Book Club Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Kim Michele Richardson spins an emotional tale about the book women of Appalachia adding an interesting twist.

Cussy Mary is a “Kentucky Blue,” born from a family whose skin is literally blue. Already Book-Woman-Troublesome-Creek-Kim-Michele-Richardsonstruggling in poor Appalachia in the 1930s, being colored is just another hurdle Cussy has to get around. Called Bluet by the majority of the population, she overcomes her stigma by becoming a Book Woman, one of the programs set up to help the poor area by providing books to the local population. Bluet must content with racist town folk, murderous preachers, and the creatures of the Appalachian wilderness. Each day, she rises above this because providing books, knowledge to her patrons gives her a sense of purpose.

I’ll be honest; I was intrigued because I had never heard of the Blues. And honestly, I feel like my education has let me down. While it was only in small, confined areas, it happened to many other populations and not just Kentucky. There is, in fact, an answer and diagnosis in regards to this and I’ve never heard about it. I loved learning about the illness and it broke my heart that these people were treated so shamelessly. I will make sure my children know their story.

I really enjoyed learning about the life of those in Appalachia. My heart ached for each patron on her route. In fact, I had sympathy for everyone but her supervisors at the Center; they were horrible people. I was frustrated with their fights from the coal miners to the chicken stealers. I do think that these stories were too strung along. There were so many it was hard to truly get into these stories as deeply as was called for. There were times when they slowed down the narrative dragging the story along as slowly as the mule on the rocky path.

That being said, I like how the author didn’t play all her cards upfront. We didn’t meet each patron at the beginning adding freshness to the story and Cussy Mary’s route. But at points, these stories started to drown out the Book Woman’s story.

My biggest issue with the novel is the ending. It is thrown in at the last minute and is a huge twist in the tale. The author handles it in one chapter and an epilogue when it is a clear turning point for the story that needed more time to deal with and understand. A “poof” and its gone answer belittled the event and the story.

Overall, this would be a great book to discuss in your book club. Engaging and educational, your group will enjoy a trip to Appalachia.

 

Bonus Review: The Giver of Stars

The Giver of Stars is another book to read if you are interested in the Book Women.

In 1937, women in Baileyville, Kentucky go against the wishes of many a man when they take part in the federal program that pays them to make sure even the most remote people had a chance to read. Alice, Margery, and a few others ignore the gossip of the thtown that women shouldn’t be working at something like that because all the people need is the Bible. The women face many trails culminating in one of the women being accused of murder.

Jojo Moyes presents characters that you can really feel for. This one, in particular, shines lights on the “outcasts” and how they can make a difference if someone just let them. Your group can discuss each women’s story, how they intertwine and how you can see parallels to today.

I really enjoyed how Moyes branched out with this work. While she often works with historic fiction, this one took her out of her comfort zone and showed how well she can understand and empathize with an area outside her continent.

These two books are great stories of strong women in a world where they weren’t usually allowed to be.

 

Before He Vanished

I was taken in by the story presented in Before He Vanished

Halle has moved home after leaving Nashville and her mistakes behind. She settles in at the local newspaper and sees her chance to prove her mettle: it’s the 25 Anniversary of cover image_Before He Vanished by Debra Webb (Intrigue) (1)The Lost Boy. Andy was Halle’s best friend and she knew his mom would talk to her. This story was more just business–it was truly personal. When a man arrives in town looking just like Andy, Halle must figure out what’s really going in this town and if this mysterious strange is who she thinks he is.

This is taking place in a series of books about Winchester Tennessee. I haven’t read anything before them, but it was not needed as the author Debra Webb mentions past cases. She also makes sure the story stands on its own apart from the others. This makes it easy for new reads to join in this series.

I really like the story created here. There are several levels at work, and I enjoyed the twist (I almost didn’t see it coming; so that’s some good work by the author). This wasn’t just some love story with a mysterious background. it is the mystery that moves the story forward. The set up even made the whirlwind romance fitting for the story. I have to say this is one of the best Harlequin books I have ever read whether Intrigue or not.

