Book 30: WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH Review

What Happened to Hannah by Mary Kay McComas
ISBN: 978-0-06-208478-1
Publication date: February 7, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

As a teenager, Hannah Benson’s one chance to save herself was to run away. As the years have passed, she’s never looked back, not even to find out what happened to the mother and sister she left behind. Now, twenty years later, the past comes calling when her hometown sheriff, Grady Steadman — Hannah’s sweetheart in high school — delivers some life-changing news: her mother and sister are dead, leaving her guardian of her fifteen-year-old niece.

Returning home to bitter memories and devastating secrets, Hannah must find a way to make this new challenge work without ruining lives — or destroying her own sanity. And when her painful memories of this small town become mingled with the new, happier moments she’s creating with her niece — and the rekindled feelings she has for Grady — Hannah is faced with the most difficult challenge yet.


Hannah has spent the past twenty years trying to forget her past, specifically the emotional, verbal and physical abuse from her father. The only good she left behind was her sister, Ruth, and her boyfriend, Grady. It wasn’t easy, but Hannah has made something of herself with the help of her surrogate father, Joe Levitz. Joe was her father, mentor and friend and it was with his help that she became an insurance agent and agency owner. Now the time has come for Hannah to face her past and return home to the memories left behind and a niece she’s never known.

Grady Steadman, indeed, the entire town, knew that Karl Benson and his family were different. The adults suspected abuse, but nothing was ever done. As a result, Hannah often went to school with bruises from “falls” and even broken bones. Most of the town had assumed that Karl had killed Hannah as she disappeared on the night of the worst beating yet, but since a body had never been found again nothing was done. But Karl is dead, Ruth is dead, even Hannah’s mother is dead and there’s no family member left to take care of fifteen-year-old Anna but her aunt. 

Hannah’s return is anything but triumphant and she can’t wait to leave Clearfield once again. She doesn’t know the first thing about being a parent, even a surrogate parent and isn’t sure her niece will even like her. Fortunately Hannah, and her niece Anna, learn to like, respect then love one another. Misunderstanding and mistakes are made but they both have much to learn about each other.

What Happened to Hannah discusses some weighty issues, such as child abuse, spousal abuse, and even the possibility of child molestation. Ms. McComas doesn’t gloss over these issues and treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Although Hannah and Grady have feelings for one another, Grady knows that Hannah is still hiding something. Until she can trust him fully, he isn’t willing to turn custody of Anna over to her. I found all of the characters, especially Hannah, Anna, and Grady’s daughter Lucy to be likeable, if not lovable, and all too realistic. Grady and Joe provide the much needed male counterparts to these strong females. They aren’t overly protective or domineering and seemed to provide the masculine perspective and counterpoint of view. What Happened to Hannah has romance, drama, as well as teenage and adult angst tempered with humor and sensitivity. This may not be an easy read for some because of the issues discussed, but it is definitely worth reading. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher. 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.”

Book 282: DOWN THE DARKEST ROAD Review

Lauren Lawton is a woman on the edge. Her eldest daughter has been missing for four years, presumed abducted and dead. Her husband died in an automobile accident two years ago. She clings to life for the sake of her younger daughter Leah and strives to obtain justice for her missing daughter Leslie in Down the Darkest Road by Tami Hoag.

Life isn’t always fair and the justice system isn’t always just. Lauren knows this better than others because the man she knows is responsible for her daughter’s disappearance has never been arrested or tried for his crime, Roland Ballencoa. To make matters worse he had actually been able to get a restraining order placed against her. All Lauren wants is to know what happened to her daughter and receive justice. If the system won’t give it to her then she may need to get it for herself.

Leah’s life has been hell for the past four years since her older sister Leslie disappeared. Leah isn’t allowed to be home alone or even go anywhere alone. The only thing good to come out of their recent move to a new town is she is allowed to work at a horse farm a few days a week. This work brings a new friend into her life, Wendy. Finally she has someone that understands the trauma her family has experienced and doesn’t consider her a freak because of it. But Leah knows that she isn’t dealing with the situation in a good way, and maybe she is a freak after all.

Detective Mendez feels sympathy for Ms. Lawton. He knows that there may be little the system can actually do against the suspect in her daughter’s case simply because there is no evidence. His sympathy is the impetus needed for him to delve a little deeper into Leslie’s disappearance. The more he digs, the more he understands Lauren’s feelings. Will he be able to find evidence to provide the abduction before things get out of hand?

