Whistling Women by Kelly Romo

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Whistling Women by Kelly Romo
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (447 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Life went terribly wrong for Addie Bates in San Diego, and she’s been running from dark memories ever since. For fifteen years, the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony has provided a safe haven for Addie to hide from the crime she committed. But when the residents pack up to go on exhibit at the 1935 world’s fair in San Diego, Addie returns and must face the thrilling yet terrifying prospect of reuniting with her estranged sister, Wavey.

Addie isn’t the only one interested in a reunion. When her niece, Rumor, discovers she has an aunt, Rumor is determined to bring her family together. But it’s not so easy when the women are forced to confront family secrets, past and present.

Set against the backdrop of the 1935 world’s fair, Whistling Women explores the complex relationships between sisters, the sacrifices required to protect family, and the devastating consequences of a single impulsive act.

This book wasn’t anything I expected and it’s a good and bad thing.

You might be wondering. Why would I start a review with the above sentence? When I opened Whistling Women by Kelly Romo, I had sort of an idea what I was getting into–there are sisters, there’s strife and an interesting story of how they might get back together as a family. As far as that goes, I wasn’t steered wrong. The story has its interesting parts and characters that kept my attention. I liked Rumor. She’s spunky and forthright. I rooted for her.

That said, there were parts that, well, dragged for me. I’m not knocking Kelly Romo’s writing style. She’s written a vivid story and paints an interesting picture of 1930’s California. I even liked the quirkiness of Addie. But the story definitely dragged for the first half of the book. I struggled, even though I wanted to keep going in order to reach the pay off. That’s not to say this was a bad book. It wasn’t. There’s a lot of potential to the book and with a little more editing, it can be great.

What was the thing I totally didn’t expect in the book? The nudist colony. I won’t elaborate so I don’t ruin the story for you, but it wasn’t where I thought the story would go. It’s definitely quirky.

If you want a book that’s heavy on heart and a little different, then this might be the book for you.

The Witch’s Market by Mingmei Yip

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The Witch’s Market by Mingmei Yip
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (304 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.

When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. Gradually Eileen immerses herself in her exotic surroundings, finding romance with a handsome young furniture maker. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.

Eileen Chen is a Chinese American woman who specializes in folk religion. She teaches at a local college, but when the opportunity presents itself to do research on the nature of witchcraft and shamanism, she leaves her life behind and travels to the Canary Islands.

Filled with a rich family history, Eileen has the gift of sight, passed down from her grandmother who made her living as a shaman. Written eloquently, Ms. Yip paints a fairytale picture of a land rich with magic and mystery as Chen finds herself embroiled in a mystery. Who is the enigmatic man who seems to have his designs set on her? Who are the witches that turn up in strange places with spells on their lips? What is this Witch’s Market? Sometimes the past doesn’t want to stay buried and as Eileen will learn, there are ruthless forces in place concerned with doing just that.

This was an eloquently told tale, but at times the way Eileen and the other characters spoke seemed too stylized for real life. It fit with the fairy tale quality of the book, but I found myself getting irritated by the unreal speech or laughter. It reminded me of some of the dubbed martial arts movies that are so beautiful with the lush costumes but the speakers matched to the characters don’t do the story justice.

Eileen was an interesting person. A professor researching folk religion who just happens to be a witch. As she learns more about the dual nature of shamanistic Chinese magic and Western witchcraft, she grows as a woman and in her powers of observation and sight.

Overall, I enjoyed this book but wished the author had done more with dialog and making it as real as some of the inner lives of the characters they represented. If you enjoyed books about Chinese history or even books about witchcraft, you may find this book intriguing. I did. The blend of Eastern and Western culture was one of its strongest points, combined with the lyrical quality to Yip’s words.

A mysterious read perfect for a night of reading…

Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

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Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (374 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.

Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot’s heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother’s schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot’s wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.

Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.

Soaring, fascinating… this book has it all.

Historical fiction can be a hard juggling act–how to make the story historically accurate, especially in this case since the people are real people, and how to keep the tale interesting. Ms. Perinot did just that. She kept my attention and made me want to know more about this wild group of people.

