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.

We Were Mothers by Katie Sise

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: Need a can’t-put-down read? I read this in a few days. Get past the first chapters, and you won’t be able to put it down. It gets better and better.

Skip factor:  0% I skipped not a word.

Who should read:  Readers who don’t mind multiple characters. Mothers and grandmothers.

Summary: The story opens at a birthday party for two-year-old twins, Lucy and George. All of the major characters are in attendance. The twins’ mother, Cora, finds someone has left the diary of her babysitter, Mira, on her bed during the party. The diary has one entry, and it is about Cora’s husband, Sam.

While Cora delves into the truth of the entry, the story turns to Mira’s parents, neighbors Laurel & Dash, who have a secret of their own. A bedroom secret—Dash is more than a little rough during love-making.

Switch to Jade & Jeremy. Jade’s best friend Maggie (Cora’s sister) was killed in an automobile accident. Jade is now close with Cora and Maggie’s mother, Sarah. Jeremy is the hunk of a guy whom every woman at the party secretly watches. Both Jade and Jeremy hide secrets, too.

As if those storylines aren’t enough, the day after the birthday party, Mira disappears.

Characters:  As in many beginnings, it was hard to keep the characters straight. Here’s a key to help readers keep the main three couples straight:

Cora & Sam
              Kids Lucy & George
              Sarah is Cora’s mom. Her dad, Clark, is remarried to Abby.
Laurel and Dash
              Kids Anna & Mira
Jade & Jeremy
              No kids. Jade was best friends with Maggie. Jeremy is hot.  

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.

Defending Jacob

Name:                        Defending Jacob

Author:                      William Landay

Rating:                       10

BEST BOOK CLUB RATING

General Rating:        This novel is great from the beginning, meaty in the middle, and unable-to-put-down in the end. One of my all-time favorites, Defending Jacob is one of only two books I’ve read cover to cover twice. The surprise for me? I didn’t skip a word during the second read and if you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m a skipper. Love, love, love, love, loved this one.

Skip factor:               

0%  (A double zero, actually.)

Who should read:            

Adults, men and women, and especially parents.

Summary:  This is the story of a father, Andy Barber, and his unending defense of his son, Jacob. The title is perfect. Told from Andy’s perspective, the novel unfolds through a parent’s eyes and thoughts. Andy is a District Attorney who finds his son is a suspect in a murder case.

Characters:  After reading this twice, I had to ask myself if I had a connection with the characters. While I normally evaluate characters along the way, the compelling storyline of this novel kept me thinking of nothing more than what would happen next. After sitting back and evaluating, I realize part of the reason I loved the book so much was due to the characters.

Andy – I loved the voice of this novel and the voice is Andy’s. Brilliantly, he poses questions to the reader because what would a parent do if their son was accused of murder? How loyal would they be? When damning evidence arises, the reader doesn’t realize that Andy uses trial-attorney charm to coax them to his side. He drags empathy from the readers like a defense attorney from a jury.

Laurie –  Jacob’s mother is portrayed perfectly. She’s honest. She poses questions that sometimes floor her husband. She asks what the readers can’t. Always secondary to Andy, Laurie often depicted the undulating emotion that a parent of a child accused of murder might truly feel.

Jacob – Perfect. You aren’t exactly sure what he feels, so none of the story is revealed through Jacob. Readers are left guessing about his true nature. Is he narcissistic? Or just a teenager boy being careless in his teenage world? I volleyed these two opinions throughout the novel.

Minor characters – I did not like the prosecuting attorney, as I’m sure was the author’s intention. The author introduces all characters through Andy’s eyes. The kids interviewed were interesting and added to the story at exactly the time needed. Andy’s legal friends seemed authentic—torn, loyal, empathetic, and a bit judging all in one. They help make the story believable.

Storyline: This is a great storyline. What makes it superior to other novels is its tone and the author’s writing style.

Writing style:    POV is on cue, flawless. The entire tale unfolds through Andy’s eyes only. This is single POV at its best.

Landay’s writing is flawless. He doesn’t overwrite scenes. There are no too-wordy descriptions. He shows and tells magnificently. He “tells” interestingly by using Andy’s inner thoughts.

The story is believable. Landay’s readers feel as if they’re sitting in the courtroom during the day and go home with Andy at night.

When people ask me to recommend a book, I tell them Defending Jacob, hands down.

Read this author again: Yes. Because I loved his writing, I’ll read any novel by this author. I need to sort through my to-read list and open up space for one.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11, or listen to its podcast. Download her Beyond Reality Radio interview or listen to its apple podcast. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.