2020 Christmas Releases
Titles link to my blog or Goodreads
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons
Published: September 2020 – William Morrow
Review copy from the publisher and Goodreads
Eudora Honeysett is done with this noisy, moronic world—all of it. She has witnessed the indignities and suffering of old age and has lived a full life. At eighty-five, she isn’t going to leave things to chance. Her end will be on her terms. With one call to a clinic in Switzerland, a plan is set in motion.
Then she meets ten-year-old Rose Trewidney, a whirling, pint-sized rainbow of color and sparkling cheer. All Eudora wants is to be left alone to set her affairs in order. Instead, she finds herself embarking on a series of adventures with the irrepressible Rose and their affable neighbor, the recently widowed Stanley—afternoon tea, shopping sprees, trips to the beach, birthday celebrations, pizza parties.
While the trio of unlikely BFFs grow closer and anxiously await the arrival of Rose’s new baby sister, Eudora is reminded of her own childhood—of losing her father during World War II and the devastating impact it had on her entire family. In reflecting on her past, Eudora realizes she must come to terms with what lies ahead.
But now that her joy for life has been rekindled, how can she possibly say goodbye? (publisher)
My take: Eudora Honeysett is 85 years old and ready to say goodbye to this world. She’s lived a life for others (her mother and sister) after promising her father she’d look after them when he left for war in 1940. She’s tired and wants to move on. She even has a plan on how to die. Then one day a new family moves in next door. Life changes in big and small ways as Eudora, almost begrudgingly, allows new people into her life. This book is such a breath of fresh air about a difficult and emotional subject. My emotions ran the gamut over the course of reading. Seriously, have tissues nearby at the end! I’m so glad I had the chance to read it. A 2020 Favorites list addition, for sure.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Expected publication: Sept. 8, 2020 – Atria Books
E-galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.
Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next. (publisher)
My take: When I pick up one of Fredrik Backman’s novels I’m fairly sure I’m going to enjoy it. He has a gift for writing about the human condition. One minute I’m chuckling and the next I’m tearing up – finding so much relatable. In this book we’re treated to a rag-tag group of people who find themselves at an open house for an apartment when they are taken hostage. Over the next several hours much is revealed about each person. Backman’s tale touches on the cares and worries of them all – people just doing the best they can. Anxious People was written with Backman’s signature humor and heart. And, yes, I enjoyed it all. Recommended!
About the author:
Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, and two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime, as well as one work of nonfiction, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. His books are published in more than forty countries. His latest novel is Anxious People. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @Backmansk.
The Wonder Boy Of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg
Expected pub. date: October 27, 2020 – Random House
E-galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
Bud Threadgoode grew up in the bustling little railroad town of Whistle Stop with his mother, Ruth, church-going and proper, and his Aunt Idgie, the fun-loving hell-raiser. Together they ran the town’s popular Whistle Stop Cafe, known far and wide for its fun and famous fried green tomatoes. And as Bud often said of his childhood to his daughter Ruthie, “How lucky can you get?”
But sadly, as the railroad yards shut down and Whistle Stop became a ghost town, nothing was left but boarded-up buildings and memories of a happier time.
Then one day, Bud decides to take one last trip, just to see what has become of his beloved Whistle Stop. In so doing, he discovers new friends, as well as surprises about Idgie’s life, about Ninny Threadgoode and other beloved Fannie Flagg characters, and about the town itself. He also sets off a series of events, both touching and inspiring, which change his life and the lives of his daughter and many others. Could these events all be just coincidences? Or something else? And can you really go home again? (publisher)
My take: I loved Fried Green Tomatoes (the film version) so when I heard that Fannie Flagg had written a sequel I was thrilled. Thanks to Random House for sending the e-galley via NetGalley! I found a way to watch the movie again and then started reading The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop. I didn’t plan on reading it in two days but I just didn’t want to stop. Flagg’s trademark relatable characters, funny situations, and heart-breaking moments just made me grateful for the chance to find out what happened to the people of Whistle Stop, Alabama. Thank you, Fannie Flagg, for taking us back to Whistle Stop. I loved it all.
The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere
Expected pub. date: October 6, 2020 – St. Martin’s Press
E-galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
In June 1972, John Creighton determines to build his wife Joan a kitchen table. His largest project to date had been picture frames but he promises to have the table ready for Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired to put something delicious on the table, Joan turns to her mother’s recipes she had given to Joan when she and John married.