The writing flowed well and kept me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t put the book down or wander away at any time. I had to know what would happen next and what decisions Margot would make next.

Margot is a tough cookie, despite the circumstances she ends up in. The Medicis family is well known as a ruthless bunch of people.I could relate to her coming of age story, Margot’s that is. She’s trying to find her way and figure out who she is despite a family that wants to use her. Talk about a tough life! The secondary characters are well written and vibrant as well.

I’m glad I picked up this novel. Good reading!

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán

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Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (262 pgs)
Rated: 4.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist—but when her husband drops a bomb on their marriage the same day a doctor delivers devastating news, she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her.

With nothing left to lose, she abandons her life in Chicago for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean for what might be her last hurrah. Despite her new sunny locale, her plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past or bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby is determined to forget about fate. Will she risk it all to live—and love—a little longer?

From critically acclaimed author Camille Pagán comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman choosing between a “perfect” life and actually living.

Alternately exceptionally deep and heart-rending and absolutely hysterical, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences was nothing like I expected and completely enjoyable.

From the first page, I was both chuckling at Libby’s attitude and heart-broken at the way her life was crumbling around her. She has the kind of snarky, internal (and sometimes external) humor that I absolutely enjoy. Despite her world falling apart, she moves forward and makes choices and does what needs doing. Sometimes I questioned her choices, but not having walked in her shoes, how would I know what the “right” way to behave would be.

The author has a descriptive but breezy style that’s so easy to read. While this isn’t my typical genre, I’m glad I grabbed it. It was both edifying and uplifting and so very interesting. Parts were a little draggy, but mostly I zipped right through the book. From Chicago to the tropics, I was right there with our heroine as she went from giving up and deciding to die, to learning how to live and love again. It was an incredible journey that sometimes left me breathless and ultimately left me moved. I’m glad I decided to pick it up and recommend it to any reader who enjoys a book both meaningful and completely entertaining.

Searching For Meaning in Gailana by John H. T. Francis

SearchingForMeaningInGailana

Searching For Meaning in Gailana by John H. T. Francis
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: Short Story (94 pgs)
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Rose

Gailana is the central island of the world; Aurganots, Reminos, Hindarassis, Pelanese, and Free People, different societies with different customs and values, live in it. Gailana is old, with a history rich in events and civilisations. The mother island has undergone important changes in recent decades, including a devastating war from which the Aurganots emerged victorious. Following this war, Aurganot has become a country of wealth, technology, and power, dominating all others.

In this modern age, Aurganots value their new found joie de vivre; Pelanese love commerce and business; Reminos are still dedicated to honour and glory in war; Hindarassis continue to care most about their families; and the Free People cherish their freedom above anything else. Among the Free People, a young Levon has set a high and ambitious goal: to seek and find the ultimate meaning of all that humans do. Levon has been on his intellectual quest for years, and the coming days are significant. Paratos, the sage of Gailana, is in the land of the Free People, and Levon is readying to meet him. The young man knows that something life changing will come out from this meeting, only he does not imagine what.

In this fictional first part of The Story in Three Parts, John H.T. Francis tells the story of Levon, a young and sincere soul looking for meaning in a changing world. This short novel will take you on a journey through Gailana, shows you its diversity, and brings you close to many of its human aspects. Events will develop fast on the island, and Levon is about to be in the midst of them.

This author brings us a well thought out treatise on searching for meaning on Gailana, the central island of the world with several different societies living on it. I think it’s more than a coincidence that Gailana is very similar to Gaia, the Greek personification of Earth.

The author takes a look at the role of Story through this small book in three different ways. The first section is about Levon, who is trying to discover the one meaning for everything that people do. In the second portion of the book, the author shares his feeling about Story in in a philosophical way – I have to admit, this was the hardest part of the book for me to grasp my mind around. And, in the final section, we go back to stories and their importance for people.

This book, though short in pages, is long on concept. The idea that all of us are connected by Story and of our perceptions of the world is one to think on and ponder about. I believe it will take more than one reading to fully see everything the author is examining.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Recent Historical, Fiction
Length: Full Length (278 pages)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision–a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

It’s a whole new world and it’s a scary place, but please don’t ignore it.

