prose, with a similar amount of rising tension, though without the more disturbing psychological elements of her debut. Despite the fact that the main character is either a rebellious, Goth teen or a hardened, tattooed convict–depending on where you are in the story–Stevens manages to make her sympathetic and (kinda) likable. Enough for me to stick with her story, anyway.

Stevens also does a masterful job of portraying a family in all sorts of believable trouble–from a dad who can’t manage to man up before his stubborn, opinionated wife; a mom who plays favorites and dwells in denial to the utter destruction of her family; to a pair of sisters who make one bad choice after enough until there are none left to be made. Add to this the graphic portrayal of a teenage bully off the hook and the rampant results of her unchecked hatred, and you have a book that is truly frightening. Though I wouldn’t call this an easy read, nor a particularly enjoyable one, it is a fascinating tour of the darker side of human nature.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: If you’re thinking this is a pretty heavy choice for a She Reads selection, you’re right, though here’s the disclaimer: this month’s pick was suggested by their network of review bloggers. See what others are saying here, where you can also enter a drawing to win a copy of That Night

Identity, book review

Identity, book reviewFirecracker P.I. Fina Ludlow returns in the next hard-driving entry in the acclaimed series by Ingrid Thoft.

Identity by Ingrid Thoft

About this book: (from the publisher) It’s been a couple of months since Fina’s last big case—the one that exposed dark family secrets and called Fina’s family loyalty into question—but there’s no rest for the weary, especially when your boss is Carl Ludlow.

Renata Sanchez, a single mother by choice, wants to learn the identity of her daughter Rosie’s sperm donor. A confidentiality agreement and Rosie’s reticence might deter other mothers, but not Renata, nor Carl, who’s convinced that lawsuits involving cryobanks and sperm donors will be “the next big thing.” Fina uncovers the donor’s identity, but the solution to that mystery is just the beginning: within hours of the case going public, Rosie’s donor turns up dead.

Fina didn’t sign on for a murder investigation, but she can’t walk away from a death she may have set in motion. She digs deeper and discovers that DNA doesn’t tell the whole story and sometimes, cracking that code can have deadly consequences.

About the author: (from her website) Ingrid Thoft was born in Boston and is a graduate of Wellesley College. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private investigation at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle with her husband.

Genre: Fiction/Mystery

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Me? Probably not, because it looks like the cover of a hard-boiled mystery and I don’t tend to go for those. But it is a hard-boiled mystery, so in that sense, it’s perfectly suited to the book.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R, for profanity and mature themes.

Reminds me of… J.A. Jance, Erin Brockovich

You’ll want to buy this book if … You enjoy gritty, contemporary mysteries featuring a hard-boiled, female detective.

Why did I read this book?  For G.P. Putnam’s Sons for review

Would I read another by this author? Well, probably not, because the genre doesn’t run to my taste. The author’s skill, however, is exemplary. (Note how she earned a certificate in private investigation so as to create a more believable character. Now that’s dedication to your craft.)

My take:  Though this book wasn’t written for readers like me, I’m nonetheless impressed. This author certainly knows her stuff, and not just about what makes a female PI tick. You’ll find clear prose and a posse of characters, of which not even the most minor is skimped on. Plus, the backdrop of the loud, dysfunctional Ludlow family offers plenty of scope for interest. The narrative is realistic without bogging down in forensic or legal minutiae. There’s profanity and edgy relationships I could live without (e.g., friends with benefits), but in a mystery of this sort, you can pretty much expect that to come with the territory.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: If you found this review helpful, please consider leaving a comment (makes my day when I hear from you) or subscribing to this blog. See that little + Follow button in the lower right-hand corner? Click that and the rest is easy. 

A Long Time Gone, book review

A Long Time Gone, book review“We Walker women were born screaming into this world, the beginning of a lifelong quest to find what would quiet us. But whatever drove us away was never stronger than the pull of what brought us back….”

A Long Time Gone by Karen White

About this book: (from the publisher) When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had. But in the spring, nine years to the day since she’d left, that’s exactly what happens—Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children.

What she hopes to find is solace with “Bootsie,” her dear grandmother who raised her, a Walker woman with a knack for making everything all right. But instead she finds that her grandmother has died and that her estranged mother is drifting further away from her memories. Now Vivien is forced into the unexpected role of caretaker, challenging her personal quest to find the girl she herself once was.

But for Vivien things change in ways she cannot imagine when a violent storm reveals the remains of a long-dead woman buried near the Walker home, not far from the cypress swamp that is soon to give up its ghosts. Vivien knows there is now only one way to rediscover herself—by uncovering the secrets of her family and breaking the cycle of loss that has haunted them for generations.

About the author: Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen previous books. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.

Genre: Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Yes, I think it’s lovely and alluring, perfect for this story

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. Some mostly mild profanity.

Reminds me of… Lisa Wingate

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy wholesome women’s fiction that weaves romance and a bit of mystery into multiple past-and-present narratives.

Why did I read this book? First, because I wanted to. Second, for NAL for review.

Would I read another by this author? Obviously.

My take: A Long Time Gone is just the sort of women’s fiction I adore, its story wise and beautifully told. What’s more, I cannot resist a novel that threads a lyrical narrative with mystery and suspense, plus more than a dash of winsome romance. From its first lines, you know you’re reading the work of an artist, a master at her craft. And yet words never get in the way of its warm heart.

The very first Karen White novel I read, The Memory of Water, I still consider one of her best. (It so happens I recently reread it–and yep, still a fave.) A Long Time Gone is like it in many ways, containing textured prose, richly layered story lines, and complex characters–mostly ones you’ll love and a few you’ll love to hate. The Mississippi delta setting becomes a character in itself, and in White’s hands, the result is altogether magical.

White writes champion last lines to conclude each chapter, ones that somehow capture the essence of what has come before while drawing you into what might come next. She manages to hold the big picture firmly in hand while at the same time lavishing attention on every last, little detail. And in this story, I love the way she interweaves her overarching themes of family and place and the universal quest for identity.

Though I wouldn’t call this a feel-good novel, it still left me feeling good, full of hope for the promise of goodness, health and happiness. In sum, A Long Time Gone is Karen White at her finest.

Thanks to New American Library for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: I especially admire the way Karen White weaves a charismatic setting into her stories. I’ve recently seen Lisa Wingate and Sarah Addison Allen do the same. Who are some of your favorite authors that create a character out of place?