North of Here by Laurel Saville

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North of Here by Laurel Saville
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (258 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

The sounds of unexpected tragedies—a roll of thunder, the crash of metal on metal—leave Miranda in shock amid the ruins of her broken family.

As she searches for new meaning in her life, Miranda finds quiet refuge with her family’s handyman, Dix, in his cabin in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains. Dix is kind, dependable, and good with an ax—the right man to help the sheltered Miranda heal—but ultimately, her sadness creates a void even Dix can’t fill.

When a man from her distant past turns up, the handsome idealist now known as Darius, he offers Miranda a chance to do meaningful work at The Source, a secluded property filled with his nature worshipers. Miranda feels this charismatic guru is the key to remaking her life, but her grief and desire for love also create an opportunity for his deception. And in her desperate quest to find herself after losing almost everything, Miranda and Dix could pay a higher price than they ever imagined.

Miranda was an interesting character in this book, and the main reason I kept on to the end.  While I liked the author’s voice and the flow of her prose, I have to say this book wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I’ll admit I’m more of a genre fiction fan than a literary one and this book fit into the latter category and may be the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.

The reason I’m not typically a fan of literary novels is I feel authors spend too much time telling us what happened rather than showing us. It’s not so much the fault of the writer, but the style they choose to write in. I did feel this story could have been much stronger and more enjoyable, at least for me, told with more dialogue and more in the here and now than being told the story in narration form.

It’s a bittersweet story, very moving in parts, very sad in others. I did feel a connection with Miranda because of the situation she found herself in. It’s a dire one and none of which is her fault, so I began cheering her on. I hoped that things turn around for her, especially when Dix comes on the scene.

What dialogue there was in this book was excellent, very lifelike and one of the reasons I wished there would have been more. All the characters seemed believable even if some weren’t that likeable.

It does, as any book should, make you think about things, in this case, lose and healing and trying to move on with one’s life after a tragedy.

If you are a fan of literary fiction, I’d say give this one a read.

Island in the Sea by Anita Hughes

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Island in the Sea by Anita Hughes
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press-Griffin Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (292 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Juliet Lyman is a senior executive at Yesterday Records. Music is her passion and she’s very good at her job. That’s why her famously philanthropic boss Gideon sends her to Majorca, Spain to work with a very tortured, but talented client. Lionel Harding is one of the best song writers of the 20th century, the multi-Grammy award-winning lyricist of the third most recorded song in history. But now he’s 42 and six months overdue on the his latest paid assignment. Juliet is not leaving Majorca without either new lyrics or a very large check.

To Juliet, business comes first. Emotions are secondary, and love isn’t even on the menu. But to Lionel, love is everything, and he blames Gideon for his broken heart. He’s determined to show Juliet that nothing is more important than love, but Juliet is just as determined to get Lionel to create the music that made him famous. If she can sign up local talent, even better. Her new friend Gabriella has a voice like an angel, but she’s not interested in fame. Her grandmother, Lydia, wants the world for Gabriella, and she wants Juliet’s help to give it to her.

As her professional and personal lives start to mix for the first time, Juliet is forced to reevaluate her priorities. Gideon hasn’t been totally honest, and love may be the only thing that gives them all what they need.

I haven’t found many books set on the island of Majorca so I knew I had to read this one. I used to spend summers there when I was growing up so reading Island in the Sea was part nostalgia and part interesting story.

I thought the author did a wonderful job describing the flora and fauna. I imagined myself back there. The story was an interesting one but it never held my interest as much as I would have liked. There was nothing wrong with the pacing of dialogue or even the characters, but somehow I wasn’t able to connect with them, especially the lead character, Juliet, as much as I would have liked.

While a good part of the story does take place in the present and in Majorca, there were constant flashbacks of Lionel and his relationship with a woman called Samantha. While it was interesting to read, it sort of took away from the present story and sometimes the switches were abrupt and short. I did like the storyline with native resident Gabriella and how loyal she was to her family.

All in all, it was an interesting read, and if you’re looking for something with a setting that will be new to you, I’d say give this a try.

Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford

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Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford
Publisher: by Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (375 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Book-smart Melissa Fletcher lives a predictable life in her hometown, working behind the scenes for her charismatic father in a financial career that makes perfect sense. But when her dad is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Missy is forced to step up and take over as his primary caregiver and the principal of the firm.

After her father’s death, Missy finds a letter from him in which he praises her for being a dutiful daughter but admonishes her for not taking any risks in life.

Devastated, Missy packs her suitcase and heads for Italy. There she meets a new friend who proposes a radical idea. Soon, Missy finds herself in impoverished India, signing away her inheritance and betting on a risky plan while rekindling a lost love.

The Light of Hidden Flowers is a deeply felt story of accepting who we are while pushing our boundaries to see how much more we can become. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to pursue our dreams.

