Book Review – THE HOUSE OF CLOSED DOORS

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THE HOUSE OF CLOSED DOORS by Jane Steen centers around Nell Lillington, an unwed pregnant young woman bearing the burden of a secret. To avoid scandal, her stepfather arranges for lodging at a poor farm where she will remain until the baby is born and subsequently adopted. Her disgraceful condition must be kept hidden as her stepfather seeks political office. To protect her ailing mother, Nell agrees to his terms. Living among others deemed unfit for existence, she nurtures stifled independence and befriends her roommate, a young female afflicted with Down’s Syndrome. After the birth of her child, Nell is determined to keep her baby and seeks help from a close friend. But the discovery of two bodies, a young woman and her baby, places Nell and her newborn in the crosshairs of a surprising foe. She resorts to blackmail as a final attempt to ensure their safety, but blackmail has its time limits.

Readers should know this is not a stand-alone novel. Nell’s journey continues in two more books; thus, the ending leaves a ‘hanging’ effect. If you prefer a novel’s conclusion neatly packaged in a bow, this is not the book for you. However, those who seek historical fiction bundled in trios will be pleasantly entertained. Set during the 1870s, the historical aspects of the poor farm are well researched, and Steen describes the period with accuracy. Her word structuring is eloquent, graceful, and intelligent.

I look forward to reading more of her work.

Book Reviews

Book Review – LIAR’S WINTER

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LIAR’S WINTER by Cindy Sproles paints a tale of extraordinary beauty colored with all shades of humanity. Set in the Appalachian Mountains of nineteenth-century East Tennessee, a newborn, stolen from the arms of her mother, is raised by an abusive couple. The absence of parental nurturing, coupled with constant chores, is the only existence Lochiels known. A superstition, long-held by mountain folk, breeds fear and prejudice towards the teenager, known to locals as “the Devil’s daughter.” However, guided by Edna and Walton, she journeys along a path of self-revelation, exposing secrets that forever bind the three together. But, driven by vengeance, the man she called brother threatens to destroy her new family.

The author’s portrayal of dialect is remarkable. As a fast reader, I found myself slowing down to grasp the language and thoughts of the characters sufficiently. The dialect represents the period as well as its location, providing richness and depth to the story. Beautiful!

A message of love, healing, and forgiveness is gently packaged within this novel. The author’s words bleed heart and soul. A true gift. Historical fiction readers will appreciate Sproles’s style, but Lochiel’s story is the real star.

“The choices we make are what makes us who we are.”

Book Reviews

Book Review – STAY

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STAY by Catherine Ryan Hyde illustrates how minor decisions can have a life-altering impact. A recluse, two best friends, and one battle-scarred brother are united by a chance decision for a running path. This encounter will not save one life but three.

Written in first-person, Lucas gives a bird’s eye view of his relationship as a teenage boy with Zoe Dinsmore, the town recluse. His friendship with Zoe will heal his best friend, Conner, from a dark path and save his own brother from a life-crippling addiction. Zoe, too, faces her own demons and discovers healing is best in the company of others.

I enjoyed the relationship dynamics of the primary characters. At times, the story is a bit dry. Given the protagonist, though, it is entirely on par with how it should be told. Hyde does a marvelous job integrating personalities specific to each character. A withdrawn teenage boy. A defensive and snarky recluse. A drug-seeking ex-vet. All three merge together under the watchful eye of dependable Lucas, trying to make sense of his own world. Hyde validates one person can truly make a difference.

Those readers who need healing should give STAY a chance. I can’t promise miracles, but it always helps to know that you’re not alone.

Book Reviews

Book Review – THE LIFE & TIMES OF PERSIMMON WILSON

The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson by Nancy Peacock

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*Based on others’ comments, I preface this review by stating: do not view the 1860s through rose-colored glasses. The violence depicted by the author was an everyday reality. Though hard to read at times, there are no explicit details. It is a simple statement of fact. That being said, I would recommend this for mature audiences only.*

The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson by Nancy Peacock follows the journey of a man’s rise from slavery to Comanche warrior. Left for dead, Persimmon Wilson travels across state lines to rescue the woman he loves from the clutches of a horrid man, a man he’d rather see dead than alive. With the Civil War at his heels, Persy traverses a hostile frontier accompanied by two unlikely companions. As tragedy swirls around him, he loses the will to live and submits to his fate. The Comanche warriors, however, interpret his indifference as courage and welcome him as one of their own, training him in their way of life. In the end, Persimmon Wilson realizes death will not be cheated, and love doesn’t always win.

