Rag Lady by Susie Black

Rag Lady by Susie Black
Holly Swimsuit Series, Book 1
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Holly Schlivnik dreams of being a writer, but fate has other plans. A family crisis throws her into an improbable situation and her life will never be the same. Determined to make her own luck when things don’t happen the way she plans, the irrepressible young woman takes a sledgehammer to the glass ceiling and shatters it to smithereens. The wise-cracking, irreverent transplanted Californian goes on a raucous, rollicking rollercoaster ride of hysterical adventures as a ladies’ apparel sales rep traveling in the deep South and finds herself along the way.

Change is inevitable.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored the many ways in which life can suddenly veer off into directions one never saw coming. For example, Holly’s college major had nothing at all to do with the sales position she eventually took at the company her father worked at, but she muddled through and eventually discovered all sorts of things about her new job that suited her nicely. This was one of many examples of how characters adjusted to new circumstances and found ways to thrive when nothing went the way they thought it would. They were all enriching for the plot and interesting to think about.

I struggled with the slow and sometimes uneven pacing of this book. The narrator went into plenty of detail about every twist and turn Holly faced while adjusting to her new job. This was necessary in some scenes, but in other ones it slowed the storyline down and made readers wait even longer for fresh developments than we already had waited. As much as I wanted to give this a higher rating, I didn’t feel comfortable doing so given my experience with it.

With that being said, I did appreciate how much effort the author put into describing such a wide variety of characters. The people Holly met were from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of them I liked immediately, while others needed some time to work their charms on me. It was interesting to see how my opinions of the latter evolved over time as I got to know them better and understand why they behaved in certain ways.

This was a prequel to the Holly Swimsuit series, but it worked perfectly well as a standalone story, too.

Rag Lady was a thought-provoking read.

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group UK
Genre: Historical, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Mrs. King is no ordinary housekeeper. Born into a world of con artists and thieves, she’s made herself respectable, running the grandest home in Mayfair. The place is packed with treasures, a glittering symbol of wealth and power, but dark secrets lurk in the shadows.

When Mrs. King is suddenly dismissed from her position, she recruits an eclectic group of women to join her in revenge: A black market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs. King’s predecessor, with her own desire for vengeance.

Their plan? On the night of the house’s highly anticipated costume ball—set to be the most illustrious of the year—they will rob it of its every possession, right under the noses of the distinguished guests and their elusive heiress host. But there’s one thing Mrs. King wants even more than money: the truth. And she’ll run any risk to get it…

After all, one should never underestimate the women downstairs.

Mrs. King has worked in the most illustrious home in Mayfair since she was a teenager. Now the housekeeper, having worked her way up throughout her whole life, she is suddenly dismissed with no character and no references. Determined to take her revenge, she knows exactly who to turn to – other working women who have been similarly treated poorly. So on the night of the biggest ball for the season, these women are planning their own grand event, the biggest heist of the century.

I am always a sucker for a really good heist novel and the fact this book was set in the middle of 1905 and has a cast predominantly of women – and “downstairs” working women at that – only made me more eager to give this book a try. And I was really happy with the story as a whole. The characters were believable and multi-layered, the plot was logical and for the most part quite believable too. This is the author’s debut novel and the story stood very well by itself and I didn’t feel like I’d missed anything from previous installments. I was really happy with the story.

The first half or so is the preparation phase really. The cast had to all get together and for such an enormous task there was obviously a lot to set up and prepare – so getting to see the workings of all this was really good. I also felt the pace of this part of the story was really well handled. The author didn’t skim by it which I was pleased about since this is clearly a massive part of the plot and the story itself. But I didn’t feel like this part dragged too slowly either. Much like any heist movie the setting up of the parts, the organizing and planning beforehand is of almost equal importance to the actual “go night” itself. Without proper planning and structure put in place the main event simply won’t happen. So, reading through all that really helped sell the book and event to me. Equally – the actual heist night was about the latter half of the book along with the repercussions, so I felt this was really well handled as well.

With interesting, complicated characters who all have their own reasons and agenda’s along with a lovely plot of the heist itself this was an interesting and many layered story that I really enjoyed and can strongly recommend.

Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snowdrop

Abandoned by her wanderlusting husband, stoic Pearl raised her three children on her own. Now grown, the siblings are inextricably linked by their memories—some painful—which hold them together despite their differences.

Hardened by life’s disappointments, wealthy, charismatic Cody has turned cruel and envious. Thrice-married Jenny is errant and passionate. And Ezra, the flawed saint of the family, who stayed at home to look after his mother, runs a restaurant where he cooks what other people are homesick for, stubbornly yearning for the perfect family he never had.

Now gathered during a time of loss, they will reluctantly unlock the shared secrets of their past and discover if what binds them together is stronger than what tears them apart.

I just read “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” and have read “A Spool of Blue Thread”. I think Anne Tyler hits close to home in some instances in her books. I don’t mean these are whole books about one’s putrid, confused, or plain old messed up childhood or lifestyle. There just seem to be pieces that you can pull out and they just fit. And…I think she makes people mad. I think she makes her readers either feel something they have experienced or feel for someone who has.

I thought Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was stark and sad. It seems to flow back and forth from one family member to another. Yet somehow the pieces and the pictures of the family are put together. Woven into a whole horrid picture of life.

I think Anne Tyler is a somewhat profound writer. Both of these books were well-written. I found what I read sad, and they left me in a blue mood, or maybe just a reflective one. Do these things make this a bad book? Not one bit. It makes it a book to read and see what you think.

Great Cat Tales Edited by Lesley O’Mara

Great Cat Tales Edited by Lesley O’Mara
Publisher: Carroll & Graf
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Respected authors, such as James Herriot and Doris Lessing, spin twenty yarns about cats.

So many stories about cats and only so much time.

I picked up this book because it featured stories about cats. I love cats, I love books…what could go wrong? Nothing, really. There are twenty stories in this anthology and they’re across the gamut of stories about cats.

I liked the variety because there’s so much to learn about cats and there’s so much to infer about them, too. Some of the stories are hard to read in that they’re longer than others – so those wanting short stories might be a bit put off. And also, some involved not so fun endings. I want to read uplifting stories and these weren’t always that, but that doesn’t mean others won’t like this anthology. It’s still good and the stories are wonderful.

If you’re looking for an anthology of animal stories and love cats, then this might be the one for you.

There’s No Coming Back From This by Ann Garvin

There’s No Coming Back From This by Ann Garvin
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

It seems lately that Poppy Lively is invisible to everyone but the IRS.

After her accountant absconded with her life savings, newly bankrupt Poppy is on the verge of losing her home when an old flame, now a hotshot producer, gives her a surprising way out: a job in costumes on a Hollywood film set. It’s a bold move to pack her bags, keep secrets from her daughter, and head to Los Angeles, but Poppy’s a capable person—how hard can a job in wardrobe be? It’s not like she has a choice; her life couldn’t get any worse. Even so, this midwesterner has a lot to learn about the fast and loose world of movie stars, iconic costumes, and back-lot intrigue.

As a single mom, she’s rarely had time for watching movies, she doesn’t sew, and she doesn’t know a thing about dressing the biggest names in the business. Floundering and overlooked, Poppy has one ally: Allen Carol, an ill-tempered movie star taken with Poppy’s unfiltered candor and general indifference to stardom.

When Poppy stumbles upon corruption, she relies on everyone underestimating her to discover who’s at the center of it, a revelation that shakes her belief in humanity. What she thought was a way to secure a future for her daughter becomes a spotlight illuminating the facts: Poppy is out of her league among the divas of Tinseltown.

Poppy must decide whether to keep her mouth shut, as she’s always done, or with the help of a scruffy dog, show the moviemakers that they need her unglamorous ways, whether the superstars like it or not.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Poppy Lively sure is desperate. By trusting the wrong person at the wrong time, her entire life has been sent into a tailspin, one she doesn’t think she’ll be able to pull herself – or her daughter – out of in time. So, what does a mom do when there’s nothing left to do? She accepts a job from a man she hasn’t seen in over a decade and moves across the country for a job. Of course she does, right?

