The Night is Watching by Heather Graham
ISBN:  9780778315063 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781460313145 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00BED2UUU (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

The Old West town of Lily, Arizona, is home to the Gilded Lily, a former theater…and bawdy house. These days, it offers theatrical productions geared to tourists, but the recent discovery of a skull, a real skull, among the props and costumes shakes everyone up.

So, who do you call? The Krewe of Hunters, a special FBI unit of paranormal investigators. In this case, it’s agent Jane Everett. Jane’s also a talented artist who creates images of the dead as they once were. But the Krewe always works with local law enforcement, and here that means Sloan Trent, former Houston cop and now sheriff. His great-great-grandmother was an actress at the Gilded Lily and she’s not resting in peace.

Then more remains appear in the nearby desert. As they search for answers, using all the skills at their disposal, Jane and Sloan find themselves falling into danger—and into love.

Sloan Trent is a former big-town cop turned small-town sheriff. He’s returned to his familial roots by returning to Lily, Arizona. Nothing much ever happens in Lily until a skull, an old skull, is discovered at the local theater. Given he lives in a town reputed to have more its fair share of ghosts, Sloan contacts his friend Logan Raintree for help. Jane Everett is sent to the small town of Lily as a forensic artist. She quickly finds herself seeing ghosts and receiving messages from the dead. Shortly after her arrival there’s a murder, a discovery of a mummified body, another murder, followed by a vicious attack on a member of the theater group, Jane and the family of one of the murder victims. Something is definitely going wrong in the town of Lily, but will Jane and Sloan be able to uncover the truth before more lives are lost?

The Night is Watching is the ninth in the Krewe of Hunters series by Ms. Graham. Although I’m not a big fan of the paranormal genre, I rather enjoyed the ghostly interactions in this story. The atmosphere created by setting the story in a haunted Old West town worked beautifully. Lily appears as a small Old West town that has never really died out. The townsfolk, native-born and transplants from other US cities, have made an effort to keep the Old West charm. The history of the town is woven into the story and creates the right setting for all of the other action. The mystery-suspense aspect is found with the murders, discovery of a mummified body, discovery of the old skull, and the lost gold shipment from the past. The only part of the story that didn’t work for me was the “romance” between Jane and Sloan. I bought the sexual attraction, but the “I’m so in love that I’m willing to do anything for you” aspect of their relationship felt a bit forced. But don’t let that stop you from grabbing a copy. The Night is Watching is a fast-paced paranormal, mystery-suspense that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Guest Post: Sandy Appleyard, author of THE WIFE OF A LESSER MAN

The Wife of a Lesser Man by Sandy Appleyard
ISBN: 9781482794830 (paperback)
ASIN: B00BZAVEE0 (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  CreateSpace
Publication Date:  April 15, 2013

They were deeply in love, their days and nights filled with scintillating romance and passionate love making—even after 20 years of marriage. Then fate delivered a hammer blow when a heart attack led to Mark’s impotency and Shelley’s unbearable frustration.

Encouraged by a friend, Shelley becomes flirtatious and unfaithful, finding those moments of glorious intimacy for which she hungered with another man. Mark, a police chief, suspects nothing as he channels all his time and energy into tracking down a serial killer. But when the murderer leaves a terrifying final clue too close to home, only Shelley can solve the case. 

     The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit by author Sandy Appleyard. Ms. Appleyard offers great advice on creating realistic characters, so writers and would-be writers take note.

How do you Create Powerful, Realistic and Interesting Characters?

Creating powerful, realistic, interesting characters is accomplished through compelling dialogue and action. When I transitioned from nonfiction to fiction, this was the hardest part. In nonfiction, you generally don’t have to worry about much dialogue, except when remembering verbatim (for memoirs).  

