Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Mother's Promise

Fiction by Sally Hepworth

Alice Stanhope is a single mother of Zoe, an emotionally fragile teenager. She has no other family, besides an alcoholic brother she can't possibly depend on. Zoe's father is "not in the picture," and Alice has very few friends. So when Alice is diagnosed with cancer, it falls to a kind nurse and a hospital social worker to "support" her, which they do with varying degrees of helpfulness. 

(For example, it was helpful to answer Alice's phone during chemo and try to straighten things out with Zoe's school. It was NOT helpful to have Zoe forced into foster care while Alice was having surgery.)

This was a really good book!

I also read recently by this author: The Secrets of Midwives

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Readymade Thief

Fiction by Augustus Rose.

Lee is an eighteen-year-old girl all alone in the world, and she is indeed a thief. Only some of her many troubles are her own fault, and her story is quite absorbing.

I really liked this book most of the time, but some of it was hard to understand. It seemed to keep trying to be an intellectual story, or a puzzle story, when really it worked best as a character story, I thought.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Two Weeks

Fiction by Karen Kingsbury.

In this story we have a high-school girl who finds her college plans threatened by an unexpected pregnancy, a super-nice boy who falls for her, and a young couple who have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive a baby for years. Hmmm.. can we guess where this might go?

This was a pretty good story, but a little too predictable.

As a side note, this book features characters from the Baxter family, introduced many years ago in Karen Kingsbury's early books. I give the whole list of that series in the post about the book Coming Home. But you don't have to know all those stories to understand this one.

I also read recently by this author: Brush of Wings

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sole Survivor

Fiction by Dean Koontz.

This story begins with Joe Carpenter, a broken man. Joe's wife and young daughters were killed in a terrible plane crash one year before, leaving him with nothing to do but wait to die and join them. He's alienated all his friends, stopped going to work, and lives in a dingy apartment furnished with only a mattress on the floor. But then Joe gets a tiny ray of hope: maybe somebody did survive the crash after all. And could that person be one of his loved ones?

This was an exciting thriller with an unexpected ending. You do have to keep an open mind about the weird turns the plot takes...

I also read recently by this author:  The Forbidden Door/ The Night Window

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Regulars

Fiction by Georgia Clark.

Evie, her best friend Willow, and her roommate Krista are single girls in the city, always on the lookout for good prospects in work and love. All three are not really succeeding in this: Evie has an job at a magazine that she hates but is afraid to lose, and manages to quickly wreck things with a great dating prospect in chapter one. Willow is tentatively trying to break into the art world, and has a quite nice boyfriend she seems to keep at arm's length. And Krista is the most self-sabotaging of the three; she's an aspiring actress who can't seem to make it to auditions on time and runs through unsuitable boyfriends at top speed.

All three young women think they have found the answer to their problems when they are given--wait for it!-- a magic potion called "pretty." Will it actually make them prettier? More successful? Happier? Read and find out!

This was a fun story with--ummm-- a little more graphic sex (some of it non-heterosexual) than I usually prefer. But still, it's an interesting read.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Nonfiction by Tara Westover.

Well, this must be memoir month for me! This is the fourth one I've read recently.

I borrowed this from my sister-in-law, who assured me it was really good, although the brief synopsis-- "a story of a woman's educational journey" --sounded terrible. Fortunately, it was not terrible.

This story, like The Sound of Gravel, was about a girl growing up in a crazy fringe-group-Mormon family. But Tara's father was not a polygamist; he was just a paranoid fundamentalist who wanted to live off the grid. Tara's family was afraid of being under the government's control, which meant avoiding many things, such as schools and doctors. Tara and her siblings were "homeschooled," which to her mom and dad meant, "taught to read and then put to work."

Just like the other pair of similar memoirs I just read (All at Sea and Happiness) I couldn't help comparing these two books as well. So this story was good, but not quite as good as the other one.

