Lullaby for My Sister by Nancy Barone


Lullaby for My Sister by Nancy Barone
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full length (310 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Peony

When Valentina and Lucy Mancino’s mother died, and their father turned to alcohol to cope, Valentina quickly understood it was up to her to run the household and take care of her little sister. But Valentina was only nine years old. And when their new step-mother moved in, along with her two sons, Val also knew things were about to change for the worse.

Fifteen years later, while Lucy is flailing in life, Val is running a successful career, but she’s also hiding a terrible secret. She soon discovers that her former home is suppressing secrets of its own—many unspeakable truths are dying to be told.

Heartache and hope will keep you turning the pages of Nancy Barone’s Lullaby for My Little Sister. What can only be described as an emotional ride, kept me hooked from start to finish with a plot that extends in the past and present both full of realistic joy and anguish. Nancy is an author with a lot of experience in the romance genre, but with this book tries something new, telling a mystery full of themes of family, love and trauma. The initial promise of a book about the connections between two sisters share goes well beyond this and explores many themes that feel very real and visceral to keep you reading till the end.

Lullaby for My Little Sister is a tear jerker right from the get go. You’re faced with the loss of family, but the well of grief doesn’t end there. Rather than gloss over or focus on one tragedy as the focal point, this story weaves itself around the cascade of other problems one loss can bring. The book is almost entirely internal, but there are actions associated with the emotions, even though most of it is musing from the part of the lead. Perhaps more external narrative could have given the book a better pacing, because it is quite slow to start, but the narrative style isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just prepared for a slow burn.

This book has a very strong family element and a cultural aspect of Italians living in the US. Anyone who’s read a book from this cultural viewpoint may find it familiar, even if it isn’t a culture like their own. The pains taken by the author to incorporate the family culture into the book is extremely helpful in creating a sense of immersion and filling in some of the blanks for how the characters interact with each other. Unfortunately, the other side to the cultural portion of the book is the stereotypes that go along with it. There were many parts where I just felt like I was reading something from a mob story, even if the mafia have no part of the book.

Another neat thing this book does is how the acts the characters are engaging in become allegorical for the story at large. The act of cleaning becomes one of cleaning one’s life and these themes remain constant through the book. By telling the story literally but also figuratively at the same time, the author manages to tell the story in more than one way. This aspect of the writing is very hard to explain but it worked very well and I rather enjoyed it. Perhaps this could be described as one of the strongest hooks the book has.

There are some triggers that you as a reader should be aware of before starting this book. Themes of sexual assault and loss of parents do come up and while I won’t spoil how or for whom, I will say that they become unavoidable in the story at large. If these are the sorts of things that you might struggle with then be aware they’re there. Additionally, child abuse comes up in this book and like the other themes, cannot be skipped. While these themes are treated with the weight and magnitude they deserve, for some they may hit a little too close to home.

Despite all the strong emotional storylines and clever figurative moments this story has, there is one thing that harmed the immersion if just a little. Nothing in this story was particularly out of the realm of reason, but the sheer volume of misunderstandings and shocker twists that occur started to at times feel like a soap opera. There really isn’t anything wrong with soap operas, they are hugely popular and for a good reason, but not every reader is going to find that to their taste. Personally, though not a consumer of soap operas, these instances in the story were little more than a small stumbling block I could easily get over and move beyond. It would be a shame to skip this story over something like that, but at the same time it is good to know it’s there.

Perhaps not everyone should read this book, those that have certain triggers from their own past trauma might want to take a pass and anyone who really isn’t interested in high drama may likewise find this too dense. For me personally this book was one of the most emotional investments I’ve undertaken in a while and it was hard not to appreciate all of the aspects of family, love and overcoming issues that come up in the story. For anyone looking for a book that expertly mixes the good and the bad should probably pick this book up as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody by Joe Canzano


Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody by Joe Canzano
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (306 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Peony

When outlaw Suzy Spitfire discovers her father was murdered after creating a super-duper artificial intelligence, she races across the solar system in search of the brain he built—but it’s a rough ride, and she’s soon forced to tangle with pirates, predators, and her father’s killer—as well as a man she thinks she can love.