The book is written simply, nothing overly complex. This works well for the intended target audience and keeps the story moving.

Overall, I mostly enjoyed Before He Vanished even if this isn’t usually the type of books I typically read.

 

Publication Date: March 7

I received an ARC from the publisher; all opinions are my own.

You Are Not Alone

Shay is about to learn that one simple lie can snowball into an absolute mess–especially when dealing with strangers.

Shay is in a rut. She just lost her job and her roommate is asking her to move out. These events are stressful enough without adding trauma. Shay is standing at the subway the 45046742._SY475_same moment a woman throws herself in front of the train. The dead woman haunts her and she begins to research the woman. Why did she jump? Shay comes across the woman’s friends who welcome her into the circle after Shay lies about how she knew the dead woman. It will take her some time to realize that the lie will put her life in danger.

This book moves quickly switching between the various characters. The authors include the history of each woman as well as where they are now in their life. This fleshes out each character making them complex and rounded. This also lets readers see how miscommunication and misinformation can cause major trouble.

The twist isn’t mind-altering but it is solid and makes you look at the characters a different light.

This book doesn’t quite reach the perfection of The Wife Between Us but it’s much better than An Anonymous Girl. You Are Not Alone keeps the taught tension the authors are so good at. This book takes women’s normal everyday issues and blowing them up into a story that is twisting, exciting and downright creepy.

 

Publication Date: March 3

I received an ARC from The Publisher; all opinions are my own.

 

The Vanishing Deep

The Vanishing Deep is a post-apocalyptic world covered by water. This adds new dimensions to typical dystopian fiction that I was intrigued with.

Tempest lives in the world after the Great Waves where actual land is scarce and people struggle to survive. Tempest makes her Notes by diving, finding any last treasure of the vanishing deepold world.  She saves each Note because she wants to revive her sister. That’s the magic of this world; the dead can be brought to life for 24 hours. But Tempest didn’t imagine to bring back her sister would be so dramatic and turn her world upside down.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. It breaks from the stereotypical YA love triangle. Instead, The Vanishing Deep focuses on family. Each character has a motive and a detailed past. I never once wondered why a character said or did a thing; they were well fleshed out.

I also loved the world created. I wanted to see so much of it! The book takes us to a few places and my imagination loved the places and just wanted to peek in every nook and cranny. I never got bored reading the world’s history.

My four-star rating is because Astrid Scholte doesn’t go quite deep enough. While the basics of revival technical are explained, it’s never told truly how it works.  The author also doesn’t follow through with some of the connections she has made. Without spoiling the book, I will say as a reader, I was confused why certain characters weren’t affected earlier in the book when biological aspects changed as they did later. I needed a bit more about the world, about the revival connection, about the science of it.

The ending stretches and doesn’t add. The truth of death is hidden. No one truly suffers from a twist that makes little sense overall and changes nothing about the story already told.

The Vanishing Deep is an atypical dystopian story with a hint so science fiction. I truly enjoyed being submerged into this world even if I wasn’t completely satisfied.

 

Publication Date: March 3

I received an arc from the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Book Club Review: The Tenth Girl

The Tenth Girl is a beautiful ghost story weaving time and space.

When Mavi finds refuge in a unique and special school for girls, she brushes away the ideas of ghosts and curses that seem to permeate it. But it doesn’t help that the staff seem to have things they aren’t talking including the missing tenth girl. Mavi soon finds herself over her head both in teaching these girls and navigating the history of the school itself.

the tenth girl-MECH.inddSara Faring creates a beautiful world making the school a character all its own. The same level of attention is paid to the characters giving them an impish tint with deeper layers. The author envelopes you into this world while weaving several narrators into a seamless telling. Switching narrators adds something special from each respective building up to a new layer of the story. Each perspective is vital to the overall tale.

This starts as a beautiful Goth horror and seamlessly changes genres without upsetting the reader. This twist was amazing. There were hints along the way but I was so absorbed into the world that I seconded guessed myself and continued with the story. The ending was satisfying for the reader but the story continued exactly one chapter too long.