(By the way, I'm aware that normal Mormons are not like Tara's or Ruthie's family, any more than normal Christians are like the crazies who protest soldiers' funerals. All the real Mormons I've ever met are perfectly nice folks.)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Sound of Gravel

Nonfiction by Ruth Wariner.

This was a really good memoir! Ruthie was born in a polygamist colony in Mexico, the 39th of her father's 42 children. Her father was killed shortly after her birth over a religious dispute-- the murderer, her uncle, was dubbed the "Mormon Manson"-- but her mother married right back into another polygamist family in the group, making Ruthie the fourth (I think!) of her mother's eventual ten children.

This story is well-told and really makes you understand what went on in this rather crazy family.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Girl Who Was Taken

Fiction by Charlie Donlea.

At the beginning of this story, two girls (Megan and Nicole) disappear from a late-summer party after their high school graduation. After the frantic searching by police and townspeople dies down, Megan escapes her captor and comes home. But there is no sign of Nicole.

This was an exciting book with a surprise ending.

Monday, June 17, 2019

All at Sea

Nonfiction by Decca Aitkenhead

Another memoir. I read this right after Heather Harpham's Happiness, and couldn't help comparing the two.

This story is also about an artistic-type woman who is a later-in-life mother of two young children, and she seemed similar to Heather in personality. But Decca has a very different story.

Decca is on holiday with her family at the seaside and her three-year-old son Jake swims out too far in the ocean. Her partner Tony goes out to save his son, and drowns in the process. It's a shocking thing.

This was a pretty good memoir too, but not quite as good as the other.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Happiness: A Memoir

Subtitled: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
Nonfiction by Heather Harpham.

 Heather Harpham begins her memoir with the story of giving birth to a baby girl alone (her partner Brian "didn't see himself a as a father") and then discovering that the baby had serious issues requiring immediate medical intervention. Fortunately, little Amelia-Grace lived, and Brian came around to the idea of fatherhood, but there was still a long road ahead for this little family with a sick baby.

I have mentioned before that memoirs in general are problematic undertakings; writing about oneself is difficult, and most people fail to craft both an honest and interesting narrative.

This was a good memoir.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Last Time I Saw You

Fiction by Liv Constantine

At the center of this story are Kate and Blaire, who were once best friends but have been estranged for fifteen years. But when Kate's mother Lily is murdered, the girls meet again as women and put aside their differences, hoping to work together and find Lily's killer. But there are plenty of complications: Kate is getting threatening messages from a mysterious source, the police suspect Kate's dad of the murder, and Kate isn't sure she can trust her husband...

This was a really good thriller, and I was definitely surprised by the ending. I'd say it was not quite as good as the first book I read by this two-sister-writing-team, but that's a pretty high bar! It's definitely worth reading.

I also read by this author: The Last Mrs. Parrish

Friday, June 7, 2019

Sweet Lamb of Heaven

Fiction by Lydia Millet

Anna's husband Ned didn't want children, or so he said. Indeed, when she found herself pregnant and insisted on keeping her baby, he threw up his hands and proceeded to ignore both her and the child for years until Anna took her daughter and left him. But once they were gone, he suddenly insisted on finding them and bringing them home. Then, since she hadn't legally divorced him or agreed on custody, Anna was frightened and tried to hide.

But Ned kept finding her. She ended up on the lonely coast of Maine in a seaside motel. And although it was winter, more and more people started showing up to stay there too, people who seemed to kind of know each other. Anna wondered if she was being paranoid, but she felt a sinking certainly that Ned was going to catch them...

I really enjoyed this book to start out with. I liked the character of Anna and the unusual things she experienced after her baby's birth (I'm trying to avoid spoilers!), but later in the book I started to like it less. There were some very strange elements, slipping the plot out of the realm of reality, that were simply not explained. Did Ned have extraordinary powers somehow? Or was he just mean and lucky? Was Anna crazy? Nobody explains any of this.

It was mostly a good book....

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Married to a Stranger

Fiction by Patricia MacDonald.

