Hands Full of Ashes by Kim Hotzon

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Hands Full of Ashes by Kim Hotzon
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Womens Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full (247 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Rose

Olivia promises her dying husband that she will spread his ashes around the world. Landing in Africa, Olivia begins volunteering at an orphanage. After a weekend excursion viewing mountain gorillas, Olivia is unaware of how drastically her life is about to change. Love was never part of her plan . . .

This is an intriguing story about one woman’s journey to fulfill a promise she made to her dying husband, but it becomes so much more than that. It becomes the story of Olivia finding herself and finding a new passion for her life.

Although listed as “spicy” as a heat level, there is only one sexual scene, and it is not descriptive. It is, however, pivotal to the plot of the story. It’s hard to go into detail without getting into spoilers, but suffice it to say that Olivia doesn’t always make the best choices in this story.

The story is told not only from Olivia’s POV but at times from different character’s POV as well. A few of those could have been left out without hurting the main plot, in this reviewer’s opinion. But, they were not enough of a distraction to take away from Olivia’s story.

There is one decision Olivia makes towards the end of the book that some readers might find questionable.  It’s understandable given the circumstances and it’s very much in character with Olivia’s personality, but still made me raise an eyebrow. It was a hard decision.

Over all, the book was easy to read and gave me a new appreciation of Rwanda and Uganda and the troubles they have gone through. Good job.

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The Soul Retrieval by Ann W. Jarvie

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The Soul Retrieval by Ann W. Jarvie
Publisher: JazzComm Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (436 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Inspired by a true story, The Soul Retrieval is a suspenseful tale of love, loss and healing which follows traumatized southern beauty Henrietta Clayborn as she moves between her home in a small South Carolina town and the New Mexico Native American reservation whose spontaneous healings keep drawing her physician husband back. Tortured by her awful secrets, Henrietta struggles to thrive in either locale, but it is her unlikely friendship with Joe Loco–an eccentric Native American mystic with an Elvis fetish and a gift for healing–that shows her the way to be whole again.

Set in the late 1950s, The Soul Retrieval is richly woven with spiritual insights but also deadly secrets, forbidden healings, a murder mystery, stunning scenery and an unforgettable cast of characters.

A story of transcendent and inspiring power that is both entertaining and enlightening, readers will be cheering for the uptight woman from South Carolina to push through her fears of the forbidden as she searches for truth and healing, faces great obstacles on the frontier of self and ultimately becomes more than she ever thought possible.

Ann W. Jarvie’s The Soul Retrieval is a novel with a touch of mystery with an additional sense of the personal journey story. Set in the 1950s, it presents an odd perspective on a people and their customs, as we see mainly through the eyes of transplanted southern gal Henrietta Clayborn.

Somehow, Joe Loco becomes a garish caricature: a Native who’s tendency to dress like Elvis blends weirdly with his mystical abilities. Henrietta’s got her own issues and much though she’d like to ignore them, she finds herself sharing with Joe. He’s got insight and he says he has medicine; ancient medicine that will work a soul retrieval.

Conversations between them achieve an odd intimacy that claims the reader’s attention. Its not a romantic intimacy; they are both married to others. However, Joe’s sense of Henrietta’s pain, and his willingness to help, creates a strange relationship between them. Even though Henrietta also finds him odd, she finds herself sharing with him. Their conversations can be flippant, or silly or even argumentative, yet, each is somehow heartfelt. As odd As Joe Loco is, we don’t doubt what he sees. And, one cannot help but feel for Henrietta. While the evil in her past might seem to be the chief trouble, her current life is by no means easy. She finds herself confronting those that might be termed ‘evil’ even in her current life.

Although Henrietta’s pain and struggles do reach the reader, some aspects of this story are difficult to believe and tend to draw one away from the story. Characters are not always true to character. However, the story is incredibly original. On one level The Soul Retrieval speaks to friendship, and on another addresses all kinds of healing. It’s very original and very worth reading.

The Kindness by Polly Samson

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The Kindness by Polly Samson
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre- Women’s fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (290 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

A novel both heartbreaking and hopeful, about love and family, and the major and minor ways we lose people in our lives—from an acclaimed talent.