In June 2012, Lauren Mabrey discovers she’s pregnant. Gloria, Miriam, and the rest of her friends at Glory’s Place begin to pitch in, helping Lauren prepare their home for the baby. On a visit to the local furniture builder, Lauren finds a table that he bought at a garage sale but has recently refinished. Once home, a drawer is discovered under the table which contains a stack of recipe cards. Growing up in one foster home after another, Lauren never learned to cook and is fascinated as she reads through the cards. Personal notes have been written on each one from the mother to her daughter and time and again Lauren wonders where they lived, when they lived, and in a strange way, she feels connected to this mother and her daughter and wants to make the mother proud.
The story continues to from 1972 to 2012 as Joan battles breast cancer and Lauren learns to cook, preparing for the baby’s arrival. As Christmas nears, can Lauren unlock the mystery of the table, and find the peace she’s always longed for? (publisher)
My take: The Christmas Table is a heartwarming story about the importance of connections via a beautiful handmade table. It’s also about family recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Told from two POVs the story moves between 1972 when a young wife and mother is battling cancer and 2012 when a young woman is figuring out life as a new wife. It was easy to relate to the importance of sharing a meal around a family table and the specific recipes shared through the generations.
I enjoyed it all and was happy to find several recipes from the story included at the end. The Christmas Table would be a great gift for the women’s fiction book lover in your life this holiday season.
The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony
Published: July 28, 2020 – Park Row
Content courtesy of the publisher
A whip-smart, entertaining novel about twin siblings who become a national phenomenon after launching a podcast to find the biological father they never knew.
The death of Thomas and Savannah McClair’s mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for—but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.
Cleverly constructed, emotionally perceptive and sharply funny, The Kids Are Gonna Ask is a rollicking coming-of-age story and a moving exploration of all the ways we can go from lost to found.
Excerpted from The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony © 2020 by Gretchen Anthony, used with permission by Park Row Books.
The house had become an aquarium—one side tank, the other, fingerprint-smeared glass—with Thomas McClair on the inside looking out. There had been a dozen protests outside their home in less than a week, all for the McClairs to—what, enjoy? Critique? Reject? There was no making sense of it.
Tonight, Thomas pulled his desk chair up to the window and kicked his feet onto the sill. He’d been too anxious to eat dinner, but his mind apparently hadn’t notified his stomach, which now growled and cramped. He was seventeen. He could swallow a whole pizza and wash it down with a half-gallon of milk, then go back for more, especially being an athlete. But that was before.
Before the podcast, before the secrets, before the wave of national attention. Now he was just a screwup with a group of strangers swarming the parkway across the street from his house because he’d practically invited them to come.
He deserved to feel awful.
The McClairs had been locked in the house for a week, leaving Thomas short of both entertainment and sanity. He had no choice but to watch the show unfolding outside. Stuck in his beige bedroom, with the Foo Fighters at Wembley poster and the Pinewood Derby blue ribbons, overlooking the front lawn and the driveway and the hand-me-down Volvo neither he nor Savannah had driven since last week. There they stood—a crowd of milling strangers, all vying for the McClairs’ attention. All these people with their causes. Some who came to help or ogle. More who came to hate.
Thomas brought his face almost to the glass and tried to figure out the newly assembling crowd. Earlier that day, out of all the attention seekers, one guy in particular had stood out. He wore black jeans, black boots, a black beanie—a massive amount of clothing for the kind of day where you could see the summer heat curling up from the pavement—and a black T-shirt that screamed WHO’S PAYING YOU? in pink neon. He also held a leash attached to a life-size German shepherd plushy toy.
Some of the demonstrators had gone home for the night, only to be replaced by a candlelight vigil. And a capella singing. There were only about a dozen people in the group, all women, except for two tall guys in the back lending their baritones to a standard rotation of hymns. “Amazing Grace” first, followed by “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Now they were into a song Thomas didn’t know, but the longer he listened, he figured hundred-to-one odds that the lyrics consisted of no more than three words, repeated over and over. They hit the last note and raised their candles high above their heads. By daaaaaaaaaaaayyyy.
“No more,” he begged into the glass. “I can’t take any more.”
A week. Of this.
Of protests, rallies and news crews with their vans and satellites and microphones.
Of his sister, Savannah, locked in her room, refusing to speak to him.
Of his grandmother Maggie in hers, sick with worry.
Of finding—then losing—his biodad, the missing piece of his mother’s story. And his own.
Thomas was left to deal with it all. Because he’d started it. And because he was a finisher. And most of all, because it wasn’t over yet.
About the author
GRETCHEN ANTHONY is the author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which was a Midwestern Connections Pick and a best books pick by Amazon, BookBub, PopSugar, and the New York Post. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Medium, and The Write Life, among others. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.
photo credit: M. Brian Hartz
Author website: https://www.gretchenanthony.com/
THE KIDS ARE GONNA ASK
By Gretchen Anthony
On Sale: July 28, 2020
Park Row Books
CONTEMPORARY FICTION/Mothers &Children/Family/FictionSatire/Humorous American Literarure
Two Truths And A Lie by Meg Mitchell Moore
Published: June 2020 – William Morrow
ARC courtesy of the publisher and Goodreads
Truth: Sherri Griffin and her daughter, Katie, have recently moved to the idyllic beach town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Rebecca Coleman, widely acknowledged former leader of the Newburyport Mom Squad (having taken a step back since her husband’s shocking and tragic death eighteen months ago), has made a surprising effort to include these newcomers in typically closed-group activities. Rebecca’s teenage daughter Alexa has even been spotted babysitting Katie.
Truth: Alexa has time on her hands because of a recent falling-out with her longtime best friends for reasons no one knows—but everyone suspects have to do with Alexa’s highly popular and increasingly successful YouTube channel. Katie Griffin, who at age 11 probably doesn’t need a babysitter anymore, can’t be left alone because she has terrifying nightmares that don’t seem to jibe with the vague story Sherri has floated about the “bad divorce” she left behind in Ohio. Rebecca Coleman has been spending a lot of time with Sherri, it’s true, but she’s also been spending time with someone else she doesn’t want the Mom Squad to know about just yet.
Lie: Rebecca Coleman doesn’t have a new man in her life, and definitely not someone connected to the Mom Squad. Alexa is not seeing anyone new herself and is planning on shutting down her YouTube channel in advance of attending college in the fall. Sherri Griffin’s real name is Sherri Griffin, and a bad divorce is all she’s running from.
A blend of propulsive thriller and gorgeous summer read, Two Truths and a Lie reminds us that happiness isn’t always a day at the beach, some secrets aren’t meant to be shared, and the most precious things are the people we love. (publisher)
My take: I love a good beachy read to start the summer season with so I was thrilled to win Two Truths and a Lie from Goodreads. I’ve read and enjoyed several books by author Meg Mitchell Moore. I like the way she writes about families – there’s always something familiar and relatable about her characters and that is true in this book – but there are big differences here as well. The story moves between two women, Rebecca and Sherri, with other characters filling in their POVs. There’s a lot going on in this book! If a story about a tightly-knit (and over-the-top) group of moms, a new family with secrets, and a picturesque seaside town setting is your kind of read you’ll want to pick up Two Truths and a Lie.
Note: I also listened to the audio (used an Audible credit). Courtney Patterson’s narration was enjoyable.
Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West
Published: June 16, 2020 – Park Row Books
All information provided by the publisher
Family. Faith. Secrets. Everything in this world comes full circle.
When Ruby King’s mother is found murdered in their home in Chicago’s South Side, the police dismiss it as another act of violence in a black neighborhood. But for Ruby, it’s a devastating loss that leaves her on her own with her violent father. While she receives many condolences, her best friend, Layla, is the only one who understands how this puts Ruby in jeopardy.
Their closeness is tested when Layla’s father, the pastor of their church, demands that Layla stay away. But what is the price for turning a blind eye? In a relentless quest to save Ruby, Layla uncovers the murky loyalties and dangerous secrets that have bound their families together for generations. Only by facing this legacy of trauma head-on will Ruby be able to break free.
An unforgettable debut novel, Saving Ruby King is a powerful testament that history doesn’t determine the present and the bonds of friendship can forever shape the future.
About the author:
Catherine Adel West is a writer/editor living on the South Side of Chicago. Her experience as a black woman shapes every aspect of her writing and she is sure to be a voice for many women. Her work has been published in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Five2One, Better than Starbucks, Doors Ajar, 805 Lit + Art, The Helix Magazine, Lunch Ticket, and most recently Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal. Saving Ruby King is her debut novel.
Early praise for Saving Ruby King:
“Saving Ruby King is a stunning force of a novel that has everything anyone could want in a family saga—honey-dipped prose, strikingly human characters, and a satisfying, soul-stirring conclusion that will stay with me for a long, long time.”
– Zakiya Harris, author of THE OTHER BLACK GIRL
“Told with teeth and tenderness, SAVING RUBY KING is a surprising, pedal-down debut that explores what happens when the fabrics of family, faith, and friendship snag on violent machinations of the heart. Redemption and survival share a pew with reckoning and hope here, all tangled up with the ties that bind. Catherine Adel West gifts us Chicago, the black church, and a choir of flawed, wonderfully complicated characters who flash fresh with every turn of the page, who stand against the wind, who won’t go down without a fight.”
— Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Whiskey & Ribbons and So We Can Glow
“What an astonishing book. Catherine Adel West breathes life into violence and mayhem like a poet on a new day. These are the stories we need to hear: voices of hope in a wilderness of pain.”
— Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl
“West is a bold, exciting new voice in fiction. With honesty and compassion, she brings readers beyond the headlines into the real south side of Chicago where love, church, and family abide. She makes us think not only about saving Ruby King, but about finding our own redemption as we save ourselves individually and collectively. In this assured debut, West deftly breathes life into this community with characters you’ll cry with and root for long after the last page.”
— Nancy Johnson, author of The Kindest Lie
“[An] Ambitious, keenly observant debut… West’s tale of grace, redemption, and hope would translate handily to the screen. This should enjoy wide popularity with book groups.” –Publishers Weekly
“Debut author West plays with multiple perspectives and timelines, making for a rich tale… A daring, dynamic story. A multilayered love letter to South Side Chicago’s African American faith-based community.” – Kirkus Reviews
Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden
Published: February 2020 – Atria Books
Review galley courtesy of Atria and NetGalley
Each new school year brings familiar challenges to Brae Hill Valley, a struggling high school in one the biggest cities in Texas. But the teachers also face plenty of personal challenges and this year, they may finally spill over into the classroom.
English teacher Lena Wright, a spoken-word poet, can never seem to truly connect with her students. Hernan D. Hernandez is confident in front of his biology classes, but tongue-tied around the woman he most wants to impress. Down the hall, math teacher Maybelline Galang focuses on the numbers as she struggles to parent her daughter, while Coach Ray hustles his troubled football team toward another winning season. Recording it all is idealistic second-year history teacher Kaytee Mahoney, whose anonymous blog gains new readers by the day as it drifts ever further from her in-class reality. And this year, a new superintendent is determined to leave his own mark on the school—even if that means shutting the whole place down. (publisher)
My take: Adequate Yearly Progress is about a high school in a large Texas city that has been underperforming in terms of results. Teachers, brand new and long time, navigate the high expectations of a new superintendent, education consultants, and teenagers. It’s the story of how the faculty deals on a daily basis with school life, personal life, and reality. Adequate Yearly Progress is filled to the brim with humor, broad stereotypes, and nuggets of truth and I think current teachers, especially high school teachers, will relate to the travails of the Brae Hill Valley HS teachers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roxanna Elden is the author of Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel, which was previously self-published, and See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. She combines eleven years of experience as a public school teacher with a decade of speaking to audiences around the country about education issues. She has been featured on NPR as well as in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more. You can learn more about her work at RoxannaElden.com.
ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS by Roxanna Elden
Atria Books | On Sale: February 11, 2020 | ISBN: 978-1-9821-3502-7| $16.99 | Trade Paperback Original
Once Removed by Colette Sartor
Published: September 15, 2019 – University of Georgia Press
Book provided by the publisher and Tandem Literary
Description: Women drive the narrative in ONCE REMOVED. They carry the burdens imposed in the name of intimacy: the secrets kept, lies told, disputes initiated and the joy that can still manage to triumph. A singer with a damaged voice and an assumed identity befriends a silent, troubled child; an infertile law professor covets a tenant’s daughterly affection; a new mother tries to shield her infant from her estranged mother’s surprise Easter visit; an aging shopkeeper hides her husband’s decline and a decades-old lie to keep her best friends from moving away. With depth and an acute sense of the fragility of intimate connection, Colette Sartor creates characters that resonate with familiarity and emotional complexity. Some of these women possess the fierce natures and long, vengeful memories of expert grudge holders. Others avoid conflict at every turn, or so they tell themselves. For all of them, grief lies at the core of love. #onceremovedstories.
About the author:
COLETTE SARTOR teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program as well as privately and is an executive director of the CineStory Foundation, a mentoring organization for emerging TV writers and screenwriters. Her writing has appeared in Carve magazine, Slice magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Kenyon Review Online, Colorado Review, and other publications. Among other awards, she has been granted a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, a Glenna Luschei Award, a Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award, and a Truman Capote fellowship from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she completed her MFA.