The book is ripe for the discussion about human consciousness and identity. Book club members will enjoy the mystery but will truly want to discuss the ethics of the final twist.  The Tenth Girl will delight all members of your club.

Running For Our Lives

I truly enjoyed reading Robb Ryerse’s tale of running for the House of Representatives. Ryerse is a progressive Republican who saw how his district in Arkansas could benefit from gun safety and health care. When his wife suggests he run as part of Brand New Congress, an effort to take out career politicians by bringing in everyday people who 9780664266219_p0_v1_s1200x630 (1)understand what the laws do on a practical level. Ryerse, a co-pastor a local church, knew this would be a hard competition but also knew this was something he had to do.
Ryerse walks you through running for office and how hard it for normal everyday people. The setup of campaign finances is cost-prohibitive to many and the way money is used from special interest keeps career politicians in power. He also discusses other issues that come up during campaigning and how it’s not as easy as the TV makes it look.
The best part though is that Ryerse uses his faith to guide him and he speaks out against the Religious Right that blindly follows the current administration. He details his interactions with members of this subsection of Christianity and explains that these people are often one-issue voters. Reyrse tries to explain during his campaign, as well as in this book, why Christian faith is about people. That we have to take care of our neighbor and these “progressive” views are doing just that. While he was met positively by most people for not being a career politician it never seemed to overcome the ideas he shared with the progressive left.
I would recommend Running for Our Lives, A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good  to anyone who wants to see politics from the inside; how things really work; to see Republicans as progressive allied; to see that the Evangelicals aren’t always looking after the common good. This book will challenge many preconceived notion of those all along the spectrum.

 

Publication Date: February 18

I received an ARC through NetGalley; all opinions are my own.

Book Club Review: The Dead Girls Club

The Dead Girls Cub is a fun thriller that pulls back just at its ending.

45701350Heather is a psychologist who works with kids helping them deal with the massive traumas in their lives. Heather herself dealt with the death of her best friend as a child and knows what it’s like to be haunted by the past. One day, out of the blue, she receives a necklace-half a best friend’s heart that matches one she keeps at home. The appearance of the necklace owned by her best friend is just the beginning as Heather’s future becomes her past.

The Dead Girls Club reads like it’s going to push into a rare psychological event, but Damien Angelica Walters pulls back just in time to make the climax something pulled from a far corner. The crescendo of the twist slams down but has little emotional value.

But, to be fair, I loved the story itself. The idea of trauma and how it is presented is so real and so varied instead of the stereotypical PTSD characters. I loved how the story moved from the present to the past intertwining as most psychological trauma does.
There is a lot here to discuss in your book groups. The flashbacks are great fodder for discussing childhood friendship sand how we see abuse and neglect as children. The novel also brings these ideas into present time sparking discussion on adult friendships and how we deal with childhood guilt. If these topics are too deep for your particular group, you can have your own dead girl’s club and discuss our interest in ghost stories and salacious crimes.

Overall, The Dead Girls Club is thrilling and heartbreaking. Even though the ending disappoints, it’s worth the journey.

A Beginning at the End

Mike Chen shows life after the end of the world in A Beginning at the End, a refreshing change from many dystopian stories.
Six years ago, a pandemic of the flu killed of the majority of the world’s population. People have already begun to rebuild even though they are still haunted by the past. Brought together by serendipity, a pop star in hiding, a single dad and a wedding planner find themselves entangled as their lives move forward. But it seems the virus may be making a comeback. How these three newfound friends handle a new global scare?
mediumI have always wanted to read a book set after people escape the apocalypse and start new lives. Most books end at some plateau where they can live without much danger. But what does that look like? I was excited to see that Mike Chen had thought ahead to that and gave us a world somewhat close to ours but also so very different. In fact, I was less interested in the back stories of the characters. While they were needed to truly understand the characters, I was focused on the survivability of now. I needed to see the characters let go of the past and look to the future.
Chen’s work is easy to read. It’s not fluff but is relatable to everyday readers in both writing structure and the characters. Readers will see something about themselves in the four main characters that will encourage them to find out how they handle the post-world and threat of further virus outbreaks. Chen creates wonderfully fulfilling characters even though most of the character’s relationships could be called way before the ending.
A Beginning at the End is a story about what happens after the apocalypse but doesn’t land on the troupes of zombies or supernatural aspects. This focuses on each human and their own choices. As a reader, now I want to read his other works!

