American Daughters by Piper Huguley

American Daughters by Piper Huguley
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

In the vein of America’s First Daughter, Piper Huguley’s historical novel delves into the remarkable friendship of Portia Washington and Alice Roosevelt, the daughters of educator Booker T. Washington and President Teddy Roosevelt.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a time of great change, two women—separated by societal status and culture but bound by their expected roles as the daughters of famed statesmen—forged a lifelong friendship.

Portia Washington’s father Booker T. Washington was formerly enslaved and spent his life championing the empowerment of Black Americans through his school, known popularly as Tuskegee Institute, as well as his political connections. Dedicated to her father’s values, Portia contributed by teaching and performing spirituals and classical music. But a marriage to a controlling and jealous husband made fulfilling her dreams much more difficult.

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, his eldest daughter Alice Roosevelt joined him in the White House. To try to win her father’s approval, she eagerly jumped in to help him succeed, but Alice’s political savvy and nonconformist behavior alienated as well as intrigued his opponents and allies. When she married a congressman, she carved out her own agendas and continued espousing women’s rights and progressive causes.

Brought together in the wake of their fathers’ friendship, these bright and fascinating women helped each other struggle through marriages, pregnancies, and political upheaval, supporting each other throughout their lives.

A provocative historical novel and revealing portrait, Piper Huguley’s American Daughters vividly brings to life two passionate and vital women who nurtured a friendship that transcended politics and race over a century ago.

This is an inspiring story about two women who form an unexpected friendship that transcends their different social statuses, politics, and race. It showcases historical figures that we are familiar with, such as Portia Washington the daughter of the famous educator, Booker T. Washington, and Alice Roosevelt, the President of the United States at the time, Teddy Roosevelt. The journey of these two women is a testament to their resilience and the power of friendship.

I enjoyed reading and learning about the strengths and resilience of the two fascinating women in the book. The author did a fantastic job of crafting a tale that navigated the life and friendship of Portia and Alice. It was interesting to see how their bond exceeded wealth, privilege, race, and cultural background – from their start as “Good Daughters” to their eventual “Liberation” as individuals. As I read, I saw that they were both women of intelligence, determination, and hope. Their differences were obvious but the similarities to me are what drew them together, and the bond formed from there is what forged their relationship that lasted over a century.

The book alternates between the voices of Portia and Alice. I could not help but be drawn to their strong but lady-like characteristics. Their historical significance is one to notice as it shows their influential relevance as they navigated their famous title of American daughters during their roles as wives, mothers, and women facing various relevant life issues that many of which still apply today.

Portia’s husband, Sid Pittman, was a source of trouble that I knew Portia should have avoided. Although I could sympathize with his internal struggle as his father-in-law, Mr. Washington, mentioned to his daughter, Portia about the challenges that men of color in an industry where “Negro men have never gotten to do before.” I am sure that with Booker T. Washington as his father-in-law, Sid was held to a high standard and expectations were set higher than he could achieve. However, it was difficult to understand why he channeled his anger towards damaging the spirit and minds of those who loved him. As for Alice, she is supporting her husband, Nick, during his political career as he is up to become the next Speaker of the House, and a surprise adds more excitement to her unconventional marriage of convenience.

I was glad to read American Daughters, but it did not captivate me as much as I expected. I found some slow spells of dialogue that made the story longer than necessary. Additionally, I did not think ahead of how the book would end, and I felt that all I read about was what the two ladies going through. I wanted more details of the ending that matched the energy of the earlier parts of the book. The book ended leaving me with only the assumption of how their lives would unfold after the last big reveal.

Portia and Alice were remarkable women who encountered many challenges throughout their lives. They always had each other to rely on, which was inspiring to read about. My takeaway from the book is that their beginning not only benefited them and that “motherless children must stick together” but it also changed the narrative for their daughters and their bond is a testament that will live on. This was an interesting story.

Exiles by L.J. Ambrosio

Exiles by L.J. Ambrosio
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction, Coming-of-Age
Rated: 4
Review by Rose

In this final chapter, Ron’s story concludes from Reflections on the Boulevard (2023). Michael’s wish was for Ron to exile himself in the heart of Paris with its beautiful culture and citizens as they protest and fight for the soul of the city. Ron’s journey is met with life-affirming friendships and lessons along the way. The final book in the Reflections of Michael Trilogy, which started with A Reservoir Man (2022).

I had the chance to review the final book in The Michael Trilogy. You can see our reviews of the first book, A Reservoir Man,  here and the second book, Reflections on the Boulevard, here.

This book continues Ron’s story after Michael dies. He self-exiles to Paris, per Michael’s advice, and he mentors a young man, Louie, much as Michael mentored him in the previous book.

