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.

Uncontrollable by Sara Staggs


Uncontrollable by Sara Staggs
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

At 36-years-old, Casey Scott appears to have it all: a booming career as a civil rights litigator, a loving husband, and two sweet young children. But she also has epilepsy, and her worsening seizures threaten to destroy the life she toiled to build.

When her doctor says she is likely to die if her seizures are not controlled, Casey is at a crossroads: will she choose her career and lifelong aspirations, or her family and health?

The decisions she makes affect her marriage, children, and future in ways she could never expect.

Told by Casey and her husband, Uncontrollable is an emotional roller coaster that examines both what happens when the life we may be forced to live is not the life we planned to live, and the compromises we make to survive in the face of adversity.

Painful, but beautiful…which is a lot like life.

Casey has seizures from her epilepsy and it’s taking a toll on her life. She’s already stressed and over her head, but she’s not about to tell anyone she’s in too deep. That’s not how she’s wired. That said, the balances in her life and her stresses are about to become too much for her to handle. This is the story of how she has to learn to balance and let go, while potentially getting what she wants.

This book and the author show how having a chronic illness can be a pain, but also something possible to live with. It’s not the hardest thing to handle, but it’s difficult at times. Casey is flawed and human, which makes her an interesting character. I liked how she had to learn to power through in a way she wasn’t used to. There’s a sensitivity to her character, too. I liked the dynamic between her and Jonah as well. The book showed how life isn’t always clean and the messiness is what makes it great.

If you’re looking for a book to challenge you, but also stay with you long after the last page, then this is the book for you.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin


Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne, France. Traversing the grounds by unicycle, tending to her many gardens—and being present for the intimate, often humorous confidences of visitors—Violette’s life follows the predictable rhythms of mourning. But then Violette’s routine is disrupted by the arrival of Julien Sole, the local police chief.

Julien has come to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother on the gravesite of a complete stranger. It soon becomes clear that Julien’s inexplicable gesture is intertwined with Violette’s own complicated past.

What would it be like to be a young caretaker of a cemetery? What would you learn and experience from this? Violette often ponders the lives of the dead as she looks at their birth and death dates. She has her own issues to deal with as well. She wants to be happy. She is deserted by her husband and loves her daughter; then tragedy hits.

The years roll on as Violette describes her life, her loves, family, friends, and the search for answers. Her narration and insights are written as if a friend were speaking in an elegant way, but she makes many lists throughout the story. Her thoughts and observations offer readers a lot to think about and touch upon many emotions.

The book is layered and complex and crosses time and characters’ perspectives. It starts with Violette appreciating the good she could find in things around her, but the book takes a turn into more serious territory.

It is an intelligent story with cleverness abounding. Turns of action and discoveries will take readers by surprise. The mood is enveloping, and one will be treated to French culture along the way. Why not check out this character-driven tale of a woman with unusual life circumstances and be entertained while being given plenty to think about?

American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo


American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

New York City, 1985, the scaffolded and torchless Statue of Liberty is under reconstruction, the Twin Towers hum with money, and the clubs pulse with music. Young Wall Streeter, Mina Berg, and her roommate, Chry Risk, strike up friendships with the volatile Danny Nyro and easygoing Dare Fiore. Mina wants Chry’s family prestige, while Chry only wants to play the bass like Jaco Pastorius. Nyro trades on his father’s notoriety and Dare is keeping secrets. Each of these twenty-somethings attempts to rewrite their origin story as they find themselves knotted in the cross purposes of friendship and love, life and death. Meanwhile, the Sicilian grandmothers on Staten Island are telling tall tales of a fugitive mermaid who lives in the New York Harbor. It’s for you to decide if she’s a monster or a saint. Themes of art, immigration, reproductive rights, AIDS, assault, class, and betrayal simmer beneath a dynamic plot that spans one life-altering year.

The 1980s was a memorable time, with big things turning the world upside down or individual homes. This story, set in 1985, in New York, covers some of those things such as AIDS and friends and family dynamics.

Mina and her friend Chry live their busy lives in this big city, Mina on Wall Street, and Chry as the daughter of a senator, trying to find her own way through music. They befriend a nice guy with a secret and a rich guy whose bold behavior often encourages the others to take chances. Each of them is bathed in mystery. For example, Mina was left to die as a baby but adopted. Will she ever know the truth from where she come?

As these twenty-somethings live day-by-day, having fun and working, they discover things about themselves and others. Not all these things lead to somewhere good. They face tragic realities, and readers are sure to pick up some of these moving moments and feel them as well.

One learns about the culture of the era, the New York of the eighties and what a bustling time it was, in some ways, different that it is today. Questions are often different, but not always. While reading about these friends and their families, one is likely to be entertained. The writing is personal and addictive. Why not check this one out?

Three by Valerie Perrin


Three by Valerie Perrin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

1986: Adrien, Etienne and Nina are 10 years old when they meet at school and quickly become inseparable. They promise each other they will one day leave their provincial backwater, move to Paris, and never part.