Julian’s fall begins the moment he sets eyes on Julia, flying a hawk high on a ridge. Julian is an English student, heading toward academia; Julia is married and eight years his senior. And yet, ignoring warnings from family and friends, they each give up all they have to be together. Their new life in London offers immense happiness, especially after their daughter, Mira, is born.

But when Julian’s adored—and remote—boyhood home becomes available, he sets out to re-create a lost paradise for his new family. Once again, he allows love to blind him. Only when Mira becomes dangerously ill does it become impossible for Julia to conceal the explosive secret that she has been keeping.

In this first introduction to American readers, the acclaimed Polly Samson explores how the yearning for the past can affect joy in the present and the future. The Kindness is a haunting story of love, grief, betrayal, and reconciliation—masterfully plotted and exquisitely rendered.

I’d never read anything by this author before but glad that I chose to review this book. It’s told in current tense, third person with carefully placed flashbacks. The first part of the book focuses on Julian, one of the main characters. The story is told through his eyes. That story is how he met Julia, and fell in love with her. It’s about their life with daughter Mira and Mira’s illness. It also covers his past relationship with Kate, an old school friend. It’s beautifully told and while I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the book I can say that all is not what it seems.

The last half of the book is told from Julia’s point of view. It’s sort of her take on the story that’s unfolded during the first part of the book. While it’s not a case of there’s two sides to every story, Ms. Samson did a wonderful job winning you over to both these character’s sides. I felt like they were both flawed in some way and that together they healed one another.

As all good books should, The Kindness is an emotional read. It has lots of twists and turns, especially in the second half. It tugs your heartstrings continually the more you learn about these characters and the truth behind their story. In a way it’s almost upsetting realizing they can’t all have a happy ending.

I’ll definitely be looking for more books by this author. And if you enjoy women’s fiction packed with emotion and told in an original way, I’d recommend putting this one on your to read list.

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

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Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Mainstream/ Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (405 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Some women are born with an instinct for knowing how things work
-and what to do when they break.

Caroline MacAfee is a skilled carpenter, her daughter Jamie, a talented architect. Together they are the faces of Gut It!, a home renovation series on local public television. Caroline takes pride in her work, and in the way she connects with the show’s audience. But when she is told the network wants her daughter to replace her as host-the day after Caroline’s fifty-sixth birthday-she is devastated. The fallout couldn’t come at a worse time.

For Jamie, life changes overnight when, soon after learning of the host shift, her father and his new wife die in a car accident that orphans their two-year-old son. Accustomed to organization and planning, she is now grappling with a toddler who misses his parents, a fiancé who doesn’t want the child, a staggering new attraction, and a work challenge that, if botched, could undermine the future of both MacAfee Homes and Gut It!

For Caroline, hosting Gut It! is part of her identity. Facing its loss, she feels betrayed by her daughter and old in the eyes of the world. Her ex-husband’s death thrusts her into the role of caregiver to his aging father. And then there’s Dean, a long-time friend, whose efforts to seduce her awaken desires that have been dormant for so long that she feels foreign to herself.

Who am I? Both women ask, as the blueprints they’ve built their lives around suddenly need revising. While loyalties shift, decisions hover, and new relationships tempt, their challenge comes not only in remaking themselves, but in rebuilding their relationship with each other.

Blueprints starts off in a slow, easy manner and gains speed as Barbara Delinsky reaches into the depths of the main characters’ minds and hearts at a life-changing. Emotions churn inside them, under their can-do, professional façade.

Like so many women in real life, Carolyn, age fifty-seven, and her daughter Jamie, age twenty-nine, define themselves by their professions. They compete in male-dominant professions and downplay their sensuality. Neither realizes it, until two modern superheroes ease into their lives and awaken passion, not just the sexual kind, but also passion for life itself.

Blindsided by a change other people demand in their roles in a TV show they do for the family business, Carolyn and Jamie are at odds with each other—a conflict unusual for them. Self-esteem and self-worth come away with some bruises. How they heal and move on makes compelling reading.

They are forced to come to grips with who they really are after the death of Carolyn’s ex-husband—Jamie’s father. He has been a major player in the family business that they have all dedicated their time and talents to for years. Their intellectualizing leads them one way. Their feelings lead them another way.

The upheaval after the tragic death leaves Carolyn watching over, and more and more filling the shoes of her ex-father-in-law who started and heads up the family business; while Jamie becomes guardian of her precious two-year-old half brother—a role she has no skills in. Love for the little boy compels her to make adjustments that play havoc with her pristine, orderly lifestyle.

