*Starstruck by Ivy Dawes


*Starstruck by Ivy Dawes
Publisher: Flower and Bear Books
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Kat:

Dropped by my acting agent? Check. Dumped by my crappy ex boyfriend? Check.

This was not what I envisioned when I moved to LA. So I’m starting at the bottom. Again. When I get a job as a PA on the set of an upcoming Starlight Studios movie, I am stuck catering to the whims of a has-been who treats me like dirt. It’s almost enough to make me reconsider this gig. That is until I meet a background actor who gives me butterflies and makes me feel like I’m alive again.

But looks can be deceiving. Especially when he is buried under layers of facial prosthetics and fake blood. Turns out he’s not a background actor at all. He’s James Everett, the film’s leading star. He’s smart, funny, ridiculously handsome, and everything I want.

Falling in love with a movie star? Check. But does that matter when the film studio is pushing him to enter a fake relationship with someone else?

James:

I have money, fame, and now the leadership role I’ve dreamed of for years at Starlight Studios is finally within my grasp. As long as I stay in line. Anyone would want to be in my shoes. But despite what the public believes, being a part of the Everett family acting dynasty isn’t all award shows and accolades. People only look at me for what they can get from me. Roles, connections, even just being seen in public with me is enough to boost someone’s image in Hollywood. It’s exhausting.

Then, I run into Kat… literally. She’s fun, feisty, and beautiful inside and out. Instead of wanting me for my name, she wants me for who I am. And she’s starting to make me question my father’s actions and his control over my career. The only problem? In order to get that promotion at my family’s film studio, I have to sign a relationship contract… with someone else. What we have is a bright spot in my life, but is it about to be extinguished?

Starstruck is an entertaining Hollywood story about a struggling actress and a popular movie star. The two main characters are down to earth and easy to connect with and their connection is sweet and easy.

Kat is working as a P.A. on a movie set when she meets James, the star of the movie. Her life hasn’t worked out as she has planned, and her confidence is at an all-time low.

I liked James and Kat and thought they were great together. They are down to earth, don’t have big egos and help each other deal with some of their issues. Hollywood is a cutthroat place, and this wouldn’t be a Hollywood story without some backstabbing, bloated egos and insincere smiles. Where everyone around them is insincere James and Kat are honest and work well together. This is an entertaining story from start to finish.

Kent and Katcha by Larry and Rosemary Mild


Kent and Katcha by Larry and Rosemary Mild
Publisher: Magic Island Literary Works
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Historical, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Larry and Rosemary Mild breach the deeper cover and higher intrigue to bring you a fictional novel full of spy-craft, espionage, and adventure drawn from Larry’s former association with real agents and their spook agencies.

The year is 1992. The Soviet Union has collapsed, but danger persists. Young Kent Brukner, a freshly trained American spy, arrives in Moscow for a high-risk mission: to infiltrate and compromise a Russian Federation Army facility. Under an alias, in a military uniform, he plies his skills—unprepared for the brutal confrontations and irrational consequences.

Kent meets the innocent and passionate Katcha, daughter of a British expatriate and a Russian dissident. Together the lovers embark on a near-impossible journey, beginning in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. Stalked by the evil Major Dmitri Federov, they must escape from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, Finland, or face life in a Russian prison.

This novel is a marvelous throwback to the early nineteen nineties, shortly after the end of the Cold War. Kent is an engaging character, an American spy, whose background is fleshed out enough for us to understand who he is and what his motivations are. The Russians capture him and throw him in prison. The situation seems hopeless.

Then, in a surprising turn of events, he manages to escape. Every step of his hopeful journey towards freedom is filled with tension. One thing after another threatens him along the path, and readers will worry for his safety. He meets an interesting lady during this time, Katcha, whose mother proposes an intriguing possibility for the young couple. It is so dangerous, so filled with a likely tragic end, and Kent only agrees with hesitation. Now, his risk has doubled. Can he and Katcha possibly survive the scrutiny and perseverance of the Russians going after him?

This book is a page-turner. The pace moves quickly but not too quickly. There is time for emotional introspection. The setting is convincingly drawn, taking readers into the era and place with ease.

This is an entertaining vintage novel readers of espionage tales with a bit of romance thrown in are sure to enjoy.

American Daughters by Piper Huguley


American Daughters by Piper Huguley
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

In the vein of America’s First Daughter, Piper Huguley’s historical novel delves into the remarkable friendship of Portia Washington and Alice Roosevelt, the daughters of educator Booker T. Washington and President Teddy Roosevelt.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a time of great change, two women—separated by societal status and culture but bound by their expected roles as the daughters of famed statesmen—forged a lifelong friendship.

Portia Washington’s father Booker T. Washington was formerly enslaved and spent his life championing the empowerment of Black Americans through his school, known popularly as Tuskegee Institute, as well as his political connections. Dedicated to her father’s values, Portia contributed by teaching and performing spirituals and classical music. But a marriage to a controlling and jealous husband made fulfilling her dreams much more difficult.