The vivid imagery elicited by Peacock’s prose never sugar-coats the truth of human degradation. She proves not all endings are happy, depicting human nature at its worst. Her characters are multi-dimensional and paint a harsh reality of survival across an untamed wilderness. Despite Persy’s escape from slavery, he’s thrust into an Indian world riddled with the same level (if not more) of violence. The only difference now, he’s executing the punishment. This psychological aspect deserves literary analysis.

Peacock provides the proper amount of tension with one exception. The story’s seamless flow stumbles with Persy’s life among the Comanches. At this point, too much repetitive action lulls the story’s tension when it should be at its highest. On a positive note, her utilization of period dialect gives credence and authenticity to the read. However, those offended by specific language should seek a gentler version of historical fiction. The author doesn’t hold punches. But then again, neither does reality.

Book Reviews

Book Review – WHEN WE WERE BRAVE

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When We Were Brave by Karla M. Jay weaves three narratives together, revealing how individual lives were affected by the Nazis during WWII. An SS officer risks his life as well as his families to expose Hitler’s atrocities. A German family confronts hostility from their American neighbors. An eight-year-old Jewish boy imprisoned within the war camps.

Personally, I am not a fan of perspective jumping. This style of writing, for me, at least, prevents the immersive reading experience that provides a deeper connection with the main character or characters. However, for educational purposes, the content is exceptional and should be mandatory reading for every high school across the world. Jay provides discussion questions along with authentic connections with her characters. It is easy to read ‘facts’ from history books but is incomparable to the tragedies and emotions experienced through the eyes of those affected. The naivety of the eight-year-old Jewish boy is the most palpable. His innocence clings to a family reunion despite the horrors he faces each day. Jay portrays, with remarkable precision, the psychological and physical turmoil experienced by the characters, giving the reader a glimpse into a reality endured over seventy years ago.

Without revealing any plot details, I did have an issue with one aspect of the story. The SS officer risks everything to expose the truth and is frustrated when his actions, or rather inactions, are questioned by the American government resulting in thousands of more deaths each passing day his claims are investigated. But when he is offered the opportunity to bring forth information upon his surrender, he keeps silent for months. It was hard to reconcile this behavior with his character’s purpose, and the impact of his story was weakened. Despite this minor flaw, I would definitely recommend this book for all historical fiction readers.

*I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.*

Reedsy – The Discovery Team

Book Reviews

Book Review – IN BETWEEN

In Between by Jenny B. Jones book cover

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In Between by Jenny B. Jones captures the essence of family dynamics seasoned with a sprinkle of humor (Okay, maybe more than a sprinkle). Katie, a sixteen-year-old ward of the state, is fostered by a pastor and his wife. However, determined to return to her group home immediately, Katie is her own worst enemy. But the unyielding acceptance her new foster parents wield, knocks her off a troubled course, setting her on a path less traveled. With Chihuahua’s as her new school mascot, Katie’s ‘small town nightmare’ converts a not-so-troubled teen into a foster parent’s hero.

I loved this book! The star, besides Katie herself, has to be ‘psycho granny’ – Maxine Simmons is a gum-smacking, energy-drink-guzzling, wheelie-popping demon. Her antics and geriatric (I say this loosely) spirit kept me laughing. With a foster granny like Maxine, Katie is plopped smack in the middle of crazy, learning to embrace the unexpected. Beyond the humor, though, the author keeps the relationship wheel turning, proving acceptance, friendship, and forgiveness are found where we least expect them.

Feel-good. Laugh out loud. Clean humor at its best! I may have to convert my favorite genre from historical fiction to somewhere in between. 😉

Book Reviews

Book Review – THE DRESSMAKER’S GIFT

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The Dressmaker’s Gift by Fiona Valpy depicts the sheer tenacity of the human spirit. Bonded by more than their living conditions, Claire, Vivienne, and Mirielle take a stand against the Nazi’s as they occupy Paris during the 1940s. Their jobs as seamstress’ provide the perfect cover in a world of rising fashion, but their loyalty and friendship to one another may cost them everything. In present-day Paris, Claire’s granddaughter, Harriet, seeks to uncover the missing pieces of her past and accept her mother’s suicide. Her purpose, however, is more connected to her grandmother than she realizes.

Overall, Valpy provides a glimpse into the life of the people surviving in Nazi-occupied Paris. She recounts the rationing of food, the implementation of curfews, and the lack of coal. But The Dressmaker’s Gift is more about the friendships of Claire, Vivienne, and Mirielle – a bond set against the backdrop of war. The story of Harriet is minimal and, in my opinion, serves only to elevate the books ending – an ending that moved me to tears with an unexpected but heart-warming revelation. The mention of inherited trauma, however, caused me to drop my rating from 5 to 4 stars. This is a dangerous assumption to put into a society grappling with a rise in mental health issues. But then again, this is historical fiction.

If you seek a novel about friendships, war, and survival, look no further. Set during the turmoil of WWII, The Dressmaker’s Gift will both warm your heart and touch your soul.

Book Reviews

Book Review – THE GIRL WHO WROTE IN SILK

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The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes is a beautiful representation of Chinese culture amidst American prejudice in the Northwest during the 1880s. Mei Lien, a Chinese American girl, confronts both prosperity and tragedy. After a series of horrific events, the deep wounds to her heart begin to heal thru a most unexpected union. By implementing the ancient art of Chinese embroidery, she leaves the story of her ancestors as well as her own intricately woven into a piece of fabric for future generations. Her story is revealed when Inara, a recent college graduate, discovers this hidden antiquity over a century later. On a path of self-discovery, Inara is on a collision course with her own truth – a truth that is hard to accept. Will she do right by Mei Lien or keep her secret hidden?

Estes proves we are more connected than we think. The anti-Chinese sentiment from the late 1800s is a fragment of history discarded among a pile of ugly truths. Estes executes the interweaving of the present and the past with ease. She made connections where I least expected them; and, I experienced Mei Lien’s pain, her heart-break, and her love. The strength of the human spirit is threaded through her story.

Unaware of this piece of history, I embarked on learning more. The best aspects of reading historical fiction are the real stories behind the fictional words. Mei Lien’s account may be more fact than fiction.

Book Reviews

Book Review – THE KING OF KRESKIN AVENUE

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The King of Kreskin Avenue by A. K. Vitberg is an exceptionally written and emotionally moving coming-of-age novel. Mario Colucci, known to the youth of Kreskin Avenue as “the King,” suffers from PTSD as a result of his service during the Korean War. Robbie, a Kreskin Avenue youth, tutors Mario’s son, who endures ridicule and isolation because of a medical condition. Robbie witnesses there’s more to the Colucci family than meets the eye, and an unspoken bond is forged between the veteran and the teen. It is the death of Robbie’s brother, though, that sets in motion a series of events that will affect thousands.

Honestly, I am not one for a coming-of-age novel but was touched beyond words by this book. The domino effect of war is the underlying theme. Vitberg reminds us there are invisible scars even though the physical wounds of war have healed, and a charismatic young boy can return from battle a shell of his former self. Amusing anecdotes are peppered throughout the chapters, revealing a more straightforward way of life – a time when life revolved around the neighborhood, and the internet was non-existent.

This novel is a must-read but be prepared with tissue in hand to shed tears, for we are remembered in death for who we were in life.

*I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.*

Reedsy – The Discovery Team

Book Reviews

Book Review – IT CALLS TO ME

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It Calls to Me by Victoria Walsh is a paranormal thriller that is sure to keep you guessing. The core of the novel revolves around a curse and a young girl’s determination to uncover the truth. She dedicates years of research to understand a town tragedy and the leader who led to its demise. Ultimately, she reveals the basis of a curse that has kept her family in paranormal bondage for generations. There is an underlying theme of overcoming family demons, battling isolation, and prevailing as the victor. Look elsewhere for warm family stories. Here, they are
non-existent.

The basis of the story is intriguing and unique but needs more substance-meat on the bones. The frequent time jumps prevent connection with the protagonist, and specific aspects of the story were confusing, while some trajectories were never fully explained. In the end, I was left wishing for more ‘thriller’ to the paranormal.

It Calls to Me will appeal to those looking for a light paranormal read minus the intensity often associated with paranormal thrillers.

Book Reviews