The two super heroes mentioned won this reader’s heart. Both are “manly” men who are steady, trustworthy, helpful, and totally supportive. Dean, a longtime friend and colleague of Carolyn’s, is comfortable in his own skin at this stage in this life. He eases into her life and becomes SO much more than a treasured friend. It’s as if she sees him for the first time after all their years of working together. He protects, challenges, chides gently at times, all the while awakening the passionate part of Carolyn that had always been dormant.

For Jamie, drowning in motherhood, is rescued by Chip, a bad-boy hockey player turned teacher. He is a single parent who learned by trial and error. How their relationship evolves is captivating. The love they share has sizzle and SO much more. It makes one’s heart feel good.

Barbara Delinsky, in her very special way, immerses the reader in the lives of the characters. Blueprints is a keeper to read more than once.

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

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The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre- Women’s fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (406 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookbook writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs. Eaden. There’s Jenny, facing an empty nest now that her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife’s death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it’s like to have nothing and is determined her facade shouldn’t slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest pastry seems the least of the contestants’ problems. For they will learn–as as Mrs. Eaden did before them–that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it’s very much harder in life.

Reading, cooking…reading about a baking contest who could ask for more? I really enjoyed this book for many reasons besides the fact that I, like the characters, enjoy baking and am a fan of the British baking show that this story’s plot is loosely based upon.

The characters seemed so real because they were flawed in their own special way. Like all of us they had their insecurities. They also had their everyday problems that I think most of us can relate to in one way or another.

I also loved the mini-story about Kathleen Eaden who owned a chain of supermarkets and wrote the classic cookbook The Art of Baking. This story focuses on the contest to find the next Mrs. Eaden. While the contestants think she was perfect and had the perfect life, her own story revealed something very different.

Eventually the contest’s lives and Kathleen’s are almost identical. By the end of the book they’ve all realized there’s no such thing as perfection and striving for it brings strife and heartache.

If you’re a baker yourself you will love the descriptions of all things pies, cakes, cookies etc. in this book. Ms. Vaughan did a wonderful job telling you about the ingredients and I found myself actually visualizing all the goodies that the contests made. And yes, it makes you either hungry or forces you to go bake something for yourself.

406 pages might seem like a long book but as the story progresses you become so immersed in the character’s lives that you find yourself reading more on each sitting.

This was a book that I was almost sad to finish reading and if you enjoy women’s fiction then I’d recommend adding this one to your summer reading list.

Her Name is Rose by Christine Breen

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Her Name is Rose by Christine Breen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (290 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

People used to say Iris Bowen was beautiful, what with the wild weave of her red hair, the high cheekbones, and the way she carried herself like a barefoot dancer through the streets of Ranelagh on the outskirts of Dublin city. But that was a lifetime ago.

In a cottage in the west of Ireland, Iris–gardener and mother to an adopted daughter, Rose–is doing her best to carry on after the death of her husband two years before. At the back of her mind is a promise she never intended to keep, until the day she gets a phone call from her doctor.

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Rose is a brilliant violinist at the Royal Academy in London, still grieving for her father but relishing her music and life in the city. Excited but nervous, she hums on the way to an important master class, and then suddenly finds herself missing both of her parents when the class ends in disaster.

After the doctor’s call, Iris is haunted by the promise she made to her husband–to find Rose’s birth mother, so that their daughter might still have family if anything happened to Iris. Armed only with a twenty-year-old envelope, Iris impulsively begins a journey into the past that takes her to Boston and back, with unexpected results for herself and for Rose and for both friends and strangers.

Her Name Is Rose has so many wonderful things in between its pages. Colorful characters, a story that has you turning the pages, and settings like London, Ireland and Boston that add just another layer.

My favorite character was Iris Bowen. I always enjoy reading about characters who are at some sort of crossroads in their life and Iris was one of them. She’s lost her husband, needs to keep her promise to him to find their adopted daughter, Rose’s, birth mother, and she might also have breast cancer.

All these factors seemed to blend together and set the plot in motion. She’s strong yet weak which made her all the more real. You cheer for her when she sets off to Boston to try and track down Rose’s real mother. Along the way she meets Grace and Hector who were also wonderful secondary characters.

