The Marsh Bird by Anne Brooker James

The Marsh Bird by Anne Brooker James
Publisher: Koehlerbooks
Genre: Historical, Mainstream fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Woven with murder, mystery, and magic, The Marsh Bird is a compelling story of a young, orphaned, multiracial girl from Louisiana and a white teen abandoned as an infant and raised by a local white fisherman, both embraced by the residents of a rural, Gullah Geechee sea island community. Set among descendants of those once enslaved in the lush marshes of the Lowcountry coast of South Carolina and Georgia, this is an unforgettable love story, and a tale of survival that proves it is the bonds of love and care that create a family.

This is a stunning new novel that is filled with surprises and emotional ups and downs. The Gullah Geechee culture is presented in a sensitive way, and readers will sympathize with their struggles and the strength they show to deal with their challenging circumstances.

Their traditions are laced with spirituality, making them people with depth, and the author does well showing this. The relationships are realistic and draw out emotions.

To make the story even more intense, there is mystery and murder within these pages. Family and race are common themes that bring it all together beautifully. A love story spanning the growing years of the young protagonists is tender. Then the young man must go off to war. He does not realize that he becomes a father while he’s gone. Will his true love ever see him again?

If you enjoy reading about other cultures and times, this is a great book to check out. It was well done with memorable characters.

* How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder

* How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Grey Brooks is on a mission to keep her career afloat now that the end of her long-running teen TV show has her (unsuccessfully) pounding the pavement again. With a life-changing role on the line, she’s finally desperate enough to agree to her publicist’s scheme: fake a love affair with a disgraced Hollywood heartthrob who needs the publicity, but for very different reasons.

Ethan Atkins just wants to be left alone. Between his high-profile divorce, struggles with drinking, and grief over the death of his longtime creative partner and best friend, Ethan has slowly let himself fade into the background. But if he ever wants to produce the last movie he and his partner wrote together, Ethan needs to clean up his reputation and step back into the spotlight. A gossip-inducing affair with a gorgeous actress might be just the ticket, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Though their juicy public relationship is less than perfect behind the scenes, it doesn’t take long before Grey and Ethan’s sizzling chemistry starts to feel like more than just an act. But after decades in a ruthless industry that requires bulletproof emotional armor to survive, are they too used to faking it to open themselves up to the real thing?

If you like Hollywood romance, don’t miss this one. This is Ava Wilder’s debut novel, and I was really impressed. I loved everything about this story and I devoured it from the first page. I have to admit, Hollywood stories are my weakness, so that is what drew me to this story. From the first page, I was transported into Ethan and Grey’s world and I fell in love with the story and the characters.

Ava Wilder takes the reader on an emotional journey through the ups and downs of trying to have a relationship in Hollywood. Ethan and Grey are two actors who need a career boost and agree to a fake relationship. Ethan was a huge star but has become a recluse in recent years and Grey was a child star and now wants to be taken seriously.

Ethan and Grey have tons of chemistry. Although they try to ignore the feelings they have for each other, until they can’t anymore. They have an easy banter and there is a lot of sexual tension between them. They are perfect together and they help each other become stronger and better.

Ethan has demons and he is just existing. He is a tortured emotional mess and he doesn’t know how to deal with his feelings. He has lost his direction in life. He feels hopeless and helpless, until Grey comes into his life. Grey is a breath of fresh air in Ethan’s reclusive life. She isn’t afraid to tell Ethan what is on her mind and I think that is what Ethan likes about her the most. That is, besides his crazy attraction to her. Grey slowly turns Ethan’s world bright again and I loved reading about it.

This is a fantastic book and it has all the elements I love. The characters are easy to connect with, it has great pacing, the story immediately captured my attention, I couldn’t put it down and I never wanted it to end. I can’t wait to find out what Ava Wilder will write next. I will be first in line to read it. Perfection.