Emma, a psychologist and heiress, marries David after a rather short courtship (six months) and a surprise pregnancy. Despite her stepfather/trust-fund manager's advice, Emma refuses to sign a prenuptial agreement, insisting that she trusts David.

But that trust is shaken when someone tries to murder Emma on their wedding night, and David is the prime suspect!

This was an exciting thriller!

I also read recently by this author: From Cradle to Grave.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

From Cradle to Grave

Fiction by Patricia MacDonald.

Morgan, a graduate student, is worried about her best friend Claire. Claire has been married only a year and has just given birth to a new baby, and although Claire has always been an upbeat, positive, person, Morgan is afraid she might now be suffering from postpartum depression. Morgan tries to help and urges Claire to see a doctor, but Claire refuses, and Morgan has her own studies to worry about.

But then Morgan finds out her friend is at a real crisis point, and there is a shocking turn of events.

This is an exciting book with  several surprises.

I also read recently by this author: Don't Believe a Word

Thursday, May 30, 2019


Fiction by Min Jin Lee

This story, set in Korea and Japan and spanning most of the twentieth century, follows a wonderful character called Sun-Ja through most of her life. It's very very good; it reminds me of the work of Lisa See and Amy Tan, my favorite Asian authors.

I highly recommend this book!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Forbidden Door/ The Night Window

Fiction by Dean Koontz

These two books are the conclusion to the Jane Hawk series, which began with The Silent Corner. The next two books are The Whispering Room and The Crooked Staircase. The ending and all the events leading up to it were very exciting!

I enjoyed reading these concluding books together; I'd definitely recommend getting the whole five-book series and reading it all at once. These are super thrillers.

However, these stories are not for the squeamish. Here's the basic plot:Very Bad People have taken over half the government and want us all dead or enslaved; only Jane and a very few good folks stand in the way. You may guess that the Very Bad People do some very very bad things along the way, but we know that Jane must prevail in the end. Right?

I also read recently by this author: The Frankenstein Series

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Fiction by Davis Bunn

This was supposed to be a thriller about an outbreak of a terrible disease, or the prevention thereof. I was hoping for something reminiscent of Michael Crichton, a fast-moving story that would have enough technical detail to be believable but not get bogged down in the science of it all.

Unfortunately, it was confusing and slow-moving. I still don't understand the what was really happening. There's supposed to be a sequel, which maybe would explain the holes in the plot, but I didn't like this one enough to go in for another try.


I also read by this author: Miramar Bay

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Past

Fiction by Tessa Hadley

Adult siblings Alice, Fern, Harriet, and Roland journey with their respective families to their grandparents' cottage in the country, to spend a three-week holiday together and to decide what to do with the old place. Unsurprisingly, (Three weeks?! Seriously?!) there is a bit too much togetherness going on during their stay and tensions erupt.

This was a pretty good character story but I had some trouble liking these people for a lot of the time. Also I don't like the title; although there is a flashback to the past in the middle of the story, the book is mostly about the present. I did like the ending.

I also read by this author: Clever Girl

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

What Was Mine

Fiction by Helen Klein Ross

Lucy longs for a baby of her own, but can't have one. So she steals someone else's. She gets away with it, too. Except she eventually gets caught.

That's the plot of this novel in a nutshell. Interestingly enough, this information is actually revealed fairly early in the book, but it doesn't spoil the story at all to know it. This was a fascinating book.

The only small problem I had with it was how Lucy was found out. It seems to me, that if this were real, she could have kept the secret of her child's origins forever. But maybe she somehow wanted to get caught.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Thousand Naked Strangers

Subtitled: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back
Nonfiction by Kevin Hazzard

Obviously I picked this book just for the clever title.

I've done this before, and sometimes the book isn't quite as clever as the title; however, this book definitely was.

This book was full of funny stories about crazy things, and also managed to show the reader a little of the author's journey through life and what he learned. I recommend this one!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Dogs of Babel

Fiction by Carolyn Parkhurst.