Creating powerful, realistic dialogue is probably one of the most important parts of writing good fiction.  Here are a few tips to help you do this:

  1. Imagine what real people would say to each other.  It sounds like a no-brainer, right?  It isn’t.  You almost have to picture in your mind two or more people having a conversation, and pick out which parts your characters would exchange.
  2. Focus on one thing at a time; be sure not to add too much background information; you can add tidbits of necessary facts within the dialogue as needed.
  3. Have different personality types and multi-dimensional characters. Do you enjoy being in the company of someone dry, boring, unemotional and completely predictable? Then you wouldn’t enjoy reading about a character like that, right? I make sure all my characters have different facets within their personality. What makes a story particularly interesting for me is when a character is one that we love to hate.  
  4. Keep in mind when creating your dialogue what the purpose of your scene is. In the first draft of my first romantic mystery, I created a bunch of scenes that had no point. The dialogue was great (and maybe that was what I needed-to practice creating great dialogue), but none of the scenes had a purpose.  
  5. If you don’t know how to create the scene or what dialogue to use, just brainstorm and add notes at the end of the scene reminding you what the true purpose is.  Come back to it later so you can keep your work flowing.
  6. Always remember you can edit. This is the most important point. Don’t try to make a scene or excerpt of dialogue perfect the first time, especially if it’s an important or difficult scene. In my experience it’s usually the second or third pass through different scenes that make them perfect or even better than what I had initially intended.
  7. Be consistent but also show growth. Real people don’t like change and change takes time. The same should hold true for characters. If your character is going through transition, make sure it’s a slow and clear process. Don’t have them trying to quit smoking in one scene and in the next scene they appear smoke-free.  

Most of all just keep writing. Don’t put your work away because you’re struggling with a scene or with dialogue. If you’re challenged, move on to something else or brainstorm ideas for other things in your writing plan. Keep motivated and positive; it will come to you when you least expect it!

About the author:

This is Sandy’s fourth self-published book and her second novel. Her first romantic mystery, Blessed and Betrayed was received very well by readers and reviewers and was given an average of 4.25 stars on Goodreads and Amazon. 

Sandy wrote her first two books, which are memoirs, while her children were infants. The Message in Dad’s Bottle is about her father, who tragically passed at the age of 41 from alcoholism, and I’ll Never Wear a Backless Dress tells Sandy’s personal story about her life with Scoliosis. 

Sandy is a full time writer and when she isn’t writing she’s reading, exercising, playing with her children, her cat, or obsessively cleaning her house.

Connect with the author:

Website      |     Facebook      |     Twitter      |     Goodreads 

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Promo – Guest Author Post: THE DISAPPEARING GIRL by Heather Topham Wood

The Disappearing Girl by Heather Topham Wood
ISBN: 9781483906775(paperback)
ASIN: B00CMR7GFQ (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 7, 2013

Kayla Marlowe is slowly vanishing…

Last year, Kayla’s world imploded. Her beloved father died, leaving her alone with a narcissistic mother who is quick to criticize her daughter’s appearance. During her winter break from college, Kayla’s dangerous obsession with losing weight begins.

Kayla feels like her world changes for the better overnight. Being skinny seems to be the key to the happiness she has desperately been seeking. Her mother and friends shower her with compliments, telling her how fantastic she looks. Kayla is starving, but no one knows it.

Cameron Bennett explodes into Kayla’s life. He’s sexy and kind—he has every quality she has been looking for in a guy. As Cameron grows closer to Kayla and learns of how far she’s willing to go to stay thin, he becomes desperate to save her.

Kayla’s struggles with anorexia and bulimia reach a breaking point and she is forced to confront her body image issues in order to survive. She wonders if Cameron could be the one to help heal her from the pain of her past. New Adult Contemporary-Ages 17+ due to language and sexual situations.

The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to have the author of The Disappearing Girl, Heather Topham Wood, as a guest today. Without further ado, I give you Ms. Wood with advice on selling your first novel.

How to Sell Your First Novel
by Heather Topham Wood

The thing that I never realized after writing my first novel, the aptly named First Visions, is that putting the story to paper was the easy part. Everything else involved with selling a book would be the cause of my sleepless nights and nail biting.