Not only do we get to see how the characters grow and change over the course of the book, we’re given an extremely detailed look at the Paris of that time period. There was so much going on in France at this time that I wasn’t aware of. The setting is as much a part of this book as the characters are (I now have a visit to the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company on my bucket list!

Over everything else, however, this is a story of human love – love that transcends sex and gender. There is a deep spirituality throughout this in addition to heartbreak, tension, and drama. The characters are well-drawn and three dimensional, and at the end of the book, I felt like I was leaving good friends.

Mr, Ambrosio, thank you so much – not only for this book but for the entire series. Michael left such a wonderful legacy- and his lessons live on.
4 stars.

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Dick’s Joke by Clint Mannschaft

Dick’s Joke by Clint Mannschaft
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Pain. Hate. Fear. Death. Stand-Up Comedy. A Novella.

The dark underbelly of stand-up comedy is something worth examining in greater detail.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t find most of the characters in this tale to be likeable people, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to figure them out. Some of them were sexist, while others were so absorbed in their own quirky hobbies that it was tricky for them to see the world from other perspectives or consider the feelings of those around them. My opinions of them often shifted in a positive direction as I got to know them better, though. How someone acknowledges, or sometimes chooses to remain willfully obtuse about, their flaws can say so much about them as an individual. Characters don’t have to be morally upstanding citizens in order to teach readers about the world by any means, and I felt I learned a lot from these characters even if I often disagreed with their behavior.

There were pacing issues that interfered with my interest levels. Some scenes moved much more quickly than other ones did. When combined with the large differences between how many pages different scenes lasted, I never knew what to expect next. The middle portions, particularly the monologue, seemed to slow down which made it harder for me to want to keep reading.

I appreciated how much effort Mr. Mannschaft put into experimenting with how a story should be told. There is definitely something to be said with playing around with a genre and seeing which tropes from it are actually necessary to keep readers’ attention versus which one can be safely sidestepped. This was creative.

Dick’s Joke pushed the boundaries of storytelling and came up with some interesting conclusions.

The Silence of the Choir by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr

The Silence of the Choir by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Seventy-two men arrive in the middle of the Sicilian countryside. They are “immigrants,” “refugees” or “migrants.” But in Altino, they’re called the ragazzi, the “guys” that the Santa Marta Association have taken responsibility for. In this small Sicilian town, their arrival changes life for everybody.

While they wait to know their fate, the ragazzi encounter all kinds of people: a strange vicar who rewrites their pasts, a woman committed to ensuring them asylum, a man determined to fight against it, an older ragazzo who has become an interpreter, and a reclusive poet who no longer writes.

Each character in this moving and important saga is forced to reflect on what it means to encounter people they know nothing about. They watch as a situation unfolds over which they have little control or insight. A story told through a growing symphony of voices that ends only when one final voice brings silence to the choir.

Can you imagine what life would be like for immigrants? You don’t know the language or culture, and you are a stranger in a new land. Mohamed Mbougar Sarr immerses us into this situation with skill and sensitivity.

“The Ragazzi” show up at the doorstep of a cast of characters in a small Sicilian town based in the countryside. These people are unique, as are their new neighbors. They interact differently with them.

The Ragazzi are trying to start a new life, but things aren’t so simple. Problems come up, and readers could be moved emotionally by their plight. There are issues one may not even consider. Will the conflicts ever find resolution?

As the story unfolds, we feel tension for those involved. We are also treated to the personality quirks of those who make this tale come alive. This is an interesting book that many are sure to enjoy.

Echo Key Haven by Katie Prescott

Echo Key Haven by Katie Prescott
Dolphin Cove: Book 1
Publisher: Scott Street & Second Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

A heartbroken widow. A husband’s secret legacy.

Olivia and her friends must solve the mystery of what her husband didn’t tell her before he died.

Olivia Crawford had every intention of selling the old Barker place when she returned to Echo Key to see the falling-down old mansion her late husband bought. It was supposed to be where they would spend their sunset years together, fulfilling his dream of becoming an innkeeper. Instead, it’s a reminder of the nightmare that stole her beloved, leaving her alone.

Well, not alone. She has her best friend, Jen, and her dear aunt, Coretta, with whom they spent so many summers in Echo Key as children.

No one is more surprised than Olivia when Jen, whose own heart is hurting after a nasty divorce, convinces her to fix it up and run the inn together. It’s a crazy plan, and Olivia doesn’t do crazy. Her partner in life was the dreamer.

Olivia just hopes that keeping his dream alive will be the best way for her to live without him. And maybe find new happiness in the Florida haven that is Echo Key.

When tragedy strikes Olivia must make some difficult decisions. When the time comes will she be able to make the right choice?

