The Kindness by Polly Samson

KINDNESS
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.

Witches Protection Program by Michael Phillip Cash

WITCHES
Witches Protection Program by Michael Phillip Cash
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (216 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Wes Rockville, a disgraced law enforcement agent, is given one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s reassigned to a 232 year old secret government organization. The Witches Protection Program. His first assignment: uncover a billion-dollar Cosmetics company’s diabolical plan of using witchcraft for global domination, while protecting its heiress Morgan Pendragon from her aunt’s evil deeds. Reluctantly paired with veteran witch protector, Alastair Verne, Wes must learn to believe in both witches and himself. Filled with adventure, suspense and a rousing good time, Michael Phillip Cash creates a tongue-in-cheek alternate reality where witches cast spells and wreak havoc in modern day New York City.

Anyone who loved the movie R.I.P.D. might find this novel a rollicking good time because there are some elements that appear in both the movie and this book by Mr. Cash. I had so much fun reading Witches Protection Program that I didn’t stop reading until I was done. What an awesome way to spend an afternoon!

The basic premise is one done before; youngest son tries to measure up to the expectations of a powerful parent and competes and loses to the overachieving elder siblings and the youngest never seems to do anything right. I have a lot of sympathy for Wes, the hero. Not only does he want to succeed and make his family proud, he has to contend with his reading disability. There are so many reasons to like Wes, and very few not to.

The difference is that the powerful parent is actually a good guy. He really does love his son so it was refreshing not to have to deal with that kind of family conflict. As for Wes’ mega-successful older siblings, they never appear on stage – I get the feeling that there is no animosity between them, just a fervent wish on the hero’s part to be successful in his own right. It sounds like he has a great family, and it wasn’t until the very, very end that I found out it’s a family with secrets. Wow, did my mouth hang open upon that realization! Talk about saving that extra fancy firework for the last hurrah in an amazing finale. I can assure you I was grinning from ear to ear.

Even though the majority of this novel is about Wes and his finding his own path and self-actualization, he isn’t the only star. Morgan is the heroine that readers will aptly come to the conclusion of being hapless, much to her aunt’s dismay and annoyance. The aunt is a very twisted soul and yet, in her own perverted way, I think she really does love her niece – she just has an unhealthy way of expressing it. Morgan, it turns out, isn’t as hapless or as helpless as a reader is lead to believe and that bumped up the story another notch on the ‘cool’ scale. However, I too would draw the line at gummy bugs come to life. What a master stroke of devious imagination. Ick!

One thing I’m absolutely happy about is the little electrical zings between Wes and Morgan. I don’t know if it will actually turn into a romance but they sure were in ‘serious like’ with each other. I know I am in like with them. J

Secondary characters are absolutely fascinating. Mr. Cash totally hoodwinked me because quite a few are not at all how they are initially portrayed. Only at the right time, when it benefited the story most, did the author whisk away the figurative tablecloth to magically reveal astounding truths, magic and connections. The condensing of the action into a tight well written couple of chapters filled with chases, attacks, magic fights and zooming witches, animated inanimate objects and colorful descriptions just blew me away. I just loved the flow of this novel.

The point of view is mostly told from Wes’ side, but Morgan has her moments as well as her aunt. The head-hopping was kept at a minimum however, so when it did occur, it was valuable and appreciated.

All in all, if you are looking for something different that entertains, amazes, impresses and surprises, Witches Protection Program will give you all that and more. It’s funny, clever, witty and smart. It’s action packed, fast moving and a fun conflict. It would make a great movie and if it stayed true to the book? I’d pay to see it. I enjoyed Witches Protection Program that much.

The Hardest Ride by Gordon Rottman

RIDE
The Hardest Ride by Gordon Rottman
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing, LLC
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (202 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Myrtle

The Texas-Mexico border, the winter of 1886—The Great Die Up. A raw rift separates Mexicans and Anglos. A loner cowpoke and a mute Mexican girl fight man and nature to reunite.

Out of work cowpoke Bud Eugen comes across Marta, a mute sixteen-year old Mexican girl whose family has been killed by Indians. Bud reluctantly takes her along, even though he’s never had to accommodate another person in his simple life. He’s unable to find anyone willing to take her. In spite of his prejudices, Bud grows to like the spunky girl (and her excellent cooking).