I was completely clueless after I wrote First Visions. I knew very little about the book blogging community, honestly I never even heard of Goodreads. Most of the information I learned about book publishing and marketing came from Absolute Write, a forum for authors. It is hard for me to fathom that this was only last year.

Querying my first novel was such an eye-opening experience. The one thing I learned is that you shouldn’t query every single agent you can find contact information on. If you want to sell your book, find the agents that are looking for manuscripts within your genre. AgentQueryis a fabulous resource to find information on agents that are accepting submissions. Read guidelines closely to avoid ending up in the slush pile.

Selling your first novel may also be the first time you experience the worst type of ego bruising. Expect to hear back from agents and publishers with phrases such as “not for me,” “didn’t connect with me,” and “nope.” Do not let them break you! Be strong, author, and keep writing. Agents and publishers may ask you to revise and resubmit. This can help get you closer to an offer as well as improve the quality of your manuscript.

With First Visions, I did receive several offers through small publishing houses. Ultimately though, I decided to self-publish the novel. This is not an easy or inexpensive route and although I’ve been successful, I’ve put a lot of work into marketing my books. I’m working with Crescent Moon Press for an upcoming series and it has been less stressful to hand over cover and editing duties to them.

Once my book was released, successful marketing was a trial and error process. Book tours are a great way to get the word out about your novel. It can also help your book get reviews on Goodreadsand book retailer sites. Other successful promotions I’ve done are sponsorships through Kindle Nation Daily and BookBub. Offering your book for free as part of the KDP Select program on Amazon can also help boost sales.

I hope this helps new and aspiring authors avoid some of the mistakes I made. But above all else, writing should be fun! Even if the sales don’t happen, you should be proud that you accomplished something that many other people were unable to do.

About the author:

Heather Topham Wood’s obsession with novels began in childhood while growing up in a shore town in New Jersey. Writing since her teens, she recently returned to penning novels after a successful career as a freelance writer. She’s the author of the Second Sight series and the standalone The Disappearing Girl.

Heather graduated from the College of New Jersey in 2005 and holds a bachelor’s degree in English. Her freelance work has appeared in publications such as USA Today,, Outlook by the Bay and Step in Style magazine. She resides in Trenton, New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Besides writing, Heather is a pop culture fanatic and has an obsession with supernatural novels and TV shows.

Connect with the author:    

Website     |     Facebook     |     Goodreads     |     Twitter

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Composing Myself by Elena Aitken
ISBN:  9780991709335 (paperback)
ISBN:  9780991709342 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00CJ1IEAQ (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Ink Blot Communications

Whitney Monroe’s not ashamed of the way her mother can work a brass pole, not really. It’s just that some things are better left unsaid; especially when your mother’s a stripper and you’re trying to get a job at a prestigious private school that definitely won’t appreciate her talents.

Raised by her grandma, Whitney’s always managed to keep her two worlds separate, even if it meant lying to everyone. And when Reid Phillips—a charming, sexy songwriter—becomes her not-entirely-welcome roommate, Whitney has no intention of telling him the truth either. But she wasn’t excepting Reid to see right through her and challenge her compartmentalized life. With Grams seriously ill, her mother’s life in turmoil and her dream job on the line, it’s more important than ever for Whitney to keep everything together. But that will mean being honest with everyone, starting with herself.

There are three women in the Monroe family. The youngest is Whitney, a recent college graduate and working teacher; her mother, Patti, is a hard-working professional exotic dancer or stripper; and, the oldest is Patti’s mother, Hazel. Hazel, or Grams, raised Whitney in a loving environment. Patti struggled to be a good mother, but was forced to give up her daughter. Whitney struggles to be the person she thinks others expect her to be. In addition, she struggles to have a real relationship with her mom without being judgmental about her job. The Monroe women love one another but can they learn to accept one another with judgment and scorn before it’s too late.