Praise for ONCE REMOVED:
“Colette Sartor’s stories shimmer with a radiant, unsettling light. She strips away the veils that we hide behind and exposes our deepest fears and desires, revealing who we inescapably are. The stories are laced with dark humor and raw, earned emotion, and they proceed from page to page with a beautiful urgency. Her prose sings and her wounded characters linger in readers’ memories like people you’ve known, people you could have been had luck gone the other way. This is trenchant, gorgeous fiction, the voice of a writer you’ll follow anywhere, everywhere.” —Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
“These are short stories the way they were meant to be told, from a writer who, tale after tale, proves her mastery of the form. Peopled with characters that are bracingly complex, these stories tease out the subtleties of human relationships, especially when they’ve gone awry. I was absorbed and moved from every first sentence to the last.” —Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
“Lordy, what a wallop each of these stories delivers—to the heart and the head, sure, but also to the conscience and the soul, not to mention to the myths of family that we embrace and to the vital lies peculiar to love that we cleave to. Equally stunning is Ms. Sartor’s command of craft—no cleverness for its own sake, no peekaboo, no ‘Look, Ma, no hands.’ Instead, with enviable humility and no little grace, she has subordinated herself to the needs, wishes, desires, and dreams of characters who have galvanized her imagination and engaged her empathy. Bravo.” — Lee K. Abbott, author of All Things, All at Once: New and Selected Stories
“Once Removed is that rare book that succeeds on both micro and macro levels; the stories focus on the specific intimacy of individual lives yet also participate in the larger project of a whole world made of these stories—dependent on them, in fact, supported and enlarged and sustained by them. Sartor’s women suffer the internal and external scarring of the dangerous terrain they navigate: love, family, self, community. They ask uncomfortable questions, both of themselves and of the reader; it’s hugely satisfying to reach the end of the book and feel the resonant strength of the answers it proposes.” — Antonya Nelson, author of Bound
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If You Want To Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais
Published July 16, 2019 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Description: From the author of the beloved Hum If You Don’t Know the Words comes a rich, unforgettable story of three unique women in post-Apartheid South Africa who are brought together in their darkest time and discover the ways that love can transcend the strictest of boundaries.
In a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in desperate poverty, under the shadowy threat of a civil war and a growing AIDS epidemic. Eight months pregnant, Zodwa carefully guards secrets that jeopardize her life.
Across the country, wealthy socialite Ruth appears to have everything her heart desires, but it’s what she can’t have that leads to her breakdown. Meanwhile, in Zaire, a disgraced former nun, Delilah, grapples with a past that refuses to stay buried. When these personal crises send both middle-aged women back to their rural hometown to heal, the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby upends everything, challenging their lifelong beliefs about race, motherhood, and the power of the past.
As the mystery surrounding the infant grows, the complicated lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah become inextricably linked. What follows is a mesmerizing look at family and identity that asks: How far will the human heart go to protect itself and the ones it loves?
About the author:
Bianca Marais is the author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words. She holds a certificate in creative writing from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, where she now teaches creative writing. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans. Originally from South Africa, she now lives in Toronto with her husband.
Praise for Bianca Marais:
“Set against the backdrop of the Mandela presidency, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, and the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, the story offers a look into the staggering emotional cost of secrecy, broken family bonds, racism, and sexual violence. Marais once again showcases her talent for pulling beauty from the pain of South African history with a strong story and wonderfully imperfect characters.” —Publishers Weekly
“A moving portrait of the choices women can make–and the ones we can’t. Beautifully crafted and powerfully drawn, this book had me in tears.” —Jill Santopolo, bestselling author of The Light We Lost and More Than Words
“A story of three remarkable women at crossroads in their own lives against the backdrop of South Africa at the moment of stunning transformation that will keep you reading late into the night. Marais deftly completes a writer’s hat trick, leaving you gutted, smiling through tears and soaring with hope.” —Steven Rowley, bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor
“You will absolutely love this book. You will. Why? Because Bianca Marais’s heart is immense and full of love. With unsparing insight into the human condition, she unspools a tale that is at once heartbreaking as it is merciful, validating our frailty while eulogizing our endless capacity for generosity and love. We all need the deep refuge of Bianca Marais’s exceptional voice.” —Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You
“Radiant…A stirring ode to a country’s painful maturation.” —O, The Oprah Magazine on HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS
“Richly drawn…[The characters’] journeys and eventual love poignantly demonstrate that nothing is simply black or white.” —USA Today on HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS
“With its vivid, emotional scene-setting, alternating narration and tense plotting, this novel is a thoughtful, compelling page-turner.” —Good Housekeeping on HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS
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The Friends We Keep by Jane Green
Published June 4, 2019 – Berkley
Book provided by the publisher and NetGalley
Description: Evvie, Maggie, and Topher have known one another since college. Their friendship was something they swore would last forever. Now years have passed, the friends have drifted apart, and they never found the lives they wanted—the lives they dreamed of when they were young and everything seemed possible.
Evvie starved herself to become a supermodel but derailed her career by sleeping with a married man.
Maggie married Ben, the boy she fell in love with in college, never imagining the heartbreak his drinking would cause.