A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Publisher: Amistad
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

A Woman of Endurance, set in nineteenth-century Puerto Rican plantation society, follows Pola, a deeply spiritual African woman who is captured and later sold for the purpose of breeding future slaves. The resulting babies are taken from her as soon as they are born. Pola loses the faith that has guided her and becomes embittered and defensive. The dehumanizing violence of her life almost destroys her. But this is not a novel of defeat but rather one of survival, regeneration, and reclamation of common humanity.

Readers are invited to join Pola in her journey to healing. From the sadistic barbarity of her first experiences, she moves on to receive compassion and support from a revitalizing new community. Along the way, she learns to recognize and embrace the many faces of love—a mother’s love, a daughter’s love, a sister’s love, a love of community, and the self-love that she must recover before she can offer herself to another. It is ultimately, a novel of the triumph of the human spirit even under the most brutal of conditions.

“When are you going to see that the only way we can carry our burdens is to share them?”

Pola, the woman once called Keera, has many reasons to be closed off emotionally, and definitely reason to be bitter and angry at everyone. In the beginning the author disclosed Lola’s broken spirit. The reader gets to see Lola at a point where she had given up and commits herself to the sea. The hurt and damage due to inhumane conditions and treatment, along with the deplorable brutality in the cold hearts of many men that surely can break a person physically, mentally and emotionally. I am glad that I kept reading and now understand that the details were important to knowing her full journey.

The author’s writing is impeccable. The content matter is one that can be hard to read but the author’s words were full of grace and shared so poetically. The untranslated Spanish phrases and words made me feel closer to the story. The purposeful word choice painted a picture that fit and flowed very well. Reading Pola’s story I felt an emotional pull. Reading about the social structure within slavery acknowledged that there’s some freedom only our mind can give us.

I loved seeing Pola’s strength and how the events became clearer and everything fell into place for her.

It has been a long journey, a journey that has taught Pola the greatest lesson of all, how to endure. What a treat for readers to see the damaged and broken Pola evolve to find security, to being loved and mostly she come to terms with those she lost or that were taken from her while on her journey.

Being enslaved it’s often that families are formed outside of blood ties. So this story is not only about Pola but those that accepted Pola, those that were patience while she healed. Those that offered her a family, and support , and that helped fill the emptiness that use to consume her. Pola has dwelt in the darkness for long enough and now she only needs to make a little space for others to enter and grow.

My takeaway from this book is we can get stuck in grief and loss, we have to face and address our hurts and we need the community of others to survive. This story is well worth reading.

Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine

Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine
Publisher: Tucker Bay Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Historical Re-Telling
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

“Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy” is an authentic account of the Cleveland Indians’ 1920 season and the incredible obstacles they overcame to beat out Babe Ruth’s destiny-favored New York Yankees and Shoeless Joe Jackson’s ill-fated Chicago White Sox for the American League pennant – most notably the devastating loss of their popular team captain and star shortstop, Ray Chapman.

Chapman, one of the most popular players in the game, was fatally beaned by the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays, a reputed head-hunter and one of the league’s most reviled characters, late in the season. Tied with the Yankees for the league lead at the time of the incident, the Indians all but fell out of the pennant race before taking up the battle cry “Do It for Chappie” and storming back to win the American League pennant – and subsequently the World Series.

Ironically, the 1920 season was supposed to be Chapman’s last as a player. The son of a poor miner, he’d married the daughter of a wealthy Cleveland family less than a year earlier following a storybook romance. Though still in his prime, he intended to retire from baseball when it came time to raise a family. He had found out his new bride was pregnant just weeks before he was killed.

No account of the 1920 season would be complete without the story of the infamous “Black Sox Scandal” in which the Chicago White Sox were accused of fixing the previous year’s World Series. The scandal’s exposure during the 1920 season had a direct bearing on the pennant race in which the Sox battled the Indians and Yankees down to the wire.

