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.

The Shadow Box by Luanne Rice

Rating:                              9

General Rating:  A mystery that captures your attention in the beginning.

Skip factor: I skipped 5%, possibly a bit more, in the last third of the novel.

Who should read:  Anyone who enjoys mystery novels or books about the greed of the wealthy.

Summary:  On the day of artist Claire Beaudry Chase’s art exhibit, someone attacks her and hangs her in the garage of her home, leaving her for dead. But when the board she is strung from breaks, and she wakes up on the floor, the reader slips inside her head and hears her thoughts. Griffin Chase, her husband, is running for governor and has the backing of their entire community—the wealthy, police force, everyone. The man who struck and tied her from the rafter wore a mask. Could it have been her husband?

She crawls out of the garage, meanders through the woods, and falls asleep at a cabin she knows from childhood. There, more of Claire’s thoughts are sporadically revealed to the reader about Griffin and the people who have a hand in backing him for governor. Who can she trust?

Years before, Griffin’s girlfriend, Ellen, died suspiciously. Now Claire has disappeared. Is he a murderer and if so will he get away with it? Or will someone find the clues of Ellen’s death in Claire’s shadow box art exhibit?

Characters:  This author has a true gift for character development—of both those loved and of those a reader loves to hate. Her opening has readers pulling for Claire immediately. I’m not spoiling the story by saying, equally, readers do not like her husband. The main investigator, too, catches a reader by surprise. You want to like him. Can you? And while there are a plethora of other characters, the story will have you guessing who are the good guys and who are the bad.

Storyline:  The representation of the upper class seemed realistic and interesting. Beginning with a murder attempt will keep readers turning pages throughout. The unfolding of the story, a woman who cheats death and hides away to mend and then revenge herself, is grabbing. There are some surprises in the last third of the book and while I usually like surprises, a few twists and turns seemed a unrealistic.

Writing:  The first half of this book reads like a bestseller. It was tremendous. A 9.5. The second half slowed but not enough to discourage me from reading. This book held my attention. If, like me, you are a fan of white space, you might skip some of those long paragraphs toward the end to get to the meat of the mystery.

Read this author again? Yes. This is my first Rice novel but it won’t be my last.

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 InstagramTwitterFacebook, GoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch

Rating:           8

General Rating: Strong female characters win me over every time. They will you, too, in this insightful yet humorous story of a woman running for president.

Favorite line: “Emily shrugged as if, well, it was what it was so she became the full-time parent. Not because he was better at his job than she was, not because she was dying to pack lunches and fold laundry and run all the soccer carpools, but because in the default of the gender hierarchy, for some reason, the man’s needs came first.”

Skip factor:  2%. Maybe? I skipped little.

Who should read:  Feminists, single mothers, politically-aspired, or career-driven women. (Have I missed any women? If I have, add them, too.)   

Summary: Senator Cleo McDougal’s parents died when she was young, but before her father passed, he inspired her to keep a list of regrets—so she could learn from her mistakes. Now she is a contender for a presidential nomination, and when an estranged high school friend writes a damaging op-ed, Cleo must face some of the regrets on her list.

Cleo’s chief of staff, Gaby, detests Cleo admitting mistakes. But when she realizes Cleo has maintained a list of regrets all her life (thirty-nine years), Gaby decides surviving the op-ed and future revelations a presidential candidacy will evoke might fare better if Cleo makes amends with the high school friend—publicly. Though not completely sincere, Cleo’s public apology receives favorable feedback, and Gaby encourages her to address all of her regrets. Cleo explains she has over 200 on her list so they agree upon fixing ten, and the story cascades into the various situations that any woman, who has even the slightest of ambition, might face.   

Characters:  Scotch developed her characters into true-to-life people.  

Cleo is a single mother who is well-liked, hard-working, and competitive. She worked her way up the political ladder through sheer determination. I didn’t love her. I’m sure the author would not take offense. Cleo had a journey to make. She is the main character and, as in all novels, had a lesson to learn.   

Lucas – Is a typical fourteen-year-old with an atypical life. Through no fault of his own (isn’t everything a mother’s fault?), he is living within the political arena. To make matters worse, his birth father’s identity has been withheld from him. He floats in and out of the story adding to Cleo’s guilt load because, well, don’t all teenagers?

Gaby –  Is an intelligent, mostly loyal, feminist, and long-time friend of Cleo. She makes the hard decisions for her boss. Unlike Cleo, Gaby has a side fling going on which continually reminds Cleo that she does not.

Arianna – Is Cleo’s assistant. She is also a smart, hardworking woman (I love the strong female characters in this novel) but has one major drawback. She apologizes profusely, which adds much to Cleo’s story.

Georgie – Is Cleo’s much older sister whom she is not close to. Georgie comes in at the final hour to help.

The guys – Is it bad that I don’t remember much of them or care that I remember much about them? There is an important politician, Wolf, an ex-boyfriend, Matty, a biological father, Doug, and a newscaster, Bowen. Each is placed in the story to highlight the different standards applied to women in life as opposed to those expected of men.

Storyline:  This is the story of womanhood, the struggles they face today, the mistakes they make, the insecurities they have, and their ultimate strength and resilience. Cleo McDougal needed to learn a lesson. She had to accept her imperfectness. And while she may be a presidential candidate, everyday women, especially working mothers or single moms, can relate to her life. While society is hard on us, we are sometimes our hardest critics.   

Writing:  The writing was easy, interesting, and balanced. Just enough white space for someone like me who loves dialogue but not too much.

Read this author again? Absolutely.  

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.