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody is a smash-bang sci-fi adventure filled with action, intrigue, and a dose of dark humor.

Joe Canzano’s fast paced action Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody begins with a bang and never slows down. The author himself has a few books under his belt, but perhaps none quite so eye catching as this, with the very first hook delivered by a title that you can’t help but give a second glance to. As of this writing, Joe has already written five books and his talent with action adventure shows through the page with pulse pounding excitement. It is hard not to pick up a book with such a bodacious title, but once you do it may be harder still to put it down.

What kind of wild ride is this book? The initial hook hints at either an action or a comedy, or a mixture of both. Without spoiling the excitement, I can say with certainty it is an action. While there are a few running gags to be had, the chuckles are clearly not the focus of this story and shouldn’t be what guides your choice. For some the jokes may fall flat entirely and really, they’re pretty sparse, making this book clearly aimed at the action crowd. Luckily the action hook doesn’t make you wait, the story opens with a bang within the first half dozen pages. For those seeking an explosive read, the book does try to deliver, though initially at least it may seem mindless. Almost for the entire book the narrative focus is on the external, the events that happen, but not the why. Internal narrative, the emotions driving the actors or the drama is almost entirely neglected. Ultimately this book most closely resembles the summer blockbuster action flick, lot of muscle, but not a long of mind.

Because the book is so heavily slanted to the goings on and not the reasons why and because it opens to a gunfight so soon, there is little to no room for development before explosions start happening. The book does start to talk about romance and hint at the possibility, before building a character whose romance would matter to you, let alone if they live or die. In order to have any sense of worry or concern for the safety or the characters you’ll have to read on for quite a while, because for the most part nothing truly developmental happens until a good third into the book. The approach seems to be very whimsical, with ideas tossed out randomly and sometimes contradicting themselves on the same page. If the book had a planned armature, or guiding principal or moral I cannot say what it was, the story really doesn’t lend well to analysis, preferring to be the roller coaster that you’re just along for the ride.

That isn’t to say the book doesn’t manage some impressive feats in terms of development and change. For instance our titular character is very rash to begin, but is forced to depend on others. Whether or not she can or will allow anyone to take control, help her out or solve a situation for her quickly becomes a running theme for the story. Other aspects that worked well is her view of sexuality. There is romance in the story, but it largely fades and leaves it to the reader’s imagination. Free loving or not is a theme that gets some attention in that the characters may be laid back about whom and when they engage romantically with people. The book simply does not judge a woman for taking control of her own sexuality, nor for being strong in her own right and features more than one example of both. LGBT is not included in this book, but nor is it spoken against and male and females are capable in this story of having meaningful friendships with both genders without being judged or painted into a box. This gives the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions and for some the absence may bother them. There is a lot of sexual tension to be had and virtually no one, especially female, is going to escape the possibility of a romantic storyline or two.

One of the main driving forces of this book is the action and the tense moments which tend to be the glue holding sections together. They’re constant and can seem overwrought in many ways. The biggest problems, besides the earlier mentioned lack of development, is that the story does tend to contradict itself and use questionable means to escape situations. For instance, at one point a room is described as lacking cover for the bad guys, but then a few sentences later the same room is described as having plenty of cover once Suzy needs it. Additionally the way situations are escaped can range wildly from deus ex machina to well thought-out and clever. The movie analogy really fits there, where as it isn’t hard to imagine the action movie with bad guys unable to hit anything and good guys with seemingly perfect aim.

Overall recommending this book depends more on the individual reading it than anything else. Summer blockbusters are hugely popular and this book captures a lot of that excitement within its pages. Despite the early lack of development, it actually manages to catch up as the book goes on and deliver some deeper than expected characters and interactions, all while not slowing the pace down. For the right reader this book could be an amazing fit and will surely make you wonder what else Joe’s library of work contains. He’s certainly proven that he can make exciting action and if that is something you enjoy reading then you should definitely not pass up Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody.