Hadley and Grace by Suzanne Redfearn

Rating:           8

General Rating: This is Lucy and Ethel turned Therma and Louise.

Skip factor:  6%. I skipped a bit a quarter of the way through along with long paragraphs thereafter.

Who should read: Enjoy humor? You’ll like. People who need a break from deep should read this. 

Summary: Thelma—I’m sorry—Hadley is the wife of Frank, a bookie and small-time drug lord, Of course, Hadley has no idea of her husband’s extra-curricular job activities. She’s too busy planning her get away. She’s leaving Frank and his demanding, bad-tempered, chauvinistic personality.

Enter Grace.

The story begins slowly, but wait for it. WAIT FOR IT.

Grace works for Frank. In and out of foster homes all her life, Grace has done time for something unextraordinary (in other words, I can’t remember it). But she’s out and married, the mother of a colicky baby, and she’s landed the perfect job working for Frank. But when Frank reneges on a commission he’s promised her, she decides she’ll go to the office on a Friday night and remove the files she’s worked so hard on.

Serendipitously, Grace runs into Hadley, who’s there to steal Frank’s cash—she’s sure he has some cash somewhere—and leave him. Instantly and despite their common interest of getting back at Frank, the two womens’ personalities clash.

Ready?

They find and take Frank’s money and through a series of mishaps they find themselves on the run from the FBI, who have been watching Frank and his laundering-money doings.

Enter recently divorced, nice-guy, FBI agent ???.

From here on out, this story takes turns only an unhinged roller-coaster could take.

Characters:  Superb. I loved Grace, Hadley, Maddie, Skipper and ??? nearly the moment I read the first letter of their names. No sense belaboring the point. Redfearn has mastered character development.

Storyline: This story is cute. At about 30% in I lost interest, but again…wait for it… the storyline picks up speed and carries you to the finish. It’s the story of two who can’t take any more of the same man. One is leaving her marriage and the other her employment. It’s cute, different, and readers will find themselves smiling and saying, “Oh, no…” A LOT.

Writing:  Writing is good but the humorous flow of the story is better. I’ll have to go back and reread some. I don’t recall stopping to say, hey, this is a beautiful piece of writing, but then I was laughing too hard.

Read this author again?  I’d try another Redfearn novel. Yes.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Rating:           9.5

General Rating: Look inside the mind of an illegal immigrant. Why do they risk their lives to come to America? Read this. Seldom does a book impacted me like American Dirt.

Skip factor:  2%. I hate admitting this. I skipped paragraphs when I became so invested in the characters’ situations that I felt utter desperation and had to move on. Simply, I paged forward to find the outcome, many times returning to read Cummins’ great writing.  

Who should read: Those who long to understand why some risk their lives to cross the border, compassionate people, or readers who enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath.

Disclaimer: There has been disparaging of this fictional story for several reasons. (I learned this from my wonderful Farmhouse Book Club friends.) I did not read a single word of the controversy before finishing the book or writing my review.

Summary: Lydia and Luca are from a middle-class family, and they live in Acapulco. Lydia, the wife, and Luca, the son, are the immediate family of journalist Sebastian Perez. Lydia owns a book store, and Luca attends private school.

The story opens dramatically with a devastating shooting/killing of Sebastian and fifteen other family members. By chance, Lydia and Luca are able to hide until the cartel members leave, and their journey begins.

This book is about that journey.  

Characters:  Although the novel portrays the life of fictional characters, the author has skillfully created people who seem so real you feel you know them and are walking, step-by-step, beside them as they flee for their lives.

Readers will love the boys, Luca & Beto, the teenage girls, Soledad and Rebeka, and Lydia, the young mother, along with interesting minor characters introduced along the way.

Because the characters seemed lifelike, I googled the author and wasn’t surprised to see she had done extensive research. To read about people/organizations who truly do risk their lives to help immigrants, check out her site at https://www.jeaninecummins.com/how-to-helppre/

Storyline: Cummins captures your attention in the opening chapter and holds it throughout the book. You can’t let go. You must find out if Lydia and Luca survive.

This novel is entirely about Lydia and Luca’s journey, the people they meet, the atrocities they see, and the pain they experience. With the cartel on their heels, Lydia is forced to ferry her son as far from Acapulco as she can manage. She heads toward el Norte and this consumes the storyline.

Writing:  

Cummins’s tremendous writing draws readers into the journey. You are alongside them jumping trains, limping from twisted ankles, traipsing through the cold black nights or scorching afternoons. She writes so eloquently I couldn’t put it down. You hold your breath at times. Her vivid descriptions of situations and settings and the migrants’ inner feelings reel you in and you become completely invested in not only the two main characters, but several of the people they meet along the way.