Composing Myself begins with Whitney’s grandmother, Grams, moving into a retirement community. At the time, she’s working as a substitute teacher at a very prestigious local private school and wants more than anything to be offered a full-time permanent job at this institution. She’s in a tepid-relationship with a fellow teacher, William. She only sees her mother once every few weeks. She’s a closeted poet. And to add insult to injury, she’s just been told that her Grams has end-stage cancer and Grams refuses any terminal care to prolong the inevitable. The only bright light in her world is actually from her new roommate, Reid Phillips, an aspiring songwriter, a sometime jingle-writer, and an excellent cook. Needless to say, Whitney and Reid wind up in a push-pull relationship that adds to the overall drama and angst.

This was actually the first book I’ve ever read by Ms. Aitken and I was a little surprised by how much the story pulled me in. My initial reaction after reading a few chapters, was “oh no, not another romantic coming-of-age story.” And yes, Composing Myself can be classified as a romantic coming-of-age story, but it is much more. It is a family drama, it is about self-discovery, it is about self-acceptance, and on one small level, it is about preconceived expectations and prejudice. I found Composing Myself to start off a little slow, but my reading pace picked up after only a few chapters and I kept reading simply because I wanted to know how it all ends. There are a few surprises as Whitney and Patti’s stories are revealed, but the inclusion of such flawed characters made the story much more realistic and believable. I’ve got to add that I needed a few tissues toward the end (be prepared — no, I’m not going to reveal what happens; read it for yourself!). Composing Myself spotlights the notion that we all need to be true to ourselves and be willing to accept others as they are without expecting any conformity, a great message and a wonderful read. I can’t wait to read more from this new-to-me author.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the author. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 116: FUGITIVE Review

Fugitive (Heroes for Hire #8) by Shirlee McCoy
ISBN:  9780373445370 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781460312889 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B0A6ZFI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Love Inspired

“Help me.”

When she opens her door to a wounded, handcuffed stranger, Laney Jefferson is terrified…until she recognizes her unexpected visitor. Thirteen years ago, Logan Randal was there for her when she desperately needed a friend. Now the wrongfully convicted lawman needs the widow’s help. On the run from the law and guided only by Laney’s unswerving faith in Logan’s innocence, their mutual attraction begins to break down the barriers around Laney’s heart. But the real culprit is much closer than they imagine…a cunning enemy determined to keep the past—and the truth—buried forever.

Laney Jefferson did not have an ideal childhood. Her parents were abusive and vindictive. The only shining light she can remember is her friend, Logan Randal. Logan helped her to escape from the abuse when she turned eighteen and she’s never looked back. Fast-forward thirteen years and Laney is a widow trying to rebuild her life. Her father had been tried for abuse, neglect and the murder of a foster-child. Her mother was found guilty of abuse and neglect and spent a few years in prison. Now her father is deceased and her mother has been released from prison and disappeared. In an effort to address the past, Laney has decided to sell her husband’s rural cabin and her childhood home. Laney is forced to deal with more than she thought when she confronts her childhood savior, Logan Randal. Logan is an escaped convict and only wants to clear his name before it is too late. He’s happy to see Laney after all these years, but he doesn’t want to pull her into his messy life. Can Laney learn to trust her feelings after all these years or will her fear prevent her from finding happiness?

Fugitive is a fast-paced faith-based romantic suspense read. Both Laney and Logan attempt to rely on their faith as they attempt to unravel the mystery behind Logan’s wrongful conviction. The romance aspect of the story is somewhat predictable but it did not detract from the story. My only problem with the story is that although Laney and Logan are nice people, they aren’t very well developed and came across as a little flat at times. The most interesting character to me was Stan, Laney’s stepfather. There’s a lot going on in Fugitive: Laney and Logan’s romance, Logan’s wrongful conviction and the mystery behind the conviction, as well as the attempts to kill Logan (presumably to silence him). The main themes seem to be faith, trust, and family (those we’re born into and those we create). As a faith-based romance, I found Fugitive to be a story that anyone from any faith could enjoy. If you enjoy clean HEA romantic-suspense, then you may want to add Fugitive to your reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 115: THE APPLE ORCHARD Review