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, his eldest daughter Alice Roosevelt joined him in the White House. To try to win her father’s approval, she eagerly jumped in to help him succeed, but Alice’s political savvy and nonconformist behavior alienated as well as intrigued his opponents and allies. When she married a congressman, she carved out her own agendas and continued espousing women’s rights and progressive causes.

Brought together in the wake of their fathers’ friendship, these bright and fascinating women helped each other struggle through marriages, pregnancies, and political upheaval, supporting each other throughout their lives.

A provocative historical novel and revealing portrait, Piper Huguley’s American Daughters vividly brings to life two passionate and vital women who nurtured a friendship that transcended politics and race over a century ago.

This is an inspiring story about two women who form an unexpected friendship that transcends their different social statuses, politics, and race. It showcases historical figures that we are familiar with, such as Portia Washington the daughter of the famous educator, Booker T. Washington, and Alice Roosevelt, the President of the United States at the time, Teddy Roosevelt. The journey of these two women is a testament to their resilience and the power of friendship.

I enjoyed reading and learning about the strengths and resilience of the two fascinating women in the book. The author did a fantastic job of crafting a tale that navigated the life and friendship of Portia and Alice. It was interesting to see how their bond exceeded wealth, privilege, race, and cultural background – from their start as “Good Daughters” to their eventual “Liberation” as individuals. As I read, I saw that they were both women of intelligence, determination, and hope. Their differences were obvious but the similarities to me are what drew them together, and the bond formed from there is what forged their relationship that lasted over a century.

The book alternates between the voices of Portia and Alice. I could not help but be drawn to their strong but lady-like characteristics. Their historical significance is one to notice as it shows their influential relevance as they navigated their famous title of American daughters during their roles as wives, mothers, and women facing various relevant life issues that many of which still apply today.

Portia’s husband, Sid Pittman, was a source of trouble that I knew Portia should have avoided. Although I could sympathize with his internal struggle as his father-in-law, Mr. Washington, mentioned to his daughter, Portia about the challenges that men of color in an industry where “Negro men have never gotten to do before.” I am sure that with Booker T. Washington as his father-in-law, Sid was held to a high standard and expectations were set higher than he could achieve. However, it was difficult to understand why he channeled his anger towards damaging the spirit and minds of those who loved him. As for Alice, she is supporting her husband, Nick, during his political career as he is up to become the next Speaker of the House, and a surprise adds more excitement to her unconventional marriage of convenience.

I was glad to read American Daughters, but it did not captivate me as much as I expected. I found some slow spells of dialogue that made the story longer than necessary. Additionally, I did not think ahead of how the book would end, and I felt that all I read about was what the two ladies going through. I wanted more details of the ending that matched the energy of the earlier parts of the book. The book ended leaving me with only the assumption of how their lives would unfold after the last big reveal.

Portia and Alice were remarkable women who encountered many challenges throughout their lives. They always had each other to rely on, which was inspiring to read about. My takeaway from the book is that their beginning not only benefited them and that “motherless children must stick together” but it also changed the narrative for their daughters and their bond is a testament that will live on. This was an interesting story.

Dick’s Joke by Clint Mannschaft


Dick’s Joke by Clint Mannschaft
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Pain. Hate. Fear. Death. Stand-Up Comedy. A Novella.

The dark underbelly of stand-up comedy is something worth examining in greater detail.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t find most of the characters in this tale to be likeable people, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to figure them out. Some of them were sexist, while others were so absorbed in their own quirky hobbies that it was tricky for them to see the world from other perspectives or consider the feelings of those around them. My opinions of them often shifted in a positive direction as I got to know them better, though. How someone acknowledges, or sometimes chooses to remain willfully obtuse about, their flaws can say so much about them as an individual. Characters don’t have to be morally upstanding citizens in order to teach readers about the world by any means, and I felt I learned a lot from these characters even if I often disagreed with their behavior.

There were pacing issues that interfered with my interest levels. Some scenes moved much more quickly than other ones did. When combined with the large differences between how many pages different scenes lasted, I never knew what to expect next. The middle portions, particularly the monologue, seemed to slow down which made it harder for me to want to keep reading.

I appreciated how much effort Mr. Mannschaft put into experimenting with how a story should be told. There is definitely something to be said with playing around with a genre and seeing which tropes from it are actually necessary to keep readers’ attention versus which one can be safely sidestepped. This was creative.

Dick’s Joke pushed the boundaries of storytelling and came up with some interesting conclusions.

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, audiobook read by Ira Glass


Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, audiobook read by Ira Glass
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Read by an all-star cast and featuring a bonus story special to the audio edition, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door is a one-of-a-kind audiobook.

Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret’s new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a “genius” by The New York Times—as one of the most original writers of his generation.

This is an interesting collection of short stories written by Etgar Keret about daily life. Daily life, as we all know, can be complex. Many tricky situations can occur.

Keret delves into various emotions and goes from the normal to the playful, wild, or mature. The themes vary throughout this collection, but there is an underlying knowledge of universal yearning to enhance the stories.

Each piece varies in length—some quite short, and some a bit longer. It is a unique set of tales, sure to touch many readers.