Down the Darkest Road is a glimpse into the minds of a family torn apart by tragedy. Lauren is so focused on getting vengeance, if not justice, for her missing daughter Leslie that she neglects the needs of her remaining child, Leah. Leah has a lot of hostility against her missing sister and against her deceased father. Unfortunately she doesn’t really have an outlet for these feelings and can’t disclose them to her mother. Ms. Hoag even provides glimpses into the motivation and mind of the prime suspect, Roland Ballencoa. Much of the action centers on a cat-and-mouse like game between Lauren and Ballencoa, and even Ballencoa and law enforcement. This back and forth builds the tension and kept me on edge during most of the book.  Down the Darkest Road was a quick read but it is by no means an easy read due to the psychological tension and underlying darkness associated with child abduction and sexual predators. This may not be a book for everyone but if you want to read a good suspense/psychological thriller, this may well be the book for you.

Down the Darkest Road by Tami Hoag will be available on 12/27/2011.

Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes from 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.”





Shop Indie Bookstores






Book 280: ALL FALL DOWN Review

Liesel is a happily married woman. She and Christopher have a good relationship and a good life, but Liesel is beginning to want more. She wants children. Sunny has only known the compound. She isn’t happy, but she isn’t exactly unhappy. The last thing she expects is to leave the only family she’s ever known and start anew. Liesel and Sunny both struggle with new obstacles and strive to remain steadfast in All Fall Down by Megan Hart.

Liesel knows that her husband Christopher doesn’t really want kids, but the last thing either of them expects is to have Sunny arrive on their doorstep with three small children in tow. Bigger surprise is that Sunny is Christopher’s child from his first marriage. She’s only nineteen years old and has three children ranging in age from four to eight months old. Liesel wants to make the best of an obviously awkward and bad situation and welcomes Sunny or Sunshine and her children, Happy, Peace and Bliss. Sunny isn’t quite sure how to deal with these new changes and desires the simple family life she’s always known. She didn’t relish the punishments or lack of food, but she openly accepted having someone tell her what to do, at what time and where. She even allowed the leader John Second and others to use her sexually and father her three children. When Liesel, Christopher and Sunny realize the family at the compound has committed mass suicide, or “entering the gate” as Sunny puts it, they all realize there is no going back.

Becoming a mother, or even a stepmother and step-grandmother, overnight with little forewarning and preparation is a bit more than Liesel expected. She quickly becomes overwhelmed and stressed out. It doesn’t help that Christopher isn’t home much and she’s run off her feet. There are major adjustments to be had on all sides with Liesel and Sunny making the major adjustments. Sunny must learn to accept her newfound freedoms, but she yearns for more. She’s also feeling a certain amount of survivors’ guilt because she was left behind. 

After reading the first chapter, I presumed that this was not going to be a happily-ever-after book and was waiting for some major tragedy to occur. Ms. Hart keeps the reader twisted emotionally with the guilt and stress felt by Liesel as well as the guilt and bewilderment experienced by Sunny. Both women are trying to fit into some preconceived mold of what is normal. The stresses they both deal with are primarily stressors that they impose on themselves and they both find themselves lacking. This is the true tragedy. I found All Fall Down to be a quick read that, fortunately, does end on a hopeful note with both women learning from the other.

Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes from the publisher through 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.”






Book 265: WAKE Review

Being a teenager is difficult. Being a teenager trying to start over is double hard. Willa Kirk is only 18 years old but is trying to restart her life in her old hometown in the middle of her senior year at high school. Jem Harper is trying to deal with the stigma of being known as the “cancer guy.” All he wants is to get better and get through the school year. These two teens are the heart and soul of Wake by Abria Mattina.

There’s some typical teenage angst in Wake but not much of it is because of Willa or Jem. These two start with an antagonistic relationship that quickly develops into an antagonistic friendship. They are both outsiders trying to strike a balance with their families and school. Jem is recovering from cancer treatment and a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately the cancer is in remission, unfortunately all of the medications he’s on cause him to continually suffer from extreme nausea. His diet is limited to soup, Jell-O, and smoothies and he often has difficulties with these items. Jem has had a truly rough year. His family relocated from Ottawa to Smiths Falls (a small town) and he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the move. His entire persona in this new town is as the “cancer guy.” His friends from his hometown aren’t quite sure how to deal with his diagnosis but they’re too far away to be a support system.

Willa’s situation is somewhat similar to Jem’s in that she is also dealing with being the new kid without really being the new kid. She grew up in Smiths Falls but her family had moved out of the province. Now she’s dealing with the death of her older sister, Tessa, and some bad decisions that resulted in a brief psychiatric hospitalization. Her parents can’t quite deal with her problems since they came so quickly after Tessa’s death, so she’s shipped off to stay with her older brother Frank.