Topher became a successful actor, but the shame of a childhood secret shut him off from real intimacy.
By their thirtieth reunion, these old friends have lost touch with one another and with the people they dreamed of becoming. Together again, they have a second chance at happiness…until a dark secret is revealed that changes everything.
The Friends We Keep is about how despite disappointments we’ve had or mistakes we’ve made, it’s never too late to find a place to call home. (publisher)
My take: Evvie, Maggie and Topher meet when they are first year university students. They become fast friends not knowing they are forming the relationships that will last the rest of their lives. As with similar friendships, life causes ebbs and flows that take the three on individual journeys but they find their way back to each other a few times over the decades. A thirty year school reunion brings them back one more time and the three friends decide it’s time to make a change. Can it possibly be as good as they imagine?
Jane Green tells her story in three parts: The Beginning (1986); The In-Between Years (1990s); and Present Day (2019). It all adds up to what I call a good beach read. Meaning it has compelling characters, a juicy plot (featuring betrayal and over-the-top drama), and a story that keeps me turning the pages. Kind of like the soap my dorm mates and I would watch when we were in college. Recommended to fans of the author and novels about friendship, growth, and forgiveness.
About the author:
A former journalist in the UK and a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York, Jane Green has written many novels (including Jemima J, The Beach House, Falling, and, most recently, The Sunshine Sisters), most of which have been New York Times bestsellers, and one cookbook, Good Taste. Her novels are published in more than twenty-five languages, and she has over ten million books ini print worldwide. She lives with her husband and a small army of children and animals.
The Favorite Daughter by Patti Callahan Henry
Berkley Trade Paperback Original; June 4, 2019
Book provided by the publisher and Tandem Literary
Ten years ago the unthinkable happened. Lena Donohue experienced the ultimate betrayal by her sister—and on her wedding day, no less. A betrayal so profound and painful that the only way she knew how to survive it was to run, something she hasn’t stopped doing since. Now, having reinvented herself as a travel writer based in New York, it feels like she might be able to avoid her past forever. But of course, history has a way of returning to the present.
When her father’s health begins to fail, Lena must return to her hometown of Watersend, SC, where she has no choice but to put aside her own heartbreak and work with her estranged sister and younger brother to prepare for the worst. As Alzheimer’s rapidly claims their father’s precious memories, the siblings find themselves in a race against time to learn all they can about his life before it’s too late. But things take an unexpected turn when they stumble upon a life-shattering secret from his past that none of them could have predicted. (publisher)
My take: I’ve read a few novels that touched on Alzheimer’s disease but none made me feel like I did while reading The Favorite Daughter. That may be because I’m now going through what the Donohue siblings experienced. I can tell you it is spot on. My siblings and I have had the same conversations, almost word for word! So I credit Patti Callahan Henry for getting it right.
The Favorite Daughter is an honest look at a terrible disease. More than that, it’s about memories and how we all remember differently. It’s about how our past shapes us. It’s about being willing to forgive. And it’s about home – where it is and who it is. Recommended.
About the author:
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author whose novels include The Bookshop at Water’s End, The Idea of Love, Driftwood Summer, The Art of Keeping Secrets, and Between the Tides.
The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
Published: May 21, 2019 – St. Martin’s Press
Review galley from the publisher and NetGalley
Description: Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home. (publisher)
My take: Erica Bauermeister’s novels are sensual journeys. The Scent Keeper is about scent, memory and what they tell us about our past and the people in our lives. It is the story of Emmeline. We meet her as a young girl living on an island with her father. It’s an idyllic life until things change. She finds herself thrust into world so different and yet she tries to adapt. She’ll learn who to trust and find a way to survive in this new life. That will serve her well for what lies ahead on her journey of discovery.
Will Emmeline be able to hang onto the important aspects of her early years as the world opens in ways she never expected? During all those years of living with her father on the island – where was her mother? Will her magical relationship with scent feel the effect of all the changes? As Emmeline discovers answers to her questions she’ll come to understand what’s truly important. As I read The Scent Keeper I would occasionally pause to think about the important scents of my life and what they mean to me now. That made for a very personal and enjoyable reading experience.
About the author:
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
The Editor by Steven Rowley
Published: April 2019 – G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Free review book provided by @PutnamBooks
Description: From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a novel about a struggling writer who gets his big break, with a little help from the most famous woman in America.
After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie–or Mrs. Onassis, as she’s known in the office–has fallen in love with James’s candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.
Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…
From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a funny, poignant, and highly original novel about an author whose relationship with his very famous book editor will change him forever–both as a writer and a son. (publisher)
My take: The Editor has many of the things I love to find in a novel: messy family dynamics, secrets, a holiday (which usually makes the family dynamics even messier), and a character or two that make me want to read the book without stopping. This book has Jackie and James. She was his editor and she was the one that made him look at his mother with a new perspective. I loved the mother/son relationship that was at times so sweet and other times so frustrating and sad and real. I also loved how the author portrayed Jackie. I plan to look for the books about her recommended in the Acknowledgements. Ultimately this is the story of James’ journey of discovering answers to questions from the past and learning to live in the present. A very enjoyable read.
About the author:
Steven Rowley is the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus, which has been published in nineteen languages and is being developed as a major motion picture by Amazon Studios. He has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
Christmas at the Cat Cafe by Melissa Daley
October 2018 – Thomas Dunne Books
Book courtesy of the publisher
The wonderfully festive sequel to Melissa Daley’s uplifting tale, Molly and the Cat Cafe.
“An engaging, pleasant read full of colorful characters with enough mentions of the cat cafe’s cat’s whiskers cookies and feline fancies to satisfy any appetite for a gentle, heartwarming story.” —
BiblioManiac on Molly and the Cat Cafe
“Hopeful and joyous.” —Screen Wipe on Molly and the Cat Cafe
The town of Stourton-on-the-Hill has its very own cat café. Resident cat Molly, and her kittens, live here in feline paradise, while owner Debbie serves the locals home-made goodies. But even in the most idyllic surroundings, things don’t always go according to plan . . .
When Debbie’s heartbroken sister Linda arrives at the café, Debbie insists she move in. But Linda is not alone, and the cats are devastated with the arrival of Linda’s dog, Beau. Sadly, Beau’s arrival is not the only bombshell – now Molly’s home is also under threat when a rival cat moves in on her turf.
With Christmas approaching, Molly is unsettled, barely roused by the promise of tinsel to play with. Fearing for her feline family she hopelessly stares out of the café window searching for an answer. Only a Christmas miracle could bring everyone together . . .
About the author:
MELISSA DALEY lives in Hertfordshire with her two cats, two children, and one husband. One of her cats, Nancy, has a writing pedigree of her own and can be found on Facebook as Nancy Harpenden-Cat. Melissa was inspired by the Cotswolds town of Stow-on-the-Wold, which provides the backdrop for Melissa’s novel, Molly and the Cat Café.
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Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg
Pub. date: November 13, 2018 – Random House
Review galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.
When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most. (publisher)
My take: I liked this follow-up as much or maybe even more than The Story of Arthur Truluv. We met Arthur, Maddy and Lucille in that book and the story continues in Night of Miracles. I found the characters in the small Missouri town of Mason charming and recognizable. I grew up in a small midwestern town and know “these people” and wanted to know them all – from octogenarian Lucille to Tiny, the town cabbie to Iris, a new arrival to town (and several more people). They’re all at various stages in life and learning to let go of long-held fears. I loved their courage to move forward despite their current and past challenges. The novel is told in short chapters that felt like vignettes but soon became connected. It was a comforting read that I quite enjoyed and recommend to fans of Elizabeth Berg and novels with a small town setting.
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. date: Oct. 2, 2018 – St. Martin’s Press
Review copy from the publisher
Description: When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.
Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby’s heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline’s part.
And all for the love of her unborn child. (publisher)
My take: What would you do to save your unborn child, the last connection to your husband who was killed in the war? Caroline (Carly) Sears’ answer is “anything”. And that is why she agrees to travel to another time to get medical help for her daughter’s heart. If she doesn’t, her baby doesn’t have much hope of survival after her birth. Carly will do whatever it takes to give her daughter a chance at life.
So the question I began with led to other questions such as could I place trust in a friend like Carly did in Hunter, her brother-in-law? Could I be as brave as Carly? Would I be able to travel alone to a place where I knew no one and then deal with life-altering issues? After finishing I don’t have an answer for every question but I would aspire to be as courageous as Carly.
Diane Chamberlain’s time-travel story is very accessible to readers who normally don’t go in for that sub-genre. That would include me! This novel is a true page turner that had me looking forward to getting back to the story whenever I had to set it down. It’s an emotional story that covers several decades from the 1960s to the 2020s. I enjoyed it all and recommend it to fans of Diane Chamberlain.
Description: Growing up in northern Michigan, Samantha “Sam” Mullins felt trapped on her family’s orchard and pie shop, so she left with dreams of making her own mark in the world. But life as an overworked, undervalued sous chef at a reality star’s New York bakery is not what Sam dreamed.