And then there’s Rose who lives in London and attends the Royal Academy. It’s her scenes that I actually didn’t connect with as much as Iris’ and I think that’s because the author used present tense for Rose’s story which for me seemed somewhat jarring.

I was hoping there would be a happy ending and there was but not in the way I assumed. I won’t give anything away and spoil the book for you. However, I like the way Ms. Breen threw in some plot twists that put some doubt in your mind. Let’s just say you’ll be more than happy for all the characters by the time you reach the final page.

If you love stories with more than one setting, strong yet vulnerable characters and enjoy a feel good ending then I think this might be one you’d like to read.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (202 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing reveals the inner workings of a girl, from her early years and into adulthood, whose brother suffers from a brain tumor.

What I noticed first about this book is the style. It’s shocking at first, a stream-of-consciousness of sorts, and it takes a while before you get sucked in and you start to distinguish the different voices. The ‘I’ is the narrator, the ‘you’ is her brother with whom she ‘talks’ in her mind. The sentences are chopped up and re-stitched together into ungrammatical, disjointed fragments that are at times revealing and at times confusing. Although reminiscent of Joyce, this novel is far more accessible, and the story can pull a reader in despite the occasional passage that is too obscure to decipher.

The plot of the novel could be summarized in just a few lines, but that doesn’t really give it justice. The real action takes place in the girl’s mind, in her coping with her strict and distant mother, the handicapped brother, and the uncle with whom she starts a disquieting, strange relationship in her adolescence. This is not a light read; rather, it’s disturbing in places and thought-provoking throughout. The girl’s sexual exploits that often border on abuse – but abuse instigated by herself – are difficult to read about and towards the end I felt they became too much.

Although there are some gentle moments between the narrator and her brother, most of the book is a dark read that more or less only allows one ending. Despite that, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is cathartic and gripping in its own way.

Red Hot Blues by Mickey J Corrigan

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Red Hot Blues by Mickey J Corrigan
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical (set in 1989)
Length: Short Story (71 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Growing up in the fast lane…

By the time she’s sixteen, Telluride Marshall is tired of running away from bad men with her sex kitten mother. On the road from Maine to Florida, Tellie tries to talk sense to Kittie about the stolen Porsche and the thousands of dollars taken from her abusive ex. Mother and daughter are destined to clash–and to share some wild ride adventure.

Telluride Marshall loves her mother, but that doesn’t make the teenager blind to her faults. The relationships her mother has with numerous men might always start good, but there’s always the same problem. Her mother has a habit of picking men who beat her. And all too soon Telluride would be woken in the middle of the night, given two or three minutes to dress and grab a few essentials, and then they’d both be moving on again. But this time Telluride – and her mother in particular – have bitten off more than they could chew. Cleaning out her latest boyfriends safe and stealing his 1964 collectable Porsche, this time they might run, but Telluride was fairly certain Kevin – or his goons – would follow. And he wouldn’t be happy.

I found this to be a very interesting book. Set back in 1989, Telluride is sixteen and looking forward to taking her SATs and finally having the freedom to start her own life. All that changes, however, when her mother – yet again – wakes Telluride up in the middle of the night and insists they both run away. What follows is a road trip unlike any other I’ve read before. While I felt some sympathy for Telluride’s mother, Telluride’s antagonism towards her, and her many, varied and strongly unflattering thoughts made this story a far cry from the usual “girls road trip” sort of story.

I was also very surprised by the fact that I, personally, found there to be zero romance at all in the story. Yes, there were some off-screen sexual shenanigans from Telluride’s mother and a few different men. And there was plenty of sex discussed – in the general form of Telluride recalling/recounting her mother’s various past boyfriends – but there was no hero in this story. No slow building (or fierce and fiery) love match, no romantic happily ever after and indeed no real “romance” at all. It’s important to note this did not change my enjoyment of the story. But I did find it a bit odd that a book marketed to me as a romance had no actual romance in it.