Read this author again?  Yes, no question. I loved the writing.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rating:           8

General Rating: A bit disappointed. (Like Crawdad’s, I may have expected too much.) Ng’s writing earns a nine, but the scattered storyline, a seven, averaging a solid eight rating.

Skip factor:  8%. I skipped some of Mia’s flashbacks. Her backstory dragged.  

Who should read:  If you read Everything I Never Told You, if you are a writer, or at least love writing, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t believe people who grab this book before reading Everything I Never Told You will be as enamored by Ng. This is a good book, but I expected great from Ng.

Summary: The story begins with a fire and the mention of Izzy Richardson. Izzy is one of four children who lives in the house burning to the ground. The story also mentions a mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, who rent one of the Richardsons’ apartments. Mia and Pearl leave the afternoon of the fire, so right away the reader wants to know what’s going on.

The novel tells the story of the well-to-do Richardson family living in the Shaker Heights neighborhood of Cleveland. When Mia, an artist, and her daughter Pearl rent an apartment from the Richardson’s, their lives intersect in more than tenant-landlord fashion. Elena Richardson admires Mia’s art and hires her to cook and clean for them part-time, saying Mia must continue her art. Mia accepts reluctantly but the position, along with a second part-time job, allows her the freedom to continue her photography.

Eventually, all four of the Richardson children become involved with Mia and Pearl who seem slightly mysterious.

Enter Beebe and Mrs. McCullough. Beebe works with Mia at Mia’s part-time coffee shop job and Mrs. McCullough has been Elena Richardson’s best friend for years. When Mia realizes the adopted McCullough baby may be Beebe’s lost child, the story takes an emotional turn.

There are numerous twists and turns to this story. (Possibly too many.) The author jumps back and forth in time, and where normally I like this, I didn’t here. I found myself skipping Mia’s backstory.

Characters:  I loved all four Richardson children and Pearl. I did not like Elena Richardson or Mrs. McCullough, although I did feel sorry for Mrs. McCullough who could not have children of her own. I believe I experienced all of the emotions the author hoped readers would experience with the characters except for Mia. Mia was too odd for my liking, and the author’s attempt at creating a sad background for Mia didn’t work.

Storyline:  This novel winds through several important life topics: suburban racism, family dynamics, rich versus poor, adoption tribulations, motherhood, and even carries YA coming-of-age subject matter. The story has several protagonists, two mothers, one rich, one poor; five children between them who are at the height of their emotional teenage years; and a destitute woman who finds herself in an impossible situation.

Without spoiling the story, I’ll say this touches heartfeltly on family, pregnancy, adoption, and even abortion.

Writing:  The novel is well written, yet there were many parts where I felt the dramatics of the situations were drawn-out and overdone, hurting the importance of the topics. Mia’s backstory could have been tightened to make readers feel more of a connection with her.

Read this author again?  Yes, I will. I love her writing and am hoping for another book like Everything I Never Told You.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

The Light Through the Leaves by Glendy Vanderah

Rating:                              8

General Rating: An easy read but intense story about a woman who barely survives the tragic disappearance of her daughter.

Skip factor:  I skipped my normal amount, approximately 3-5%.

Who should read:  Avid readers, most women, and especially back-to-nature people. 

Summary: Ellis Abbey needs to decide what to do. She’s caught her husband cheating, and she’s trying to remain calm around her three young children. She takes them to catch tadpoles, so she can think. She decides she must divorce him, but then the trip turns disastrous. Her twin boys argue throughout the day, and when it’s time to leave, a raven is cawing, the boys are shouting, and a full jar of tadpoles spills in the car. Ellis tries to hurry along and horribly, leaves her daughter on the road in her car seat. When she realizes her mistake and turns around, the baby is gone.

The mental damage and blame she suffers spirals out of control. She convinces herself she’ll do her sons harm, too, if she raises them. She leaves the boys and their father, traveling the country alone, drinking, and attempting to forget.

After a few years pass, the story turns toward a secluded home in Washington. A girl named Raven lives with her mother. She’s cautioned not to speak to people from the outside world, but when she runs into boys playing in the creek on her mother’s wooded property, she strikes up a friendship with them, and her life changes.

Without spoiling the story, both Ellis and Raven must work through challenging lives, reach deep inside themselves, and survive their fate.

Characters:   Character development was good. The main character, Ellis, was likeable at the start. However, tragedy turns her into someone many people may not understand or be able to identify with. Despite the sadness of her life, I felt little compassion toward her because she left her boys. I did understand the importance of her journey but could not connect with her other than briefly in the beginning.