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
ISBN:  9780778314936 (hardcover)
ISBN:  9781460311899 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00ALTWXFA (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Tess Delaney makes a living restoring stolen treasures to their rightful owners. People like Annelise Winther, who refuses to sell her long-gone mother’s beloved necklace—despite Tess’s advice. To Annelise, the jewel’s value is in its memories.

But Tess’s own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter. So Tess is shocked when she discovers the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. And that she has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard in the magical Sonoma town called Archangel.

The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen. A half sister she’s never heard of.

Against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, Tess begins to discover a world filled with the simple pleasures of food and family, of the warm earth beneath her bare feet. A world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep. A place where falling in love is not only possible, but inevitable.

And in a season filled with new experiences, Tess begins to see the truth in something Annelise once told her: if you don’t believe memories are worth more than money, then perhaps you’ve not made the right kind of memories.

From one of America’s most beloved writers, The Apple Orchard is a story of family ties—both old and new—and of the moments that connect our hearts.

Tess Delaney is living a fast-paced life in San Francisco. She has a job she loves and friends she adores. What she doesn’t have a lot of is family, just an absentee mother. Until the day Dominic Rossi walks into her life and informs her that she has a grandfather and a half-sister. He also informs her that her grandfather is in the hospital in a coma and she needs to accompany him to Archangel, California in the Sonoma to help make some decisions. How can she be expected to make decisions with family she never knew she had? Will she be able to accept the love and responsibility that goes along with having family? 

Upon her arrival, Tess and Isabel are informed that their grandfather’s business, an apple orchard named Bella Vista, is being foreclosed. As Tess struggles with the news of her new family, she must also struggle with getting to know her sister, and help make decisions for a floundering business. This forces Tess and Isabel to pour over the mountains of paperwork their grandfather has and they discover something in an old family photograph what may become the orchard’s salvation.

The Apple Orchard weaves the present with the past. The present consists of the story of Tess Delaney and her half-sister Isabel Johansen. The past is a blend of Tess’s mother and father along with Tess and Isabel’s paternal grandfather Magnus as a member of the Danish Resistance during World War II. Obviously Tess knows little about her grandfather’s past, but neither does Isabel. They gradually piece together his past along with their father’s past as they work to get to know one another. Tess is a city girl that lives life on the go, addicted to energy drinks, black coffee and microwaveable food. Isabel is more used to the somewhat slower pace in rural Sonoma. She left cooking school to help take care of her sick grandmother and stayed on to care for her grandfather. Isabel is a nurturer and shows her care and love for others with her food. Tess has never connected with anyone after her maternal grandmother’s death and she’s having a difficult time with the notion of family. Tess also struggles with her feelings toward Dominic. She’s attracted to him, but she doesn’t know if she’s cut out for a relationship with a divorced single father.

Ms. Wiggs presents an enjoyable read with The Apple Orchard. The inclusion of a family mystery adds to the overall tension within the story. My only regret is that Isabel comes across as a bit flighty and flat. The other characters are all well-developed and their personalities shine through quite well except for Isabel (hopefully she’ll be addressed in future books in this series). There are many overlapping storylines in The Apple Orchard, new family ties, a love story, lost heirlooms, and family secrets. There’s just enough intrigue mixed with romance and a touch of historical elements to make this an enjoyable weekend read for anyone.

Watch the trailer:

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 111: MEASURE OF LOVE Review

Measure of Love by Melissa Ford
ISBN:  9781611942828 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781611943030 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00C7Y1Y8E (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 28, 2013
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books

Rachel has made a new life from scratch with her ex-husband, but can they survive the wedding plans?