When the chef embarrasses Sam, she quits and returns home. Unemployed, single, and defeated, she spends a summer working on her family’s orchard cooking and baking alongside the women in her life—including her mother, Deana, and grandmother, Willo. One beloved, flour-flecked, ink-smeared recipe at a time, Sam begins to learn about and understand the women in her life, her family’s history, and her passion for food through their treasured recipe box.
As Sam discovers what matters most she opens her heart to a man she left behind, but who now might be the key to her happiness. (publisher)
My take: The Recipe Box is about a young pastry chef who leaves her job in New York when she can’t stand to work for her obnoxious boss one more second. She heads home to Michigan and her family’s orchard/pie shop where her mom and grandma will give her some much-needed TLC.
It’s a story about family, tradition, and learning to trust – yourself and others. Scattered throughout are scrumptious sounding recipes for various baked goods featured in the novel. I plan to try some so this book will go on my cookbook shelf next to my own family cookbook. Recommended to fans of charming, uplifting novels and foodie fiction.
About the author:
Viola Shipman is a pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his fiction. To date, The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest have been translated into over a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. The Charm Bracelet was named a 2017 Michigan Notable Book. Rouse lives in Michigan and writes regularly for People, Good Housekeeping, and Coastal Living, among other places, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.
Description: On the day Jennifer Green was born a pile of stones was placed alongside her scale of life…
A few were the dark gray of sorrow, but most were a pale blush color. The largest stone was the rose hue of a sunrise. That one would be placed on the scale the day she married Drew Bishop. Even more brilliant but a wee bit smaller was the pink stone glistening with specs of silver. That one would bring Jennifer a baby girl named Brooke.
The Keeper of the Scale smiled. Seeing such happiness laid out before him was pleasing to his eye.
Since the beginning of time, he and he alone has been challenged with the task of keeping each person’s scale in balance. A bit of happiness and then a small stone of sorrow, until the lives he has in his charge are measured evenly.
You might think such power is universal, but it is not. There are silver threads that crisscross the landscape of scales and connect strangers to one another. Not even the Keeper of the Scale can control the events traveling through those threads; the only thing he can do is try to equalize the balance once it has been thrown off. There is nothing more he can do for Jennifer; now he must find the thread that leads to Drew if he is to have the love he deserves. (publisher)
My take: When the author contacted me to read Silver Threads I wasn’t sure I should since it’s the 5th book in a series but she assured me it could stand alone. I would have to agree with Bette Lee Crosby. Although context would enhance the experience of reading the novel I didn’t feel lost.
This is the story of Drew and Brooke, father and daughter, who find their life turned upside down when the unthinkable happens. Their life, through no fault of their own, changes overnight and they are left to move forward when they have no idea how. But they do, one step at a time. They continue to face challenges that most people would consider “worst nightmare” scenarios. They survive with hope of someday thriving in a way they used to take for granted.
Silver Threads reminded me of a fairy tale where evil lurks around some corners but good will ultimately prevail. I enjoyed Bette Lee Crosby’s story and recommend it to fans of novels with a hint of magic.
USA Today Bestselling and Award-winning novelist Bette Lee Crosby’s books are “Well-crafted storytelling populated by memorable characters caught up in equally memorable circumstances.” – Midwest Book Review
The Seattle Post Intelligencer says Crosby’s writing is, “A quirky mix of Southern flair, serious thoughts about important things in life and madcap adventures.”
Samantha from Reader’s Favorite raves, “Crosby writes the type of book you can’t stop thinking about long after you put it down.”
“Storytelling is in my blood,” Crosby laughingly admits, “My mom was not a writer, but she was a captivating storyteller, so I find myself using bits and pieces of her voice in most everything I write.”
It is the wit and wisdom of that Southern Mama Crosby brings to her works of fiction; the result is a delightful blend of humor, mystery and romance along with a cast of quirky charters who will steal your heart away. Her work was first recognized in 2006 when she received The National League of American Pen Women Award for a then unpublished manuscript. She has since gone on to win nineteen awards for her work; these include: The Royal Palm Literary Award, the FPA President’s Book Award Gold Medal, Reader’s Favorite Award Gold Medal, and the Reviewer’s Choice Award.
Crosby’s published works to date are: Silver Threads (2016), The Regrets of Cyrus Dodd (2016), Baby Girl (2016), What the Heart Remembers (2015), The Loft (2015), Memory House (2015), Passing through Perfect (2015), Wishing for Wonderful (2014), Blueberry Hill (2014), Previously Loved Treasures (2014), Jubilee’s Journey (2013), What Matters Most (2013), The Twelfth Child (2012), Life in the Land of IS (2012), Cracks in the Sidewalk (2011), Spare Change (2011).
For more information please visit Bette Lee Crosby’s website