My main criticism actually came from some of Telluride’s character herself. Despite the fact that for all except the last few pages Telluride is a teenager, I feel it important readers are not fooled by her age. This is in no way a YA novel to my mind. Telluride is far older than her short years, and more mature than many adults, her mother included. I found it a little startling just how honest, and jaded in some respects that she came across. While many girls her age are dreaming of college, gossiping about boys and studying for exams, Telluride wishes for some stability. Much of her cynicism comes out when she talks of how promiscuous her mother is, easily mentioning things like how she’d open her lips and “swallow down” all her boyfriends’ lies, or how easily she’d rush back to an abusive ex “with open legs” and many similar comments. While I didn’t find Telluride’s comments mean or angry, they certainly spoke to a teenager far older than her years and certainly a little cynical when it comes to sex. I’ve never read anything with a similar heroine and while fresh and different, it wasn’t precisely comfortable as a romantic read either.

Overall I found this to be a very interesting “coming of age” style story, and also a good “road trip” style of story. While both flawed to my mind, Telluride and her mother are interesting, engaging characters and they clearly carry the story. Die-hard romance fans might want to give this one a miss, but readers interested in a different style of story might find this to be a hidden gem.

The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

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The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre- Women’s fiction
Length: Full Length (239 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

As we like to say in the south: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ella’s life has been completely upended. She’s young, beautiful, and deeply in love—until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she’ll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers’ block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He’s on the look-out for a love story. It doesn’t matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It’s the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It’s an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what’s a little white lie between strangers?
But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?

I’m not from the South but I have a weakness for books set there. Maybe it’s the sometimes quirky characters or the strong sense of place and The Idea of Love had both.

It’s the story of two people, neither of them in a good place in their lives. Both fall into the trap of lying to each other. It was fun, sometimes funny, and I loved both Ella and Hunter. They were well-rounded characters who you cheered for. I thought they were perfect for one another but sometimes I wondered what was going to happen when they found out about the other one’s secret. It was fun getting to that part in the story and gave the book their must turn the page quality.

I also enjoyed the setting with its colorful characters and yes, there were a few quirky ones thrown in there. I thought the ending was great, loose ends tied up and everyone got either what they deserved or a very happy ending.

If you like books set in the south, and love a good splash of romance thrown into the mix then I think this is one to add to your summer reading list.

Her Wild Oats by Kathi Kamen Goldmark

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Her Wild Oats by Kathi Kamen Goldmark
Publisher: Untreed Reads Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (169 Pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Myrtle

A smart young woman, Arizona Rosenblatt, leaves home and her role as assistant to a high-powered Hollywood executive when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a woman from Jews for Jesus; and thirteen-year-old Otis Ray “Wild Oats” Pixlie, boy genius harmonica player. In the end, Otis Ray learns what it means to be an adult, Arizona discovers the life she wants, and they both figure out the true meaning of love and family.

What could a thirteen-year-old boy harmonica player and a beautiful twenty-eight-year-old executive movie assistant have in common? You wouldn’t think much, until their paths cross.

Arizona Rosenblatt is the lady running the show in this non-stop story of love, loss, betrayal, and everything in-between. Convinced her husband is a dangerous, unfaithful, lying, and cheating man, Arizona packs up and hits the road. With nowhere to go, or no place she really wants to be, Ari ends up in a most unlikely place … Murphy’s Corned Beef ‘n’ Cabbage Emporium in the middle of nowhere off California’s Highway 5. And she just can’t seem to leave. She spends her days at Murphy’s and her nights across the street at the Sleepy Time Motel. Hours turn into days, and days turn into weeks, but there is never a dull moment.

The downside to this tale is that it often has a confusing storyline. There were so many lives playing out simultaneously, it was difficult to stay focused. In the beginning, the reader is led to believe this is a story about Arizona and her husband Jerry, but the attention they deserve must soon be divided amongst a whole cast of characters. One person after another enters the story and they each have their own dynamic tale to tell. It seemed five or six unrelated novel-worthy stories were rolled into one. I think this book would have hit its mark had most of its secondary characters played a more minor role, or no role at all, which would have allowed Arizona and Oats to shine.

The entourage of people who come and go through the doors of Murphy’s Corned Beef ‘n’ Cabbage is far too many to keep track of, but the one who stole my reader’s heart was Otis Ray (Wild Oats) Pixlie, a thirteen-year-old harmonica player. He could easily have won the starring role in this story, but instead he shares it with Arizona. His country personality was realistic and well crafted. He is the solid character who gave this story its staying power.

Country music fans will especially love this fast-moving story filled with Hollywood-style drama!