It may be her second time getting married, but Rachel Goldman is definitely navigating a sticky relationship with her former—and soon-to-be-again—mother-in-law. Plus she’s in a tug of war with the editor of her upcoming book on divorce who is begging her to keep her happy new relationship with her ex, Adam, on the down low. How can Rachel do that when her society-obsessed mother-in-law is eager to get a featured story in the wedding section of the New York Times? Throw in a sister-in-law-to-be who’s navigating her own upcoming nuptials as well as a friend who not only doesn’t want to get married, but is possibly having an affair. Rachel finds herself with too many pots simmering on a very familiar stove.

Rachel Goldman should be on top of the world. Her blog is an internet success. She has a book about to published. And she’s in love. Of course, there are a few snags; her book is about being successful at divorce and she’s about to remarry her ex-husband. If that isn’t bad enough, she thinks her best friend, Arianna, is cheating on her live-in boyfriend, Ethan, who just happens to be Rachel’s brother. Almost forgot…her ex-mother in law, Anita, wants to make Rachel and Adam’s second wedding even more of a society event than their first.

Rachel carefully navigated the world of marriage breakup, divorce, and being single in Life From Scratch. Although she was devastated by the breakup and divorce, she found solace in writing about her problems and endeavored to achieve success at cooking. She merged these two into a blog that become a massive hit and evolved into a book contract. Rachel wasn’t looking for love, but she found it – with her ex-husband, Adam. He has left his law firm and embraced his first love, literature, by becoming a teacher. In Measure of Love, Adam and Rachel take their relationship to the next step, marriage (or in this case remarriage). Rachel is happy that Adam wants to commit to her, but before she knows it she’s trying to plan a wedding in less than four months. What follows is a mixture of I Love Lucy and Jane Austen’s Emma (the latter is actually referred to in the story); well-intentioned meddling with disastrous results (minus the comedic happy endings).

I found Measure of Love to be a fast-paced and enjoyable read. I almost felt as if I was meeting up with old friends as I revisited with Rachel, Arianna, Adam and others in their new struggles and dealings. Rachel isn’t as self-assured in Measure of Love, but only when it comes to her love life. Arianna is still somewhat exotic, but not nearly as extreme when compared to Adam’s sister Lisbeth. Lisbeth is an artist and is planning her own wedding to her partner, Emily, a physician (truly an odd couple with disparate personalities, but they fit). I felt sucked in by Rachel’s internal struggle with her remarriage and her well-intended meddling. I waited patiently with Adam as he watched Rachel struggle with these issues. I suffered along with Arianna as she drifted slowly away from her best-friend. And I hoped for that happy-ending for not just Rachel and Adam, but also for Lisbeth and Emily, as well as Rachel and Arianna. The characters are well-developed and the situations not only realistic but relatable. Ms. Ford blends great writing and a tale about romance and love, mixed with relationship/friendship drama and touches of humor; the result is a great read about second chances for love. Measure of Love is the second installment in Ms. Ford’s Life from Scratch series. I am rather anxious to read the next installment featuring Arianna’s story, Apart At the Seams.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 109: THE BURGESS BOYS Review

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
ISBN:  9781400067688 (paperback)
ISBN:  9780812984613 (ebook)
ASIN:  B009MYAWIA (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Random House

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his big-hearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

Imagine a life that has always been defined by one horrific and tragic moment. Imagine a life that has always been overshadowed by the success of a sibling. That is the life of Bob Burgess. Jim Burgess is the older, smarter, and successful brother.  Susan Burgess is Bob’s twin sister and alone in her own unhappiness. She’s also a divorcee raising her son back in their rural hometown, Shirley Falls, Maine. Bob and Jim have both left Maine and are practicing lawyers residing in New York. Jim has a lovely wife, three children, and a job at a prestigious law firm but is an overbearing and rather obnoxious person . . . especially to his family. Bob is divorced, living alone in a small and empty apartment, childless and works at Legal Aid. Bob adores, if not idolizes his older brother and has for as long as he can remember. That will all change when the Burgess Boys are called back to Maine to help their nephew Zach on a legal matter. (Zach throws a frozen pig’s head into a mosque during a prayer service, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan.) When it appears that Zach may be charged federally with a hate crime, he runs away, leaves the country and joins his father in Sweden. Susan is bereft at his departure and must learn to cope with his absence. Bob worries that he may be branded a fugitive and only wants to make things as easy as possible for both Zach and Susan. Jim seems to only care that he has put his neck and reputation on the line. These three differing views on one simple action show the true nature of these siblings.