Poppy Lively is your typical Midwestern mom. Hardworking, loving, and dedicated to her only child, So dedicated that she does everything in her power to make sure that her daughter has no idea that they’re about to lose everything. Her journey from single mom in Wisconsin to the costume department on a move set in Los Angeles is one that so many make, but never for the reasons she chose.

Her transformation is amazing. When she arrives in LA, Poppy is uncertain, confused, and hopeless. She has no one and nowhere to go, so she sneaks about trying not to get caught surviving. The more desperate her situation becomes, the less she starts to care about what others might think and sets her eye on the prize. Along the way, she gets some very unexpected help from a movie star, an arrogant but traumatized young woman, and a dog that was thrust into her care.

Packed full of laughter, life lessons, and a ton of spunky characters, There’s No Coming Back from This is an entertaining adventure of one woman who is out of her element. Poppy is a brilliant light in a city full of burnt-out bulbs. Even in her lowest moments, I was rooting for her and knew she’d succeed in the end.

1956 Love & Revolution by J.A. Boulet

1956 Love & Revolution by J.A. Boulet
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

What would you do for your country?

In 1955, a group of uncommon people meet by chance. During the final year of Rákosi’s iron fist rule, Imre Nagy’s reforms are repealed, plunging Hungary back into economic ruin.

A university student, a cleaner, a Hungarian soldier and several others find themselves drawn toward each other as their love for their country is tested. In the fall of 1956, political strife deepens as the students begin demanding reform.

How far will they go to save Hungary?

Well-researched, politically charged and fast-paced, 1956 Love & Revolution will lure you into the lives of everyday Hungarians who risked everything for their country.

I didn’t know a lot about went on in Hungary during this time period, but reading this book made me feel like I was right there. The characters in this book came alive for me – they are fully formed, with pasts, with foibles, with imperfections. My heart broke for Elona as she dealt with her husband and the way he treated her.

And, it’s not just the characters, but the setting at well. I felt like I was right there, picturing everything.  The juxtaposition of the changes the country is going through and the changes and growth that the main characters are going through gives a richness to the story.

During the story, there is heartbreak, pain, sorrow, and yet still, by the end, hope prevails. And, isn’t that what we all want from a good book?

Thank you, Ms. Boulet, for introducing me to a part of history I didn’t know much about and characters I’ll remember for a long time.


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In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Atria books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers.

She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.

But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.

Something strange happens to Dannie, a corporate lawyer. Dannie lives in New York with her fiancé, David, when one night she wakes up five years in the future with a different man. They spent some heated moments together; then Dannie wakes back up in her present. What happened to David? Why weren’t they still together?

Suspense is achieved with this in mind, and it increases when Dannie’s best friend Bella introduces Dannie to her new boyfriend, the man Dannie had woken up next to in the future. Dannie would never betray Bella or David, so she is determined not to allow herself and Bella’s boyfriend to become close, but they do—in a way. Dannie increases her efforts to get closer to David and speed up the time until she marries him, yet she still hesitates.

This story is a good exploration of friendship and being true to oneself. Dannie’s job is an expedient backdrop to the plot and offers a peek into a demanding industry. Dannie makes some hard choices, especially when she receives some shocking news. She discovers more about herself and faces strong emotions.

In Five Years is an entertaining book showing life in New York at its best. It is worth the read.

Zen and the Art of Brazilian Sticky (& other roofing tales) by Gennita Low

Zen and the Art of Brazilian Sticky (& other roofing tales) by Gennita Low
Publisher: GLow World
Genre: Contemporary, Humor, Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Life as a roofer is hard work. Endless hours beneath a blazing sun, pounding rain, howling wind and even the occasional hurricane (you’d be surprised at the calls during a hurricane).

But there are lots of laughs and moments of Zen if you spend time with Gennita’s cast and crew. There is nothing like watching life through the eyes of a female roofer who writes romance books, a bunch of “crapenters,” a grumpy Airborne Ranger Vietnam Vet, and a stucco man affectionately dubbed “the Brazilian Sticky Man” with a flair for creative renaming of just about everything under the sun. In fact, his “Semen Maker” is probably the star of the show, with its Zen way of giving meaning to daily shenanigans.