Confused by that statement? Go Set a Watchman is set twenty years after To Kill a Mockingbird and presents the world as a bit of scary, confusing place. But don’t let the perceived fear of the unknown keep you from reading this book.

I already know I’ll take some heat because I rated this book five stars. Many people disliked the book and claimed it needed editing. Yes, the book has some editing issues. That said, the author didn’t want the book edited – that’s the claim anyway. Yes, my inner editor had some issues on those few points. Yes, I found them. But while I had to reread a few places (less than five), I couldn’t put the book down.

I loved Atticus, Scout and Jem from To Kill a Mockingbird. This was a book that shaped my teenage years and the movie is part of my growing up. Atticus was the father figure I always wanted. I was afraid I’d dislike the book because I’d heard some pre-release buzz.

This is my take. Read the book. Read the book all the way to the end. Don’t give up part way through. Got that?

I’m serious. The payoff is worth it.

Scout is, but isn’t, the same little girl from the first book. She’s the same girl, but her views and opinions have changed because she’s lived in New York for a while. There she can be the bohemian of sorts woman, not tied down in marriage and not really caring what others think. Her free-spiritedness is refreshing.

But this story is a story of the times. In the 1950’s, there were pervasive problems with racism and sexism. What needs to be kept in mind while reading is that this book is truly a product of its era, but it’s also a learning curve and growth for Scout. Haven’t we all had a person in our lives whom we looked up to, then found out the person is human after all?

No spoilers, but this is Scout’s story. A lot of loose ends are tied up and sorted out. Scout comes into her own.

Yes, there are things in this book that might make some readers upset. Atticus turns out to not be the man on the pedestal like he was in Mockingbird, but as I’ve said before, read to the end. Everything will be explained and has a reason.

If you’re a little interested in or wondering about the book, pick it up. If nothing else, it may make you think. I sure did. I recommend Go Set a Watchman

Rainy Day Sisters by Kate Hewitt

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Rainy Day Sisters by Kate Hewitt
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Welcome to Hartley-by-the-Sea in England’s beautiful Lake District, where two sisters who meet as strangers find small miracles tucked into the corners of every day….

When Lucy Bagshaw’s life in Boston falls apart, thanks to a scathing editorial written by her famous artist mother, she accepts her half sister Juliet’s invitation to stay with her in a charming seaside village in northern England. Lucy is expecting quaint cottages and cream teas, but instead finds that her sister is an aloof host, the weather is wet, windy, and cold, and her new boss, Alex Kincaid, is a disapproving widower who only hired her as a favor to Juliet.

Despite the invitation she offered, Juliet is startled by the way Lucy catapults into her orderly life. As Juliet faces her own struggles with both her distant mother and her desire for a child, her sister’s irrepressible optimism begins to take hold. With the help of quirky villagers, these hesitant rainy day sisters begin to forge a new understanding…and find in each other the love of family that makes all the difference.

A cup of tea at the sea-side will surely solve all problems? Kate Hewitt’s buttery new novel, Rainy Day Sisters, revels in heartwarming and is decorated by (indeed, utterly awash) in the picturesque. The back cover blurb tells us almost too much about sisters Lucy and Juliet, about the principle problem and about finding what matters.

Impeccably written, this novel does absolutely transport the reader to Britain’s wonderful lake district. Its worth the read for the background alone–not only views, but the local activities (hikers/walkers abound) as well as the local food. In one place, Hewitt tells us the scene was ‘Like a painting by Constable come to life.’ One after another, scenes like this abound; visuals presented with beautiful words, making up beautiful scenes. A more descript writer cannot be imagined.

Lucy steps into a not-quite idyllic life and manages to run up against the new boss nearly straightaway, over nothing. Things do not automatically go her way, although this is hardly the start of her problems. She has our sympathy, although we wonder about her sister’s views…

Lucy’s views on art might well feed on the views before her. She might be forgiven for wishing things “syrupy and golden.” Although the storyline here is not predictable, its emotional ride sure is. Still, there is much lovely within.

Rainy Day Sisters delivers as promised; If you are in the mood for this, its rather overly precious approach to life will be welcome.

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.