On the surface The Burgess Boys is about family and what we are willing to do to support our families. Underneath, it is also about family dysfunction and touches on prejudice, racism, narcissism, depression, infidelity, and responsibility. Ms. Strout has presented a story that almost defies explanation due to the simplicity of the heart of the story and the complex interactions among all of the Burgesses, their friends, coworkers and associates. Bob and Jim’s relationship suffers and seems to breakdown in the latter half of the book, mirroring other relationship breakdowns due to lies and half-truths. The reader is given a glimpse into the minds of Susan, Bob and Jim, as well as Jim’s wife Helen, and Susan’s son Zach. More importantly we are also given a glimpse into how things appear from an alternate point of view, that of Abdikarim Ahmed, a Somali refugee and elder in the Muslim community in Shirley Falls. He provides a nice balance to Zach’s story. 

I didn’t find this to be an easy read, nor a particular enjoyable read since it deals with some dark and disturbing issues (depression, alcoholism, prejudice, etc.). The major characters, the Burgess siblings, all have flaws and major issues to overcome. Some flaws and issues are dealt with realistically and others seem a bit contrived. At times, I felt that some of the characters were becoming cartoonish caricatures rather than individuals (namely Jim and Helen). Even with these limitations, I think The Burgess Boys is a story that makes the reader to think. And isn’t that what literature is all about?

Read an excerpt:

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 108: THE REPEAT YEAR Review

The Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen
ISBN:  9780425263136 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781101598849 (ebook)
ASIN:  B0095ZQ0V4 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Berkley

Everyone has days, weeks, even months they wish they could do over—but what about an entire year? After living through the worst twelve months of her life, intensive care nurse Olive Watson is given a second chance to relive her past and attempt to discover where she went wrong… 

After a year of hardships, including a messy breakup with her longtime boyfriend Phil, the prospect of her mother’s remarriage, and heartbreaking patient losses at the hospital, Olive is ready to start fresh. But when she wakes up in her ex-boyfriend’s bed on New Year’s Day 2011—a day she has already lived—Olive’s world is turned upside down. Shouldering a year of memories that no one else can recall, even Olive begins to question herself—until she discovers that she is not alone. Upon crossing paths with Sherry Witan, an experienced “repeater,” Olive learns that she has the chance to rewrite her future. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, Olive has to decide what she really wants. Should she make different choices, or accept her life as she knows it, flaws and all?

Life normally doesn’t come with “do-overs” or second chances, but Olive Watson and Sherry Witan are given the opportunity to relive one year, 2011. Will they be able to make the most of this second chance or will they make the same mistakes all over again in The Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen.