How a few mispronounced words, a little laughter and friends can make the day!

First, I have to note that the author has done work as a roofer. Really. She’s a tiny woman, but I can imagine her holding her own on a roof. That said, this book is a collection of stories loosely based on her time roofing.

This was a funny book. Hands down. I was told to get it because I’d laugh out loud. Normally, I’m not much for bursting out laughing while reading, but with this book, I did. Jenn is the head of the roofing crew and she works with the Brazilian stucco man. BSM as she refers to him, has a tendency to change words. His stucco is his sticky and his cement mixer is his semen maker. I hadn’t thought there could be that many ways to mess up those words and make the conversation veer right into the dirty, but it’s possible. I loved the stories and could actually see most of them happening.

The writing flowed well because it felt like I was reading a story by a friend or at least a conversation with a friend. I won’t give too much away, but if you’re in the mood to laugh, then this is the book for you. Give it a try.

Reflections on the Boulevard by L.J. Ambrosio

Reflections on the Boulevard by L.J. Ambrosio
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction, Coming-of-Age
Rated: 4
Review by Rose

Michael’s story continues from A Reservoir Man (2022) where we find him teaching at a university ready to retire. He unexpectedly meets a young man named Ron who becomes his protege and journeys in a haphazard adventure with him throughout America and Europe, each twist and turn of the road bringing unexpected adventures. The journey taken is one of joy, friendship and discovery.

This is the continuation of the author’s previous book A Reservoir Man (reviewed here) and was thoroughly enjoyable. Michael has learned through his life about living his authentic life, and now he has the chance to pass on what he has learned.

Ron is a young man who is drawn to Michael from the first. Even though it took a while on Michael’s side, he recognized a need in Ron. This is the story of their journey – not only in life, but throughout the United States and Europe as well. It’s part memoir, part road trip story told in a stream-of-consciousness style. Not only do we get to take a road trip with two interesting people, we get to see Michael relive a trip he once took, but we get to see Ron learn more about who he is as a human being. And, their platonic life together is bookended by the roadtrips.

I loved the relationship that develops between Michael, an older gay man, and Ron, a straight man. The lessons that Ron learned, that Michael shared, are universal in scope. Not everything is smooth sailing in their relationship, especially when things are discovered but, because of that, it’s a very realistic look at friendship, mentorship, and relationship.

Thanks, Mr. Ambrosio, for a further look into Michael’s life. 4 stars.

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The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Snowdrop

The bestselling historical fiction novel from Kim Michele Richardson, this is a novel following Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian and her quest to bring books to the Appalachian community she loves, perfect for readers of William Kent Kreuger and Lisa Wingate. The perfect addition to your next book club!

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.

What a great story. I can’t find a thing wrong with it. It isn’t all filled with good things. It’s also full of poverty-stricken people and racism that we all hope would go away. Although you might think of these atrocities in the big city, this story is set in the 1930’s right in the heart of the Appalachia’s. Cussy Mary, a 19-year-old young lady, takes care of her father who works in the mines. It’s just the two of them, and they struggle to even keep food on the table.

Cussy Mary takes on a book delivery job. It was The Pack Horse Librarian Project, established as part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. It was exactly as it sounds…ladies delivering books via horses to people all over the hills and trails. Some of the trails were quite treacherous to travel. Cussy Mary used a sure-footed cantankerous old mule to get to some of the families and people on her route. She had people that could not wait to see her no matter the kind of book she had for them and yet others were afraid of her because she was what people in Kentucky called the “Blues”. Her skin was blue, and the prejudice just as real as any other you are familiar with.

Somehow, I’m sure you can already tell I enjoyed this story. There’s another aspect to this little bit of historical fiction that was very important to me. I kept running to my computer to see if all these things were true, and they were. Roosevelt’s Project, the Pack Horse Librarians, and unfortunately, the poverty and prejudice. What a joy to read an enjoyable story of fiction and soak up all of those facts at the same time. Well-written and great to read.