Other characters whom I did like were the children Raven, Jackie, and Reese, along with the neighbor, Ms. Taft. Introduced in light-hearted, childlike fashion, it was easy to like the children and Ms. Taft’s kindness and care for them made her immediately likeable.

I actually felt compassion for the woman who raised Raven. The pain she inflicted on the child was a consequence of her mental illness. Her strange beliefs and mental breakdowns damaged Raven mentally, but she protected her in other ways to the best of her ability.

Storyline: This is a unique storyline, told in an interesting manner. The author jumped from the grieving mother’s point of view to the abducted child’s point of view through sections, and it worked well. Kept my attention.

Writing:  The writing is good. Chapters flowed easily, yet I was surprised by the numerous 5-star reviews. I liked this book, truly I did, but I’m still not sure why I wasn’t dazzled by it like other reviewers. Yet…I did keep turning pages! I’m not completely sure why. The smaller storylines lured me and I found myself anxious to get back to reading it! Oddly, I’ve read better books with better writing that I enjoyed much less. I’m simply not sure why I liked this book so much, but I did and believe you will, too.

Read this author again? Yes, I’d love to see if I like her next book as well.

Read on!

To find more good books click here.

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

Rating:                              9

General Rating: Keeps your attention throughout.

Skip factor:  0% which doesn’t happen too often.

Who should read:  Any woman would like this story. But those who enjoy great writing will love.

Summary: The story starts off with a bang. When Libby Miller arrives home to break the news to her husband that she has terminal cancer, he announces he’s gay. W-w-w-what? (I was as shocked as she was.) So she doesn’t reveal she’s dying to Tom, the hubby, but instead tries to grasp that their marriage has been a lie.

Immediately, Libby decides to live the remainder of her life on her terms. She refuses to answer the doctor’s calls about treatment. Years ago, her mother died of cancer, and she’s determined to enjoy the time she has left rather than exhaust it with treatment. She quits her job—doesn’t tell her egotistical boss, Jackie, the truth—and leaves her house in the hands of a friend who is a realtor to sell.

Because she has nothing to lose, she sets off on a month-long vacation to an island and—here comes my favorite part—strikes up a relationship with the pilot who flies her in.

Characters:  I am new to Camille Pagan and enjoyed this book, partially because of her great character development. I fell in love with all of the island people, and although I didn’t love Libby at the start, I grew to like her. I also loved Libby’s brother, but my favorite character was, by far, the pilot, Shiloh.

Storyline: The storyline is great. Of course, you can’t stop reading because you want to see if Libby will live or die, but I found myself reading for other reasons, as well. There are enough peaks and valleys in her story to maintain your interest, but what kept me reading, was how Pagan told the story. Simply, her writing is wonderful

Writing:  Pagan is a new favorite author. (Don’t you love when that happens!) Her writing is fabulous. 5-star good. Maybe 5+-star good.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Open House by Katie Sise

Rating:                              9

General Rating: A fast-moving crime story about the disappearance of a college girl.

Skip factor:  1% I skipped very little.

Who should read:  Mystery and crime fiction lovers who enjoy novels that provide lots of suspects.

Summary: Katie is a medical student attending a school close to her hometown. Ten years earlier, her older sister, Emma, disappeared during a college party. Katie remains friends, somewhat, with her sister’s best friend, Josie.  When a hiker discovers a bracelet with Emma’s name on it in the area where she was last seen, the closed case is opened and a flood of the past rushes Katie.

Characters:  Oddly, I had to ask myself if I liked the characters to write this. The mystery of the story captured my attention from the beginning, and the clever way Sise introduced the characters had me suspecting everyone. It was a “Maybe it’s her. Oh, wait, maybe him. Oh, no. It has to be her. Or him,” sort of novel.

Katie is the medical student. Although this story is told from the perspective of several characters, Katie, Emma’s sister, is the main character and the most likable.

Josie was Emma’s best friend and roommate. I spent most of the novel trying to figure her out, which I loved. I never trusted Josie but couldn’t figure out if she was a good or bad person until well into the novel. Loved that.

Noah was Emma’s boyfriend at the time but is now married to Josie. I went back and forth about whether he was good or evil.

Brad is the bad teacher who is charismatic but untrusting. He had an affair with Emma. He is suspect right up front—almost too suspicious. But Sise constantly brings other guilty-looking characters in then leads back to Brad to keep you guessing.

Priya is Brad’s wife. She was pregnant with her son and engaged to Brad when Emma disappeared. Although seemingly too frail to commit murder, Priya takes medication for her nerves which quickly forces readers to check her off as a suspect, too.   

Minor Characters are introduced throughout. All add to the story.

Storyline: The is a typical disappearance story but written better than many. Sise introduces suspicious characters at exactly the right pace so as not to be confusing. She also infuses the past into the story smoothly, providing hints that slowly mount until the end. The storyline is believable. I found only a few questionable spots, one three-quarters of the way through and the other at the end. Generally, I couldn’t put it down. Any slow spots paled in comparison to the thrill of the read.

Writing:  Not too wordy and not overly descriptive, which I like. Sise engages readers by constantly pointing an accusatory finger at different characters, her writing clean. She jumps back and forth between POV in each chapter, adding Emma’s past story from ten years prior here and there. It works. As a reader, I wanted to figure out who the murderer was before Emma’s backstory revealed too much. Loved.

Read this author again? For sure. Already downloaded We Were Mothers.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. See the video of Zahner’s inspiring paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here which inspired her Dream books. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Friends Who Move Couches by CJ Zahner

Rating:           ?

General Rating: Strong female characters and Evy. Hope you love them. (Disclaimer: I had to put my own novel in the can’t-put-down category. You’ll have to decide for yourself!)

Favorite line: “Sometimes families rise out of the ashes together. Maybe with a smidge of dirt on their wings.”

Skip factor:  0%. Of course.

Who should read:  Any woman who values friendship.   

Summary:  This is almost a memoir.  

Nikki Grey’s idea of living dangerously is not wearing a seatbelt, yet calamity always seems to find her.

Married to a workaholic, mothering three rebellious kids, and feuding with neighborhood friends, Nikki forgets her problems one afternoon by smoking marijuana. That blunder ignites a lifelong yet dormant medical condition, and she loses her driver’s license. Suddenly stranded in her home, she’s forced to stare out the window at women who have ostracized her.

Her true friends encourage her to concentrate on her health, but Nikki is her own nemesis. She embarks on a scheme to win back neighborhood friends and plunges into efforts that only end in muddying her reputation. She becomes the butt of neighborhood jokes. Foolishly, her ache to mend her broken relationships escalates.

Not until her two-timing husband asks her a question that catapults her frivolous suburban life into a tailspin is she forced to stop reaching for others and stand on her own.

Storyline, characters, and author’s note:  

While my life, friends, family, and true-life quotes at the beginning of each chapter inspired much of this almost memoir, many aspects differ. 

First, it’s true I come from a small family and am frivolously addicted to friendship, but thankfully, I married Jeff Zahner, not Mark Grey. Throughout my thirty-eight-year marriage to Jeff, I often wondered how many men would so easily smirk and shake their heads at my escapades. In other words, I married a Blake the Pro right off the bat. Jeff and I have been faithful to each other since the day we met. (He assures me I can state this. He does not want to end up a character in one of my thrillers.)

Second, I’m not a cute, little blonde like Reese Witherspoon. I did this for your reading enjoyment. Imagine the same story with a frumpy, old, nagging brunette?

Third, I have one sibling, a brother, Mike. He is married to Barb. Mike is eleven years older than me. He began dating Barb when he was thirteen, and I was two, so Barb has been like a sister to me throughout life. This is a girly book, so I made Barb my sister. The hard, tragic, almost unbearable truth is Mike suffers from early-onset dementia, and Barb, from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

I do have three children who were rambunctiously mischievous throughout their childhood and teenage years, but I am happy to announce they have surpassed their father’s and my wildest expectations, superseding us in education, strength, courage, and character. My oldest daughter earned a master’s degree and has a resume grown men would kill for. She worked in the professional sports arena (Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, Wizards, and Rams). My son is an attorney. (He is also a poker player and pretty good golfer.) My youngest daughter grew up to challenge her father and I as much (if not more) than her two older siblings. She did become a teacher and is currently completing her doctorate in Special Education. Yes, I remain a royal pain in the butt to them, but no one will ever love them like their mother.

Finally, Jody and Val do not live by me. They were my first friends. Val and I played together in the nursery of St Luke’s Church in Erie, Pennsylvania alongside our mothers who attended mass there. Jody moved into my childhood neighborhood when she was two, and I was three. These two women are both brilliant, yet so interestingly opposite in nature that I transplanted them into my adult neighborhood. They remain the greatest of friends from afar. I love them both.

All other friend characters, from Carol and Carolyn to Doctor Jim, are real except for Evy and Ellie (who are the culmination of all my friends), and Janice Everglade (whom I hope I never meet). Reah and Natasha are not the real names of the two friends who broke my heart. Our parting was exaggerated for interest, but I do still struggle over the loss of their friendship. I have come to realize we were friends at a time when we needed each other most. I must trust God’s wisdom, wish them the best in life, and carry on.

One final note, I am truly a girl’s girl and wonderfully blessed with great friends. The one thing I am sure of in life is that the friends I do have would move bodies for me—and I, for them.   

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.