Olive Watson is a young twenty-something. She’s relatively debt-free, has a well-paying job as a nurse in the intensive care unit at a local hospital. She has close friends, a loving boyfriend, and is close to her mother and brother. Olive has been dating Phil for almost four years, but a series of incidents led to a separation then breakup. This was followed by her mother’s engagement announcement and remarriage, which Olive doesn’t take very well since it’s only been a few short years after her father’s death. Olive goes to bed on New Year’s Eve 2011 in what was admittedly the worst year of her life after the year her father died. She expects to awaken on January 1, 2012 but awakens to January 1, 2011. At first she thinks she’s crazy and just experiencing a weird deja vu moment, but she quickly learns that she is repeating 2011 . . . her nightmare year. Fortunately, there’s someone to provide her with a little guidance, her mother’s friend – Sherry Witan. Sherry tells Olive that she isn’t quite sure why these repeat years or second chances are offered, but she’s being given an opportunity to change the mistakes of the past and hopefully move forward to a better year.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started reading The Repeat Year. At first I thought it was going to be like the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, but this isn’t repeating the same day over-and-over to get it right. Olive is forced to relive an entire year and hopefully make better choices. After I overcame my preconceived notions of what to expect, I actually enjoyed The Repeat Year. Olive and Sherry aren’t perfect women. They are simply people that have made mistakes, some large, some small, and some life-changing. But unlike most of us, they’ve been allowed the opportunity to correct those mistakes, stop being judgmental (of themselves more so than anyone else) and to accept life and love with all of the inherent flaws. I found The Repeat Year to be a fast-paced read about self-discovery, acceptance, and tolerance. The characters were well developed and quite realistic. If you want a great read for a lazy afternoon, then I suggest The Repeat Year. Ms. Lochen has provided a story that offers a little bit of romance, a little bit of humor, some soul searching, and some family drama in an entertaining package.


I read The Repeat Year as part of the Book Sparks PR 2013 Summer Reading Road Trip. If you’d like to follow along, please visit Book Sparks PR here. Next stop is The Love Wars by Allison Heller.
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Book 107: WHAT A MOTHER KNOWS Review

What A Mother Knows by Leslie Lehr
ISBN:  9781402279560 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781402279577 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B2AO76U (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks

How far will a mother go to protect her daughter?

An unsettling, emotional and suspenseful novel of the unshakable bonds of motherhood, in which Michelle Mason not only loses her memory after a deadly car crash, but can’t find her 16-year-old daughter, the one person who may know what happened that day. But the deeper Michelle digs, the more she questions the innocence of everyone, even herself.

A dramatic portrayal of the fragile skin of memory, What a Mother Knows is about finding the truth that can set love free.

Read an excerpt here:

Michelle Mason used to have it all, a great job, a loving husband and two wonderful children. Everything changed after she has a horrific car crash that seriously injures her and kills her passenger. Michelle is finally able to return home after dealing with major surgeries, a medically induced coma that lasted months, and one year in rehabilitation. The home she returns to isn’t the home she remembers. Her husband is now residing in New York, her son is in a boarding school, and her daughter has disappeared. The first brick in Michelle’s carefully constructed “memories” is destroyed when she’s told her daughter isn’t studying internationally but has run away from home and it might be related to the car accident. Michelle’s husband, Drew, tells her that a police report has been filed, a detective hired, and people are searching for Nikki. Michelle seems to instinctively know that there is more to the story than she is being told, so she launches her own investigation. As she uncovers details over the course of months, she is made to feel as if she’s unreliable due to her tragic injuries. Can she trust the people that have repeatedly lied to her, or does she trust her instincts?

What A Mother Knows is an intriguing story that pulled me in from the very beginning. Michelle seems to be on a roller coaster ride in her attempts to search for her daughter. Just when she thinks she’s found out something useful, there’s an unexpected dip or turn that reveals more and more lies from those closest to her. Michelle is forced to face her overbearing but loving mother, Elyse Deveraux, as well as her strained marriage with her husband Drew, and her son Tyler. She doesn’t seem to have anyone to support her in her quest for the truth, but she is fervent in her belief that a mother simply knows. This is more than a contemporary story about family, it is also about self-discovery as Michelle learns to adjust to her new lifestyle and limitations, and ultimately a mystery as she searches for her missing daughter. Ms. Lehr has provided a story filled with people that aren’t wholly good or bad, but rather residents of the grey areas. Michelle is likeable and a realistic portrayal of just how far a mother is willing to go for the sake of her children. If you enjoy reading family dramas or mystery-suspense, then you definitely want to add What A Mother Knows to your reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher, Sourcebooks, via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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