Jennifer Handford’s The Light of Hidden Flowers is a contemporary novel about living life, or more being willing to risk living life.

“Count your blessings” are words to live by for Melissa Fletcher. She likes her well-arranged life well enough. She works for her father, but not under his thumb, as a valued team member. However, she hits a bump in her well-ordered path when her father develops Alzheimer’s. This ‘bump’ jars her from her well-ordered course. This ‘bump’ is in fact, the start of her living…

Characters are the heart and soul of this novel: even the Dad is unexpectedly vibrant, and some financial clients are also wonderful. However, backstory is boring and repeated lapses into backstory drag down what would otherwise be a thoroughly engaging story. Handford explores motivation, both in small ways and in major. Choices, large and small, are thought-provoking.

Overall, The Light of Hidden Flowers is interesting and unpredictable.

Although it is a serious novel taking itself a bit too seriously, it is in fact beautifully written and engaging; I will certainly be looking for Handford’s next.

The Changing Season by Steven Manchester

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The Changing Season by Steven Manchester
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (273 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

This was supposed to be a simple summer for Billy; one more lazy expanse of time before college began. He’d fill the hours playing with Jimmy – his canine best buddy – going camping and doing all the things he promised Jimmy they’d do before Billy left.

But that was before the accident that shook the entire town.

It was before the summer job that turned into something so much more than a way to get a paycheck.

And it was before Vicki.

This summer was destined to be many things to Billy, things he didn’t truly understand until now. But it was definitely not going to be simple.

A boy and his dog—always a good bet for a book.

I hadn’t read a book by Steven Manchester before I picked up A Changing Season. I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting into. Books with dogs tend to be bittersweet and while those are good books, I wanted something a little lighter. I got that with this book. Yes, there is tension and more than a few black moments, but all in all, it’s a good read.

I liked the bond between Billy and Jimmy, his dog. Being an animal person myself, I could relate to the way the two were together. Dogs can be the best of friends for a human—if the human lets the relationship happen. I liked how the author allowed Jimmy to be that silent voice of reason and comfort for Billy.

There were moments in the book that were a tad predictable. I won’t go into what so I don’t ruin the story, but honestly, the predictability didn’t take away from the enjoyment I had while reading.

I liked the book and if you’re looking for a coming-of-age book that has a lot of heart, then this might be the book for you.

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

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Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (273 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Good guy Karl Bender is a thirty-something bar owner whose life lacks love and meaning. When he stumbles upon a time-travelling worm hole in his closet, Karl and his best friend Wayne develop a side business selling access to people who want to travel back in time to listen to their favorite bands. It’s a pretty ingenious plan, until Karl, intending to send Wayne to 1980, transports him back to 980 instead. Though Wayne sends texts extolling the quality of life in tenth century “Mannahatta,” Karl is distraught that he can’t bring his friend back.

Enter brilliant, prickly, overweight astrophysicist, Lena Geduldig. Karl and Lena’s connection is immediate. While they work on getting Wayne back, Karl and Lena fall in love — with time travel, and each other. Unable to resist meddling with the past, Karl and Lena bounce around time. When Lena ultimately prevents her own long-ago rape, she alters the course of her life and threatens her future with Karl.

A high-spirited and engaging novel, Every Anxious Wave plays ball with the big questions of where we would go and who we would become if we could rewrite our pasts, as well as how to hold on to love across time.

Take complication upon complication with a wormhole thrown in for good measure and you’ve got an interesting read.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up this book. Every Anxious Wave started out rather fluffy and retro. The idea of a wormhole where you can go back and visit concerts from the bands of your past… seems cool. Had the book kept with that theme, I would’ve been totally on board. Think of the concerts that could be seen! How many could be videotaped for posterity or videotaped in better definition? It’s mind-boggling.

But there’s a twist. Karl, the main character, accidentally sends his friend not back to 1980 to prevent the killing of John Lennon, but to 980 AD. Oops. At least in 1980, he could get back—there’s tech that could help. Not in 980. So what’s a couple of guys to do?

For me, this is where the believability sort of went downhill. I liked the idea of the mistake with the date. Hey, he’s stuck and we’ve got to get him back. Cool idea. But there were things in the book that didn’t quite get explained. Like how’d he get the wormhole? Where’d it come from? Was there a downside? I would’ve liked a little more explanation so I understood the mechanics of the wormhole, but I must say I was distracted by the idea of going back to visit concerts.

The other thing I had a problem with was the relationship between Lena and Karl. The whole thing felt forced. Like, they were together and that’s great. The development just didn’t feel like it was there. I did like the complications brought in for these two, but I wish there had been more of a jump into their emotions than happened.

Still, this was a fun read and made me long for the concerts I never got a chance to see given by musicians that died before my time. Thank you, Mo Daviau for that trip down memory lane.

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

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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.