 

Publication Date: January 21
I received an ARC from the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Big Lies in a Small Town

Big Lies in a Small Town is typical Diane Chamberlain; the kind of typical you always enjoy from her.
Morgan is serving time because of a drunk driving accident that left a young woman injured. But, surprisingly, she finds herself out after serving her minimum sentence. There is a caveat: she is being released to do work on an old mural as part of her parole. The mural is old and nasty, but she must restore it before the gallery opens in just a few short months. Morgan must learn painting restoration while being distracted by the story of the artist Anna Dale who, who according to the townfolk, went crazy and disappeared.
As usual, the author gives readers a story they can take to their hearts. The female51b5l6oQQdL._SY346_ protagonists are quickly accepted and loved, and you just want to see happiness with in their tragedies. Morgan is no exception. Big Lies is a double whammy; you latch onto to Anna Dale as well as Morgan as the book switches between present and past. Your heart is doubly torn apart as both women share center stage.
Chamberlain is queen of emotional twists. While I called one, I did not see the other coming and that delights me. Chamberlain always has at least one present for the reader. A present that moves you and causes you to see the characters in a different light.
There are a few small issues. The townsfolks claim not to know what happened to Anan Dale as if she just disappeared but there is no way the historians of the town missed the articles of the events that caused her disappearance. No one would have just said that was just her going crazy. The second issue is my own. The book ends and I needed to know what happened to Morgan. Chamberlain implies with this ending that it doesn’t matter, but it does to me. I have come to love Morgan and I feel a need to know exactly what happens to her.
Big Lies returns to the more traditional set up of Chamberlain (that’s not to say The Dream Daughter wasn’t amazing; it was, in fact, superb). This novel is women’s fiction at its height looking into the things women face and how we have to deal with them.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020
I received an ARC from the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Husband Material

I slogged through 70 percent of this book bored and ready to give up. Husband Material was as basic and stereotypical as many other romances. But then, luckily, Emily Belden added a little extra to make the story stand out.
9781525805981_TS_PRD (1)Charlotte is a 29 year old widow who has kept her secret for the last five years. But the past comes back to haunt her when her husband’s ashes suddenly show up at her apartment after a fire at the mausoleum he was placed. Suddenly Charlotte finds her life more complicated and confusing than she ever imagined.
The first chapter was pretty funny, and I was looking forward to hijinks that would ensue when the ashes arrived. But quickly I saw, that instead of being funny, Charlotte is rather petty and bitchy. She complains about everything in life. She mentally slays the interns working but when she overhears them talking about her, she gets into a tizzy. What should have endured you to her makes you roll your eyes. Why should I feel bad for someone who thought even worse of the people who were talking about her?
And that becomes the biggest problem with the book. Not the predictable plot or weird and improbable dating app the character wants to make, but Charlotte is so unlikable. She wants to keep her widowhood a secret but gets snippy wen people don’t treat her

Autho photo_Emily Belden_final

Emily Belden

with kid gloves mentally chewing them out because she was dealing with her widow hood. No one knows to help her and when they finally do, she doesn’t take help graciously.
The saving grace is that the book throws you a curve ball and Charlotte gets called out for her horrible behavior. Charlotte finally begins to grow and because a somewhat more likable as she deals with the superb twist that Belden created. While, it doesn’t work perfectly, it really gave the book depth and made me happy to have read the book.
Overall, the book isn’t that great but, by the end, I enjoyed see how Charlotte finagled her precarious position.

Publication Date: Dec 30, 2019

I received an ARC through the publisher; all opinions are my own.