2017: A car is pulled up from the bottom of the lake, a body inside. Virginie, a local journalist with an enigmatic past reports on the case while also reflecting on the relationship between the three friends, who were unusually close when younger but now no longer speak. As Virginie moves closer to the surprising truth, relationships fray and others are formed.

Valérie Perrin has an unerring gift for delving into life. In Three, she brings readers along with her through a sequence of heart-wrenching events and revelations that span three decades. Three tells a moving story of love and loss, hope and grief, friendship and adversity, and of time as an ineluctable agent of change.

This suspenseful tale is sure to touch the heart of its readers. It begins with three childhood friends: Adrien, Etienne, and Nina who promise to always be together. Decades later, a body is found inside a lake, and a journalist, Virginie, discusses the case. She thinks about the three friends. Could they have something to do with it?

We are taken back to 1986 in a provincial area of France, where these kids make big plans. The story unfolds in such a natural way while holding one’s interest. Details bring this passage to life while relationships are explored.

Time passes, and readers cross decades to see the friends later in time. Unexpected things have become of them. Why is this? This is answered by going back in time again. The back-and-forth timelines make for a quick pace and is done smoothly.

While the suspense gets stronger, readers are charmed with the day-to-day episodes of the characters’ lives. The protagonists and their supporting characters are delineated well.

Themes of friendship and dreams, love and choices add layers of complexity to this heart-rending tale. Also, people who love animals will appreciate the aspect of the book that brings their needs to awareness.

The Little French Bistro by Nina George


The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage. After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world.”

Here she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals who surprise her with their warm welcome, and the natural ease they all seem to have, taking pleasure in life’s small moments. And, as the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

With all the buoyant charm that made The Little Paris Bookshop a beloved bestseller, The Little French Bistro is a tale of second chances and a delightful embrace of the joys of life in France.

Marianne is in her sixties and quite unhappy with her marriage and her life; that’s why she attempts suicide in Paris. It’s a failed attempt, and she is rescued by an interesting man. She ends up in Brittany, in a coastal village and meets a vibrant group of people.

These characters jump off the page with their unique qualities and situations. Marianne works in a bistro and gets to know them, but the best part is that she gets to know herself, a woman she has repressed for decades. The true her comes out in a charming unfolding of the story.

Marianne is surrounded by the culture in Brittany. The villagers have their own way of doing things, and it is fun to read about them.

Trouble comes up when Marianne’s husband finds her. She makes some tough decisions.

The end of the book has questions to ponder and a little bit about life in this little part of the world. This book has substance and is worth the read.

Calling Ukraine by Johannes Lichtman


Calling Ukraine by Johannes Lichtman
Publisher: Marysue Rucci Books, Scribner
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and author of Such Good Work Johannes Lichtman returns with a novel that is strikingly relevant to our times—about an American who takes a job in Ukraine in 2018, only to find that his struggle to understand the customs and culture is eclipsed by a romantic entanglement with deadly consequences.

Shortly after his thirtieth birthday, John Turner receives a call from an old college friend who makes him an odd job offer: move to Ukraine to teach customer service agents at a startup how to sound American. John’s never been to Ukraine, doesn’t speak Ukrainian, and is supposed to be a journalist, not a consultant. But having just gone through a break-up and the death of his father, it might just be the new start he’s been looking for.

In Ukraine, John understands very little—the language and social customs are impenetrable to him. At work, his employees are fluent in English but have difficulty grasping the concept of “small talk.” And although he told himself not to get romantically involved while abroad, he can’t help but be increasingly drawn to one of his colleagues.

Most distressing, however, is the fact that John can hear, through their shared wall, his neighbor beating his wife. Desperate to help, John decides to offer the neighbor 100,000 hryvnias to stop. It’s a plan born out the best intentions, but one that has disastrous repercussions that no amount of money or altruism can resolve.

Like Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station and Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Calling Ukraine reimagines the American-abroad novel. Moving effortlessly between the comic and the tragic, Johannes Lichtman deploys his signature wry humor and startling moral acuity to illuminate the inevitable complexities of doing right by others.

Calling Ukraine presents an American journalist who is offered a job in Ukraine. John Turner’s old friend needs him to go there and teach Ukrainians in a call center how to sound American, in order to make calls go smoother and faster.

John packs his bags and heads there, where he knows very little about the language and culture. He runs into various characters who have their own way of teaching him about Ukrainian society—in and out of the office. He also meets an American woman who is there, and they strike up a temporary friendship.

John’s adventures start out innocent enough then get more troublesome. He finds himself in a difficult situation and can’t handle it the way Americans would back home. He comes up with a strange solution, but this takes a very bad turn. From then on, he’s looking over his shoulder, very anxious of being thrown into a Ukrainian prison.

The book is fast-paced and entertaining. There was one part that stands out as too judgmental, when John has a conversation about Gen X. He is harsh with this generation, and his views don’t sound accurate, but rather like someone younger judging an age group and not understanding how it really was—based on a television sitcom. However, the book is good, with rising tension and complex characters, and it is not predictable. This story was informative about Ukraine and enjoyable.