This book is written in the historical novel style, which allows the story to be told in the present tense through the eyes of the characters involved, portrayed as they are known to history. No documented facts are knowingly misrepresented or omitted. However, plausible dialogue, musings and minor scenarios are constructed to flesh out the characters and impart the rich flavor of baseball as it was played in the formative years of the modern game, just as the turbulent decade of Roaring Twenties was beginning to unfold.

A post-1920 epilogue and profiles of key characters are included.

A man, baseball and a bad accident…

I picked up this book because I’d watched Ken Burns’ Baseball and learned about Ray Chapman. He was beaned by a pitch in the 1920 baseball season. As a result of being brained by the ball, he died. It fascinated me that someone could be hurt that way–although not surprising–and I wanted to know about the player, not just the incident.

This is a historical re-telling, so some liberties are taken with the characters. I won’t lie, it can be a bit jarring because I expected the story to be more factual, not so much a fictionalization. That said, it’s still interesting and I read it over the course of a couple days.

Ray is a sympathetic character because he’s just gotten married, is happy and his wife is now pregnant, but it’s been suggested by his in-laws that he give up baseball. All he wants to do is get through this season and he’s done. Except this is the era of no batting helmets and dirty baseballs roughed up to make them curve, twist and make them nearly invisible when pitched.

I felt so bad for Ray and his wife. They had big plans, and no one came out unscathed. I felt for his team, too. They were shattered, but at least they rallied for their fallen comrade.

If you like a good baseball story, an underdog story and one that will stick with you after the last page, then this one is for you.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Snowdrop

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man—also named Jonathan Safran Foer—sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis.

Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather’s village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. As his search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power.

This is a book about a young boy who finds an old, yellowed photo and is determined to find a lady in it who possibly saved his grandfather. It’s a look back upon a time of war and of the Nazis obliterating everything. It leads to many old memories, good, funny, and sad.

Everything is Illuminated has won many awards. It’s praised by the NY Times, Library Journal, the Washington Post, and many more. The author, Jonathan Safran Foer, was only 21 when he wrote it. In that view, it is amazing that such a work was written and published. It was even made into a movie. I found it difficult to read. Not because of its vulgarisms although there are many, but more so due to the broken English spoken by their translator who travels with them to the place where his grandfather lived. There are times it is hard to read because of the Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews, but that is not badly written, only hard to read because of the subject.

The author named the main character after himself. It caused me to wonder if the story was in its own way autobiographical as well as fictitious? There are some very poignant moments in Jonathan Safran’s journey. I wonder if the author has experienced the same feelings, the same sadness? It may be why although somewhat difficult to read, there can be no question the book is well-written. There are moments that come together and make you feel ashamed that you did not have to share the horror the Jews did during the war. Moments so well-written that you feel that you understand and yet know that you can never understand what the Jewish people experienced.

Is this a book you should read? I think it’s an experience many would gain from. It might be a story you shouldn’t pass by.

Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Sworn to Fly by Maria Imbalzano

Sworn to Fly by Maria Imbalzano
(Sworn Sisters Series) Book 3 of 3
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Mistflower

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Risk-averse ER nurse, Alyssa Beckman, is about to lose her job because of yet another bad decision. In order to put her life back on track, she books a week at a rustic mountain resort to ponder her next steps and rejuvenate. But when she arrives, she learns she’s enrolled in boot camp, an adventure program far out of her comfort zone.

While there, she meets Gabriel Sutton, a world-travelling high-fashion photographer who is in danger of losing his clients as well as his status if he doesn’t start following the rules. While hiking, kayak racing, and participating in team challenges, sparks fly between Alyssa and Gabe as they encourage each other to take different life paths. But will those paths lead them farther apart or bring them closer together?


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snowdrop

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a widely published author and this book, Between the World and Me, is the first of his works I have read. One of those we are all familiar with that he wrote is the Black Panther series of Marvel comics. Between the World and Me is a letter to his son. A letter to try and prepare him for the world he will grow up in.