Eventually, they both find work on a border ranch. Here, the relationship between the girl and the young cowboy hesitantly grows. But banditos raid the ranch, kidnapping the rancher’s daughters and Marta. Bud, with twelve other men, pursue the banditos into the most desolate reaches of Mexico. Ambushes and battles with banditos, Rurales, and traitors are constant, and the brutal weather is as much a threat as the man-made perils. Life and death choices are made at every turn as one side gains the advantage, then the other.

The rancher’s daughters are rescued, and the exhausted party turns back. But Bud presses on alone, against insurmountable odds – determined to fulfill an unspoken promise to Marta.

A real Texas cowpoke rarely needs more than a good horse and a reliable gun while he’s on the job, but a good hot cup of coffee and a pot of frijoles sure has a way of making things more pleasant. So when Bug Eugen finds a mute Mexican girl out alone on the trail, he’s grateful for the grub she can cook, even if she can’t carry on a conversation.

It’s 1886 and Bud has just lost his job and his vaqueros friend and mentor. He’s not to blame. Times are hard and sometimes even the best cowpokes have to move on to the next job. Bud sets off with a “letter of introduction” and the promise of a job at the San Isidro working for Mathew M. Picket. But on his way there, Bud comes across a brutally murdered family who he deems had a bad run in with the “damn injuns.” Soon, he realizes that one member of that poor family managed to escape. He finds Marta, a mute girl of maybe sixteen, who has enough spunk, smarts, and fight left in her to keep any man on his toes. Especially Bud.

An unexpected bond forms between Bud and Marta. He feels responsible for her and she feels indebted to him. No matter how hard Bud tries to find a good home for Marta, it always turns out that she returns to him, usually mad as a hornet that he tried to give her away.

This story was written in first-person and is heavy on narrative, which works well considering Marta can’t speak. However, it was not written in the usual commercial-style of most novels. This story has a flair and a voice all its own. It includes many phonetic spellings, which does give the reader a sense of dialect, but sometimes has too much of it making it a difficult read. And true to the Old West, the story has its gruesome aspects with scenes of scalped and butchered families. In fact, it reads like an old handwritten, historical account. It’s blunt, factual, and realistic. It is not for the faint-of-heart.

If a historically accurate and well-portrayed tale of a cowpoke’s life in 1880s is on your wish list, this novel should definitely be in your hands. But be prepared for prejudicial phrasing – this is as authentic as it comes.

Her Name is Rose by Christine Breen

ROSE
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

GIRL
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.

Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond

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Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond
Publisher: She Writes Press
Genre: Women’s fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (253 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Since the death of her newborn baby, lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom Sarah Shaw has been struggling to keep it together for her law professor husband and two young sons. With her husband burying himself in his career and her friendships all having withered, she is lost in a private world of grief. Then one day, walking in LA, Sarah s heart catches at the sight of a young homeless woman pushing a baby in a stroller and saving them becomes her mission. An unlikely bond grows between Sarah and the mother, Josie, whose pride and strained relationship with her own mother prevent her from going home to Oakland. Through her friendship with Josie, Sarah slowly learns that those we love are never far, even in death and that sometimes it is the people we set out to save who save us.

One of the joys of getting lost in a book is recognizing things that have happened to you. That’s exactly how I felt as I began to read Shelter Us. While I’ve never experienced the loss of a child, I could relate to how the main character Sarah feels when someone special is taken from her, how you come to terms with it, and how uncomfortable people start to feel around you when they just don’t know what to say.

Shelter Us is a moving story told in first person from Sarah’s perspective. I think Ms. Diamond made a great choice using her voice as the narrator. It’s a book that makes me think about many things in my own life and society in general.

When Sarah first sees the young homeless woman with her baby, it makes you think that maybe, despite our own problems, we all have something to be grateful for, as does Sarah in this story.

Finding the young mother almost becomes an obsession for her and it keeps you reading to find out if she’ll be able to track her down and what the women’s story is, and how she ended up on the streets.