The Devil and Mrs. Davenport by Paulette Kennedy


The Devil and Mrs. Davenport by Paulette Kennedy
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical, Fiction, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

The first day of autumn brought the fever, and with the fever came the voices.

Missouri, 1955. Loretta Davenport has led an isolated life as a young mother and a wife to Pete, an ambitious assistant professor at a Bible college. They’re the picture of domestic tranquility—until a local girl is murdered and Loretta begins receiving messages from beyond. Pete dismisses them as delusions of a fevered female imagination. Loretta knows they’re real—and frightening.

Defying Pete’s demands, Loretta finds an encouraging supporter in parapsychologist Dr. Curtis Hansen. He sees a woman with a rare gift, more blessing than curse. With Dr. Hansen’s help, Loretta’s life opens up to an empowering new purpose. But for Pete, the God-fearing image he’s worked so hard to cultivate is under threat. No longer in control of his dutiful wife, he sees the Devil at work.

As Loretta’s powers grow stronger and the pleading spirits beckon, Pete is determined to deliver his wife from evil. To solve the mysteries of the dead, Loretta must first save herself.

Set in 1955, Missouri, this story tells the tale of a housewife, Loretta Davenport, with gifts and the serious problems that come with it. Her husband Pete teaches at a Bible college. He is a traditional guy but is a bit unreasonable when it comes to his wife and his expectations.

When a girl is murdered, Loretta gets messages from the other side of the veil. Pete thinks she just has an overexcited imagination. When Loretta befriends Dr. Curtis Hansen, Pete is not happy about this. He becomes more and more difficult.

The pace picks up in this mystery as the danger unfolds for Loretta and a friend of the murdered girl who is also threatened. Can Loretta help her before it is too late? Things might be too late for herself as Pete becomes abusive and wants to lock her up.

Themes of mental health, family, friends, abuse, and forgiveness are weaved within the pages of this mystery. The characterization is done well, and this book has complexity and depth. It is also respectful of the times, being true to the setting.

Soul Ryder by Nita Lapinski


Soul Ryder by Nita Lapinski
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary, Inspirational Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

“Am I dead?” the young girl, Leah asks. Addie, a Clairvoyant Medium struggling with her own horrific loss, is compassionately hesitant to reveal the truth.

Join Addie and her insightful dog, Roka as they work to untangle the unimaginable tragedy that has left Leah bewildered and confused. They must race against time and Addie’s own unforeseen challenges to guide Leah to a very important crossroad.

This book is an interesting look into the life of a clairvoyant medium. Addie gets visions of dead people, all the while dealing with her own pain, the loss of a child. Leah visits Addie often, trying to give her a message.

Addie experiences people on the other side of the veil, and it affects her deeply. She must figure out how to help Leah, but it is taking her toll on her.

Soul Ryder is a short and easy-to-read story. This paranormal tale unfolds quickly and tugs at the emotions. Hopefully the author will write more stories, giving readers an inside view into her protagonist’s gift and how she helps others.

One Christmas Morning by Rachel Greenlaw


One Christmas Morning by Rachel Greenlaw
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Holiday, Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Eva has spent the past three years burying herself in her work, trying to forget the heartbreaking events of the Christmas that ripped her world apart. This year, the last thing she wants is to attend her friend’s weekend-long Christmas party. But at her husband James’ insistence, here they are.

When Eva—overwhelmed by bittersweet memories—tries to sneak back to London in the middle of the night, she is visited by the ghost of her beloved grandmother. Gran tells Eva that if she doesn’t face her fears head-on and stop shutting out her loved ones, she risks losing them all forever.

When Eva wakes on Christmas morning, she finds herself living not her own life, but that of her hardworking assistant, Diana, whose overflowing inbox isn’t the only secret she’s been keeping. The next day, she wakes on Christmas morning again, this time in the body of her best friend’s little sister. As Eva lives the same day again and again through the perspectives of her friends, she is offered a glimpse into the lives of those she has been pushing away. With each Christmas Day comes a new lesson—and an insight into the secrets and struggles her loved ones have been hiding. To move forward, Eva must let go of the past. But is it too late to fix her future?

The protagonist, Eva, makes quite an impression with her shop. The setting is mostly on the wild moors of Cornwall. Eva is has a strong personality and pushes people around in her life for the sake of her obsession. She takes her friends and family for granted. She also has something painful in her past and a marriage on the rocks.

Eva and her husband James are invited to a Christmas party at the home of her friends, Hallie and Kian. When midnight hits, her grandmother’s ghost comes to see Eva with advice that is hard for Eva to hear. Eva will have to learn a lesson the hard way: When she wakes up on Christmas day, she literally is not herself but is in the body of her assistant Diana. What could she learn from this? Well, she wakes up again the next day, and it is Christmas again. This time, she occupies someone else’s body.

This is quite a clever story and has depth. A main theme is relationships, but there is more. As Eva sees other points of view, it affects her in interesting ways. Surprising things come to light in this delightful tale for the season. It is a good read, with suspense, fun while being meaningful, and is written well.

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.

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.