This book is well-written, almost poetic at times. It also has an angry tone or at least it did to me. I would never pretend I could understand the trials and tribulations that a Black man in our country has had to live through, still must endure. Some of this is powerful and hurtful. It was difficult for me to admit I live in a society that could be guilty of such things.

On the other hand, I’m a solutions person, a problem solver. While I know we can’t make racism disappear overnight, I guess I was hoping the letter would be a document of Coates instructing his son about how he had the opportunity to change things. This is not that. It does not have an uplifting tone. It is the story of a Black man and what he had to live through. While it might not have been what I was expecting or even what I wanted to hear, I know it was a valuable read.

Secrets of a River Swimmer by S.S. Turner

Secrets of a River Swimmer by S.S. Turner
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Rose

As Freddy gazes at the majestic river gushing past him in the depths of a Scottish winter, he’s ready to jump in and end his life. But what happens next is not what Freddy expects. From the moment he enters the river, Freddy starts a journey which is more beautiful, funny, and mysterious than he could have imagined. And through this journey Freddy’s story becomes interweaved with a cast of unforgettable characters who are equally lost and in search of answers. Eventually they all unite in their quest for an answer to the biggest question of them all: will the river take them where they want to go?

In the tradition of inspirational works of fiction like The Alchemist and Life of Pi, Secrets of a River Swimmer is at once a profound exploration into living with meaning and an affecting story of people on the cusp of change.

This is a beautifully written, almost lyrical, account of one man and how the river saved his life – quite literally. Freddy is tired of life – tired of modern living, tired of cell phones, tired of the rat race. He’s ready to give it all up and slips into a cold winter river – to let his life slip away.

And, in one sense, it does just that. It slips away and he is left with so much more at the end of the book than when he started. Between the beginning and the end, he learns about himself, about life, about death, and he makes friends along the way with a very wise fish who has wonderful comments and commentary on life.

This book not only held my attention throughout, wondering what would happen to Freddy next, but it also gave me things to wonder about and things to ponder. It’s magical at times, tragic at times, laugh out loud funny at times. It not only entertained me, it uplifted me. It’s hard to believe this is the author’s first book.

Kudos, Mr. Turner. I will definitely be on the lookout for you in the future. 5 stars.

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Wahala by Nikki May

Wahala by Nikki May
Publisher: Custom House
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Ginger

An incisive and exhilarating debut novel following three Anglo-Nigerian best friends and the lethally glamorous fourth woman who infiltrates their group—the most unforgettable girls since Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha.

Ronke wants happily ever after and 2.2. kids. She’s dating Kayode and wants him to be “the one” (perfect, like her dead father). Her friends think he’s just another in a long line of dodgy Nigerian boyfriends.

Boo has everything Ronke wants—a kind husband, gorgeous child. But she’s frustrated, unfulfilled, plagued by guilt, and desperate to remember who she used to be.

Simi is the golden one with the perfect lifestyle. No one knows she’s crippled by impostor syndrome and tempted to pack it all in each time her boss mentions her “urban vibe.” Her husband thinks they’re trying for a baby. She’s not.

When the high-flying, charismatic Isobel explodes into the group, it seems at first she’s bringing out the best in each woman. (She gets Simi an interview in Shanghai! Goes jogging with Boo!) But the more Isobel intervenes, the more chaos she sows, and Ronke, Simi, and Boo’s close friendship begins to crack.

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The author presents a modern storytelling about three Anglo-Nigerian best friends Ronke, Boo and Simi. The characters are well developed with realistic personalities. The author gives the readers a glimpse into each of the character’s perspectives, their imperfections, their fears and their secrets. I enjoyed their friendship and the closeness the ladies shared. Will their friendship still remain when (Wahala) trouble comes?

Ronke is a dentist and the cook of the group who has a boyfriend she can’t depend on, and a client turned stalker. She wants the happy ever after but is her boyfriend Kayode actually the one? I wanted Kayode to act right or leave Ronke alone. He didn’t appear to be the strong man that she needed, so I agreed with her friends about him.

Boo made a statement “She made me hate my life.” when in fact that’s what she displayed to others. Boo seems to have the life that any woman would dream of. A husband, nicknamed Tubby Hubby by Isobel, willing to work and take care of things around the house, and a bratty 5-year-old daughter. But to her, her life is boring and unfulfilled. At times I didn’t like Boo, but then other times I could understand why she felt the way she did. She wanted someone else’s life, to be someone else but didn’t see that what she had a lot of women pray for.

Simi is her own woman with a doting husband who desperately wants to have children, but Simi isn’t ready to have children or to share this fact with her soon to be 40-year-old husband, Martin. I enjoyed the way Simi and her husband took time to talk to each other often despite the different in time zones. I wanted her to come clean with her husband on not wanting a child right now.

Even though the women were warned that the Babangari family was rotten, Isobel still made her glamorous appearance befriending the ladies and in her subtle and sly way wanting to know more about them. She starts out with friendly advice, working her way to gain their trust making everyone believe she’s an asset to the group. Even though I was suspicious of her to begin with, Isobel had a way about her that draws people to her. As the reader, I knew what was happening and I kept reading hoping one of the ladies would figure it out. I didn’t care for Isobel, but her character was well thought out and written. Isobel was able to find the ladies weak points and use it against them.

I enjoyed reading this book. It gave such insight on various cultures, languages and recipes. Their friendship circle does remind me of the reality housewives shows. The author created characters with personal issues that many women face. She revealed to readers the characters true self, their secrets and thoughts that for some reason they haven’t shared with others in their clique. At one point the ladies seem to have it all and then another they appear fragile and vulnerable.

The pace of the book flowed well. The author gave enough of their daily happenings, so it didn’t drown out the storyline. A few times, I wanted to rush the storyline, but I understood once I got to the end that it was part of the development for the ending. It’s an overall good read. It made me appreciate what I have and not take others for granted but to be open and not harbor secrets that could very well hurt others. There’s a saying ‘hindsight is 20-20’. Once the ladies’ world was shaken up, they each wanted to go back to what they had or it revealed a different way that they could have handled things.

An impressive read layered with culture and populated by characters that are so real readers may find it hard to forget them. This isn’t a housewife’s tale but a story of friendship, jealousy, betrayal and hopefully a tool so that you’ll see trouble when it comes.

Disjointed Lives by Morgan Sheppard

Disjointed Lives by Morgan Sheppard
Publisher: Elemental Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Promotions Manager, Ava Reese, has all she ever wanted: a fantastic husband, a great job, a good life. But her past haunts her.

Although she thought she had left the darkness behind long ago, her dreams start to haunt her during the day, making her question everything she has.

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It’s never too late to seek out a happy ending.

This could have easily veered into speculative fiction territory, so I was pleasantly surprised by how the author found logical explanations for everything that happened in Ava’s life that felt a little unusual. Some of it could be explained by the turmoil she was experiencing at home, while other pieces of the puzzle took a little more work to put together. The author pulled it off, though, and I smiled at how everything was wrapped up in the end.

There were some portions of the timeline that never quite made sense to me. For example, I was confused by how and when Ava and Paige resumed their friendship after not speaking to each other for a decade. I also had some questions about how Ava’s friendship with her kind coworker began. It would have been helpful to have more information about topics like these.

The ending was well done. It explained everything it needed to explain, but it also left ample room for a sequel. I’d love to know what happened to Ava and her husband after the final scene that mentioned them, so I’d be thrilled if I ever get a chance to learn more about them. With that being said, it was also nice to sit with my thoughts and ponder the many possibilities of their future. Sometimes real life is every bit as open to interpretation, after all!

Disjointed Lives was a thought-provoking read.