As the blurb on the back of the book says, sometimes it is the people we set out to save who save us. I think it sums up Shelter Us beautifully.

For me a good book is one that leaves you feeling an emotional tug and that’s exactly what this story did. If you like women’s fiction then I recommend this one to you.

Savagery and Saviors by Ken Hollern

SAVIORS
Savagery and Saviors by Ken Hollern
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (256 Pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Myrtle

So tiny is the peak and how sheer the slope when atop the world. The gravity of fate weighs heavier and heavier until all one hears is the incessant echo of a final question: How far will I fall and where shall I land? Belief in self-determination of fate is the most enticing mirage. At one time or another we are all deceived into believing destiny is within control. Live right, do unto to others well, and prosper-the mantra of fools. Fortune is altered a thousand times per second. We face countless choices every day. How much thought do we really give each choice? Cole Newman had a choice to work late or make a date with his wife. Not a big deal? Think again. If he’d chosen wisely she would not be dead. If he hadn’t again succumbed to ambition, he would be with his toddler son. Strewn into the middle of an international child trafficking ring, Cole’s path would lead to Rochelle, an undercover reporter more fearless and capable than any person he’d ever met. Their quest to rescue stolen children would take them from Oakland to Singapore and into the heart of genocidal Sudan. Powerful men, professional killers, could not let them succeed. Their fate and those they vowed to save would eventually rest in the hands of an African boy, a young prodigy leading his village from savagery and slaughter.

A boy avenging the murder of his Sudanese father, a journalist with a heroin addict’s confession, and a man hell-bent on saving people – all three come together in this international child trafficking story.

Rochelle takes center stage in the opening. She is an Oakland journalist hoping to hit the big time by busting a child sex trafficking ring wide open. She is smart. She is beautiful. She is a former helicopter pilot, and she has just finagled her way onto a cargo ship where she suspects children are being smuggled.

But unbeknownst to everyone including himself, the shipyard has another hero. Cole Newman, a former NFL player and all around nice guy, is going about his duties inspecting millions of dollars’ worth of quarantined adhesive when he hears a scream. Cole takes on a gang of thugs and ends up battered, beaten, and locked inside a shipping container headed to Singapore.

On the other side of the world is Abou. A seventeen-year-old boy from the Western Dafur village of Balla in the African country of Sudan. And his world is about to change.

This story moves back and forth between land and sea, each with its own horrible reality. Savagery and Saviors is multiple stories eventually coming together as one. Rochelle, Cole, and Abou are the main characters. Still, knowing the identity of these three protagonists doesn’t always keep the story centered. Add the ship’s captain, who plays a vital role; Dave Martin, the captain’s assistant, with an equally integral part; plus Ismail, a Janjaweed mercenary who is a major driving force … then add thirteen kidnapped kids. Every character has a purpose—there are no wasted parts, but switching from one to another sporadically throughout the story becomes tedious. And although the story was definitely good enough to keep reading, I found myself bothered by the unexpected, and sometimes silly, amorous feelings between Rochelle and Cole. Their unqualified romantic moods did not advance the story, especially in the midst of treacherous, brutal battles and life-threatening circumstances.

The child trafficking portion of the story was fascinating. I don’t know how the horrible deed actually plays out in real life, but Savagery and Saviors likely paints a realistic picture.

If you enjoy stories about mercenaries, terrorism, and human trafficking, this story has a lot to offer. It is several stories all rolled into one and is sure to keep you hooked to the very end.

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.

Catherine Dickens: Outside the Magic Circle by Heera Datta

Catherine Dickens
Catherine Dickens: Outside the Magic Circle by Heera Datta
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (212 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Outside the Magic Circle is part fiction and part fact; less fiction and more fact.

Charles Dickens married Catherine Hogarth on 2nd April, 1836, when he was an upcoming writer and reporter. Soon after marriage, he tasted spectacular success with The Pickwick Papers and in ten years, was the foremost writer of his time.

Catherine was the mother of his ten children, his hostess, she accompanied him on his American tour.

Yet, twenty-one years after they wed, Charles Dickens very publicly separated from her, denouncing her as an unfit mother and wife. He removed her from his home, his life, and the lives of his children. He never saw her again, not even when their son, Walter, died at the age of twenty-three in faraway India.