Much of the story takes place over the course of six months and is told in alternating voices by Jem and Willa. The same time periods are presented in alternating perspectives which add to our understanding of Jem and Willa. The reader is allowed to see the development from both points of view and provides a better understanding of both characters. There are also a few chapters told from the perspective of Jem’s sister Elise and brother Eric toward the end, along with one chapter by Frank early in the book and these provide additional insight into the action within the story.

Wake is filled with secrets revealed, self-acceptance and love. Jem is fortunate that he has unconditional love and support from his family but he still needs to be seen as an individual that has something to offer. Willa doesn’t really have the support of her family although her brother Frank is trying. She is dealing with a lot of guilt over her past actions and wants to be accepted for who she is, warts and all. There’s a lot going on in Wake and Ms. Mattina does a fantastic job at providing the reader with the information necessary to see the big picture. I didn’t like this story initially as I couldn’t really see, or appreciate, where it was going, but by the time I was a little more than one-third of the through I was hooked. I wanted to see what was going to happen, if anything, between Jem and Willa. This isn’t a traditional YA coming-of-age story nor is it a traditional teen love story; it is a little of both and so much more.  

Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes. 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.”


Book 224: THE PIRATE QUEEN Review

Saphora Warren is a wife, mother and grandmother. She is an asset to her physician husband and has been a devoted wife for the years they’ve been married. But Saphora has had enough. At the end of a Southern Living lawn party (a party her husband wanted even though he didn’t show up for it), she is planning on leaving her beautiful house and philandering husband to regroup and decide what she wants from life. At least that was the plan until her husband arrives home before she can leave and announces he has cancer and is dying. Saphora must now decide whether she stays to help her husband or goes off on her on in The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman.

To say that Saphora is downtrodden is being kind. She seems to do whatever her husband Bender wants and puts up with years of neglect and verbal abuse in the form of snide and belittling remarks. The worst part is that her husband doesn’t even seem to know that he’s being neglectful or abusive. At least he didn’t until he received his death sentence. 

Saphora is left to try and pick up the pieces of their life while dealing with a remorseful and introspective Bender. It’s rather strange that she could take the years of possible philandering but has problems dealing with her husband as he becomes aware of his faults. In addition to dealing with a husband dying of brain cancer, she must contend with her grandson for most of the summer. Her eldest son has to work, as does his ex-wife and the baby-sitter quit so Eddie goes to the beach house with his grandparents. While at the beach, Eddie, Saphora and Bender befriend a young boy with AIDS. Tobias was born with AIDS and adopted but is dearly loved by his adoptive mother. Regrettably, although this appears to be taking place in the present, there’s a lot of prejudice and misconception about AIDS and Tobias is persona non grata at most facilities and functions around town.

Saphora, her children and grandchildren, are all forced to watch Bender as he slowly fades away from their lives. Fortunately Saphora has become a woman with a backbone and isn’t willing to take crap from anyone any longer. There’s plenty of high drama and grief in The Pirate Queen. Most of the drama is centered on AIDS and the reaction Tobias receives from a variety of people, including Saphora’s son and daughter-in-law, as well as Bender’s penchant toward selfishness. One example of such selfishness is his desire to have their housekeeper drop everything and come to the beach even though her young son has the measles and obviously needs and wants his mother. 

I wanted to like The Pirate Queen. Saphora ends up being a likeable and admirable character, but she starts off somewhat spacey and comes across as just flaky and a pushover. The friendship between Eddie and Tobias, as well as Tobias and Bender is heart-warming. Eddie accepts Tobias for what he is, another kid and a playmate. Bender and Tobias accept one another for what they are, two people battling potentially deadly illnesses. It was rather uplifting to see that Bender sought atonement for his actions and spiritual guidance toward the end of his life. I don’t know if that can make up for years of neglect, but Saphora seems willing to overlook it. In addition, Saphora’s children are all adults but come across as spoiled and selfish children at times. 

There are redeeming qualities about this book, especially in Tobias’s story. Although this does have an uplifting ending, beware there are plenty of tear-jerker scenes toward the end. As I stated previously, I wanted to like The Pirate Queen but for me it was nothing more than an okay read, in part because of the spacey qualities of Saphora’s character for the first half of the book and also because the dialogue was a little hard to follow at times. The Pirate Queen isn’t a bad read, but it simply didn’t do it for me.  

Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes from Waterbrook Multnomah/Blogging for Books. 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.”