This was an entertaining read, and I found the characters in this one to be amusing. Gus, Deke, and Coretta we’re especially fun to read about! I enjoyed the concept of a large mansion being renovated into a bed and breakfast and found the descriptions of the rooms to be humorous as the ladies walked through the house.

There was also a bit of mystery to the house itself, which was touched in in this one but seemed to be part of the larger overall plot of the series. There was also a bit of mystery on a smaller scale where the growing crime in the neighborhood was causing some conical conversations from some of the senior ladies in Echo Key. I enjoyed Coretta’s relationship with Olivia, as well as Olivia’s friendship with Jen. They made for an interesting dynamic and kept the story interesting.

Overall, the story was a bit slower and not quite as deep as I normally read but was fun as a quick weekend or vacation read. Even though it starts a bit slow, it does offer a good beginning to what is likely to be an enjoyable series.

The Excitements by CJ Wray

The Excitements by CJ Wray
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Meet the Williamson sisters, Britain’s most treasured World War II veterans. Now in their late nineties, Josephine and Penny are in huge demand, popping up at commemorative events and history festivals all over the country. Despite their age, they’re still in great form—perfectly put together, sprightly and sparky, and always in search of their next “excitement.”

This time it’s a trip to Paris to receive the Légion d’honneur for their part in the liberation of France. And as always, they will be accompanied by their devoted great-nephew, Archie.

Keen historian Archie has always been given to understand that his great aunts had relatively minor roles in the Women’s Royal Navy and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, but that’s only half the story. Both sisters are hiding far more than the usual “official secrets”. There’s a reason sweet Auntie Penny can dispatch a would-be mugger with an umbrella.

This trip to Paris is not what it seems either. Scandal and crime have always quietly trailed the Williamson sisters, even in the decades after the war. Now armed with new information about an old adversary, these much decorated (but admittedly ancient) veterans variously intend to settle scores, avenge lost friends, and pull off one last, daring heist before the curtain finally comes down on their illustrious careers.

The Williamson sisters, Josephine and Penny are quite a pair. In this novel, these two elderly World War II veterans are to be honored at an event in Paris. Their grandnephew looks out for them, and they keep him busy with their adventures.

Penny and Josephine may be in their nineties, but they are not done yet. They have more adventure ahead.

The book covers two timelines, past and present. In the past, readers get to know this fascinating duo as they play out their lives during the war. The sisters think they are ordinary, but they are anything but. The secondary characters are written in a way to help us get to know Penny and Josephine. The setting paints a vivid chronological picture, putting readers there in their mind’s eye.

Themes of family, friendship, and aging underscore the story. This is a tale that is well-written and entertaining. Recommended.

The Lies Among Us by Sarah Beth Durst

The Lies Among Us by Sarah Beth Durst
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cholla

After her mother dies, Hannah doesn’t know how to exist without her. Literally. In fact, Hannah’s not even certain that she does exist. No one seems to see or hear her, and she finds herself utterly alone. Grief-stricken and confused, her sense of self slowly slipping away, Hannah sets out to find new purpose in life—and answers about who (and what) she really is.

Hannah’s only remaining family is her older sister, Leah. Yet even Leah doesn’t seem to notice her. And while Hannah can see and hear her sister, she also sees beautiful and terrible things that don’t—or shouldn’t—exist. She learns there’s much more to this world than meets the eye and struggles to make sense of it all.

When Hannah sees Leah taking the same dangerous path that consumed their own mother—where lies supplant reality—she’s desperate to get through to her. But facing difficult truths is harder than it looks…

What happens to a lie after the liar is gone?

For two decades, Hannah’s only focus has been on her mother. But when her mother dies, Hannah’s world and everything she knows is shattered. How does she find her way without the most important person in her life?

Hannah is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever met. While she stumbles a bit after her mother’s death, she eventually finds her direction after a chance meeting. Sylvie is everything Hannah never thought she could be, and together they alter each other’s perception of the world and the reality they live in. They are truly the biggest catalyst for character development in each other, which was really fascinating to watch.

Leah, on the other hand, doesn’t handle her mother’s death very well. There were so many unresolved issues between them that it’s extra hard for her to process the loss. She lashes out, acts erratically, and attempts to shut out everyone who cares about her while she struggles through her grief. It was heartbreaking to watch, but very real and extremely visceral.

The thing that will stick with me long after I’ve put this book up on my bookshelf is how Hannah reinvents herself after her mother dies. She finds new purpose and new adventures, all while holding onto her past. In addition, there is so much insight into how humans work in this novel. A favorite quote, “Who we are is who we’ve been. And who we’ve known.” That hit me right where it hurt. Every person we meet, even peripherally, becomes a part of us in a way.

The Lies Among Us is one of the most interesting and unique stories I’ve read in a long time. It’s hard to even review it properly. Beautifully written and strewn with intriguing characters, I couldn’t stop reading once I started. We all know that we’ll inevitably lose someone who means the world to us, but we’re never quite ready for it, even when we have advanced notice of it. This novel shows you both the horror and beauty of love, loss, and moving on in a relatable and emotional way.

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, audiobook read by Ira Glass

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, audiobook read by Ira Glass
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Read by an all-star cast and featuring a bonus story special to the audio edition, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door is a one-of-a-kind audiobook.

Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret’s new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a “genius” by The New York Times—as one of the most original writers of his generation.

This is an interesting collection of short stories written by Etgar Keret about daily life. Daily life, as we all know, can be complex. Many tricky situations can occur.

Keret delves into various emotions and goes from the normal to the playful, wild, or mature. The themes vary throughout this collection, but there is an underlying knowledge of universal yearning to enhance the stories.

Each piece varies in length—some quite short, and some a bit longer. It is a unique set of tales, sure to touch many readers.

A Christmas to Remember by Beverly Jenkins

A Christmas to Remember by Beverly Jenkins
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Ever since Bernadine Brown bought the town of Henry Adams, her relationship with diner owner Malachi “Mal” July has had its share of ups and downs. But now they’re finally ready to say “I do.”

Or are they? As wedding preparations go into full swing, and families both local and extended begin to gather for the festivities, that long awaited walk down the aisle hits a speed bump that may derail everything.

But Mal and Bernadine’s relationship isn’t the only one being tested.

Preston Mays aka Brain, loves his girlfriend as much as he does physics but when she decides being a couple is no longer a good thing, his heart is broken. Will connecting with his bio dad’s family ease his pain?

Reverend Paula Grant has been patiently waiting for God to send her someone to share her life. When the town’s charming new chef arrives in town, she wonders if he could be the one.

And then there’s former mayor Riley Curry who throws a parade with his hog Cletus! There’s always a lot going on in Henry Adams, and this will be a Christmas to remember.

The small historical town of Henry Adams has a long history and is still being developed and improving. While reading I could picture the town’s people moving about this well-developed close-knit village. Henry Adams is a respectful place of love, new beginnings, acceptance, and healing. It truly shows the power of community as the town’s people get together for holiday events and festive gatherings.

I like to make notes of characters’ names and minor details about them when I am reading a book. This book had so many characters that I gave up writing the names down once I got half-way on a second sheet in my notebook. The story and the lives of those in the small town of Henry Adams are simple and there is no drama whatsoever, so this was a quick and easy read. From my understanding the book is part of a series, however this is the only book that I have read from the series.

I enjoyed each of the charming characters. It was inspiring to see examples of strong and capable women within the town. I like the variety of the age range of the characters, from high school age to the town’s matriarch Tamar July and patriarch Bing Shepard. The various storylines readers will follow Bernadine Brown and her relationship with diner owner Malachi “Mal” July as they prepare for their upcoming nuptials. Young Preston Mays Payne is one of the town’s adopted youths, trying to understand why his girlfriend Leah Clark made the decision to end their relationship before they departed for college. And then there is Reverend Paula Grant, readers get to see the courtship and new love develop with new resident Chef Thornton Webb.

This book is unbelievably too good to be true and, though not particularly realistic, it is a comforting, sweet read that offers nearly no drama. There were humorous conversations from the nosey meddling town’s folk. I liked that the town’s people were loving and caring, and the author brought to light so many adoptions and caring couples opening their homes and lives. I noted examples of the characters working on their relationships being respectfully vocal, and I liked that the characters were not afraid to communicate their fears. I also like that the author made efforts to include how counseling can be used to work through individual and relationship problems.

This is a delightful read for readers seeking a happy conclusion for all.

Fire & Spirit by David St. Leonard

Fire & Spirit by David St. Leonard
Publisher: One Bright Life
Genre: Paranormal Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Dive into a mesmerizing journey of self discovery with Fire & Spirit and follow the life of a young musician-to-be.

Join Dave as his plans to head off to university and begin a ‘normal’ adult life take a drastically different course than anticipated. Discovering his passion for music, it becomes the backdrop to events that are overshadowed by tragedy and inner turmoil. As his world fractures into parallel histories, he questions the balance between fate and free will.

In a symphony of choices, follow Dave as he seeks to find the harmony that defines his true self amidst echoes of what could have been.

Dave stumbles into being a musician, and quite the unexpected happens. He goes on a self-discovery journey, making tough decisions about his life.

This is a down-to-earth look that brings readers inside the mind of a young man experiencing changes and choices. He forms relationships that are tested. Themes of friendship, family, love, life choices, resiliency, and music are prominent is this story.

There is a touch of the paranormal to bring Dave’s adventure to a deeper level, making things more complex for him. The tale is moving and sure to inspire emotions and questions about one’s own life choices.