His allegations about his wife and his unhappy marriage were works of fiction, as successful and enduring as the rest of his works. The real cause of the separation was an eighteen-year-old actress, Ellen Ternan, who later became his mistress.

On her deathbed, Catherine gave her daughter letters Charles had written to her and said, “Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once.”

Outside the Magic Circle is a fictionalized account of Catherine’s life after she was plucked out of her familiar world and thrown to the wolves, as it were, by the exemplary Charles Dickens. It is told in her voice; sometimes reminiscing, at other times baffled, confused, hurt, angry. It has her tears, her love, and her quest for the meaning of her life, and marriage.

Love is supposed to last forever. What happens when it doesn’t?

When I first picked up this book, I genuinely didn’t understand why Catherine would have remained so quiet about the downfall of her marriage while she was alive. Her character development in this tale was so thorough, though, that her refusal to defend herself soon made sense to me. What I appreciated the most about it was how intricately Ms. Datta wove these revelations into the plot. They showed up exactly when they were needed, but they were introduced so seamlessly that I didn’t notice what the author was doing until much later on in the story. Bravo!

The cast of characters was really large. I had trouble keeping track of who everyone was and how they were connected to each other because there were so many of them. The fact that some of the younger people were named after older relatives made it even trickier to sort out everything. It would have been helpful to have a family tree or a basic list of who was who, especially in the earlier chapters when certain relationships hadn’t been made clear yet. Not having this information briefly made it awkward for me to settle into what was otherwise an engrossing read.

Mark Twain once said, “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Some of the most interesting scenes in this novel explore what happens after a juicy rumor is assumed to be true by society. It was fascinating to see how little human nature has changed over the last one hundred and fifty years or so. We may wear blue jeans now instead of ball gowns or top hats, but people today are just as susceptible to being the victim of gossip as they were when Catherine was alive.

Catherine Dickens: Outside the Magic Circle should definitely be read by anyone who loves historical fiction that was inspired by real events.

Dirty Laundry: An Assortment of Messy Lives by Paula Sophia

ETOPIA
Dirty Laundry: An Assortment of Messy Lives by Paula Sophia
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (226 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Nobody gets away clean.

The remarkable short works collected in Dirty Laundry explore the unraveling of lives at their most intimate moments, the uncomfortable starkness of truth, the unmasking of lies. Whether a cop on the make, a seminary student, or a college kid trying to stay pure, nobody avoids the soil of circumstance. Some try to hide from themselves, others embrace who they truly are. But nobody gets away clean.

Everyone struggles with something. The most interesting thing about this is not that it happens but that almost all of us do it so quietly.

“Pro-Creation” shadowed a police officer named Dana on patrol in a dangerous neighborhood. There has been a lot of upheaval in her personal life, and she’s struggling to figure out how to keep it from interfering with her work. The character development in this tale was strong, especially after Dana moves in to apprehend the suspects she was pursuing. I was even more impressed with how smoothly the ending tied everything together.

Many of the stories in this collection had endings that I had trouble understanding. It was never quite clear to me if they were meant to be ambiguous or if there were clues about the characters embedded in earlier scenes that I’d failed to pick up on. “Terminal Virginity” was a good example of this. The plot followed a college student named Rodney Taylor as he attempts to avoid being dunked in a local lake by his fraternity brothers. This is their tradition for every member on his birthday, but Rodney wants nothing to do with it. I was mystified by a certain topic that kept coming up with his buddies as the main character attempted to avoid a cold, soggy fate. The hints about what was really going on in his life could have supported two different conclusions, yet I was never sure which one was supposed to be true.

The most surprising part of “Cooling Down” was how much information the author was able to pack into it about the narrator and his friend, Ethan. It begins in the middle of an early morning jogging session. Both Ethan and the narrator are so focused on improving their physical fitness that the conversation they suddenly find themselves in the middle of is a shock. The storyline was short and simple, but what the plot does with such an ordinary sequence of events made me wish for a sequel.

I’d recommend Dirty Laundry: An Assortment of Messy Lives to anyone in the mood for something eclectic.