Linguistics professor Paul's wife Lexy dies unexpectedly from a fall while at home alone with the couple's dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback called Lorelei. The police are satisfied that Lexy's death is an accident, but Paul becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened. He is convinced that Lorelei can tell him, and takes a sabbatical from work to focus exclusively on animal communication  research. Basically, he begins to spend all his time trying to get a dog to talk.

His colleagues are convinced he's gone off the deep end in his grief, and it may well be so. But the reader can't help but wonder: What if it's possible? Maybe dogs can talk, if we listen hard enough.

This was a very interesting character story.

I also read by this author: Harmony

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Darkest Fear

Fiction by Harlan Coben.

This is #7 from the Myron Bolitar Series (see The Final Detail for the others I've read, all out of order). In this story, Myron is trying to find a missing bone marrow donor in order to save a thirteen-year-old boy who might be his own son.

Yeah, I know. That's a weird premise, isn't it? But somehow the story works, and you'll never guess where it's going to go...

I also read recently by this author: Run Away

Monday, May 13, 2019

Red Queen

YA Fiction by Victoria Aveyard.

The characters in this story occupy a universe where humanity is divided into two groups: Reds and Silvers. Reds are regular people like us, and they are basically a slave race, born to serve the Silvers. Silvers are not only richer and more privileged than Reds, they also have almost supernatural abilities that set them apart: some have incredible strength, or superhuman speed, or magical healing ability. But the main thing that sets the two races apart is their blood. While the Reds, like regular humans, have red blood in flowing in their veins, the Silvers have... can you guess? Silver blood! It's not clear if they evolved from humans or if they are aliens or what, and I guess it's not important to the story.

Anyways, background aside, the story focuses on a young Red girl called Mare who is destined to somehow rise into the Silver world. It's a pretty good story, and it's only the beginning in this book. I'm not sure if I want to commit to the rest of the series, however. The characters din't quite grab me as much as I'd like. Still, it was exciting.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Book That Matters Most

Fiction by Ann Hood.

Ava's husband Jim has just left her for another woman after some twenty-five years together. The children are on her side, aghast at their father's betrayal, but it doesn't help her much as they are both abroad, one studying in Italy and the other in the Peace Corps in Africa. So Ava joins a book group for solace, and the group is embarking upon the theme, "The Book That Matters Most." Each book club member will choose a book that they think is the most important to them personally and have everyone in the group read it.

Personally I find this theme a little grandiose, and in general I dislike being asked things like, "What is your FAVORITE book?" or "What book has influenced you the MOST?" I just love too many books to choose just one, and also it seems like one is pressured to pick a Classic or Intellectual Book of some kind in order to not look like a dullard. And these people in this story did just that, almost invariably choosing books your high school English teacher would make you read. (Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, The Catcher in the Rye, etc.) Still, one character does remark cheekily, "Mark Twain's definition of a classic is a book you have heard of but never read."

But Ava's book choice is a personal one, a reminder of her troubled past, and throughout the book club year we learn about her life, and about her daughter Maggie, who is indeed abroad, but she isn't actually studying. And will the faithless Jim come crawling back? We can only hope...

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Fiction by Affinity Konar.

This was an almost-poetic novel about children in Auschwitz, if you can believe that. The title refers to a German word for half-breed or mixed blood, something the Nazis detested, but the main characters are not really mischlings at all. Sasha and Pearl are a pair of identical twins, Polish Jews plucked from the cattle car by the infamous Dr. Mengele for study in his laboratory.

The story is both beautiful and terrible, and I feared to finish it because I hated the thought of these poor girls' destruction. (Even though, you have to expect that in  Holocaust book, I know.) Even at the liberation of Auschwitz it still looked really bad for Pearl and Sasha, and that was the point I'd been hoping for things to get better. But the good news is that they don't both die....

I would recommend this book, as long as you know it's very sad, but that there is hope at the end.