General Fiction

#BookReview
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
@elinhilderbrand @littlebrown

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, a summertime story about identical twins who couldn’t be any less alike.

Nantucket is only two and a half hours away from Martha’s Vineyard by ferry. But the two islands might as well be worlds apart for a set of identical twin sisters who have been at odds for years. Just because twins look exactly the same doesn’t mean they’re anything alike–and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point. When a family crisis forces them to band together–or at least appear to–the twins come to realize that the special bond that they share is more important than the resentments that have driven them apart. A story of new loves, old battles, and a threat that gives a whole new meaning to the term sibling rivalry, THE IDENTICALS is Elin Hilderbrand at her page-turning best.


Book Rating: 10/10

Absorbing, enchanting, and absolutely irresistible!

This story is set on the picturesque islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and gives us a glimpse into small-island living, complete with alluring beaches, endless sun, infinite gossip, and competitive rivalry. It is told from three different perspectives; Harper, a free spirit who is fun and kind but often impulsive and reckless; Tabitha, Harper’s mature, responsible, workaholic identical twin who struggles with underlying grief; and Ainsley, Tabitha’s teenage daughter who is popular, spoilt and in desperate need of some additional parenting.

The writing is flawless. The plot is a perfect blend of heart, hope, angst, and drama. And the characterization is well-developed with a wonderful cast of characters, including three generations of strong, determined women who learn to embrace the future and let go of the past. 

This is, ultimately, a story about family dynamics, sister relationships, heartbreak, secrets, expectations, loss, grief, forgiveness, dreams, love, discovering one’s true self and the undeniable special bonds between twins. It is the perfect summer read. It sweeps you away to another place, gives you some tears, gives you some smiles and I absolutely adored it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is available now.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                           

For more information on Elin Hilderbrand, visit her website at: elinhilderbrand.net

or follow her on twitter at: @elinhilderbrand

#BookReview
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
@robinnelee @StMartinsPress

Synopsis:

When Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of a prestigious art gallery in Los Angeles, takes her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band, she does so reluctantly and at her ex-husband’s request. The last thing she expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s disparate worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways. And for Solène, it is as much a reclaiming of self, as it is a rediscovery of happiness and love. When their romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her new status has impacted not only her life, but the lives of those closest to her.


Book Rating: 9/10

Sophisticated, alluring, and extremely passionate! 

This is a thought-provoking, intriguing novel that reminds us that women can be confident, powerful, intelligent, attractive, sexual beings at any age and that being famous often has many drawbacks.

The prose is genuine and raw. The characters are authentic, honest, multi-layered, and appealing. And the plot sweeps you away into an engaging saga about motherhood, independence, responsibility, age disparity, stardom, art, seduction, desire, lust, love and unquenchable chemistry.

This a wonderful debut for Lee. It’s an exquisite love story with palpable emotion, strong narration and an ending, which I logically understand but still wish was different, that will resonate with you long after you finish the final page. 

About the Author:

 

ROBINNE LEE is an actor, writer and producer. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, Robinne was born and raised in Westchester County, New York. Robinne has numerous acting credits in both television and film, most notably opposite Will Smith in both Hitch and Seven Pounds. She recently completed shooting Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, playing Ros Bailey. Robinne currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. The Idea of You is her first novel.

 

 

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is due to be published on June 13, 2017.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                           

For more information on Robinne Lee, visit her website at: robinnelee.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @robinnelee

#BookReview
Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg
@CaraAchterberg

Synopsis:

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia. The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by. And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face. Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal. Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.


Book Rating: 8.5/10

Authentic, heartwarming, and intriguing!

This is a thought-provoking novel that reminds us that life is unpredictable and that when it comes to “normal” perspective is everything.

The story is told from three different points of view; Kate, a mother, wife and daughter who spends all her time and energy taking care of those around her; Jenna, a teenager struggling with hormones, individuality and new love; and Everett, a husband and father who is impatient, selfish, and too wrapped up in his own wants and needs to appreciate what’s right in front of him.

The prose is reflective and sincere. The characters, including all the supporting characters, are complex, strong, and endearing. And the plot is a compelling tale full of familial dynamics, friendship, infidelity, secrets, coming-of-age, honesty, humour, love, as well as an in-depth look into the stereotypical mentality, difficulties and extraordinary abilities that those with Asperger’s experience.

This is the second novel I’ve read by Achterberg and once again she has blown me away with this well-crafted, touching story that gives us a real, raw look into a contemporary multi-generational family.

About the Author:

Cara Sue Achterberg is a blogger and novelist who lives on a hillside farm in South Central, Pennsylvania.

Cara’s novels, I’m Not Her (August 2015, The Story Plant) and Girls’ Weekend (May 2016, Story Plant) are both works of women’s fiction. Her upcoming novel, Practicing Normal, will be published June 2017 by The Story Plant.

Cara is also the author of Live Intentionally, a nonfiction book based on ten years of trying to shop, cook, eat, and live intentionally with kids in tow. It’s a guidebook for the organic life.

Cara is a prolific blogger and currently posts regularly two blogs which can be accessed through her website, CaraWrites.com.

Cara teaches creative writing and her essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, national magazines, websites, and blogs, in addition to local media.

Cara grew up in Hockessin, Delaware (and still considers Delaware the best state of all).

Cara is passionate about organic food, clean air, productive gardens, uncluttered lives, and real relationships. She is also passionate about adopting rescue dogs and currently fosters dogs and puppies for the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes.

Cara’s next project is a memoir about fostering her first fifty dogs.

When not writing or weeding (which can sometimes be one and the same), Cara enjoys running, hiking, reading, visiting Virginia wineries, and trying not to fall off her favorite horse, True.

Thank you to Cara Sue Achterberg, the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is available now.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                 

For more information on Cara Sue Achterberg, visit her website at: carawrites.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @CaraAchterberg

#BookReview
The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro
@JuliaFierro @StMartinsPress

Synopsis:

It is the summer of 1992 and a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon Island, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Leslie Day Marshall—only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family—returns to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest 

estate. Leslie’s husband Jules is African-American, and their children biracial, and islanders from both sides of the tracks form fast and dangerous opinions about the new arrivals. 

Maddie Pencott LaRosa straddles those tracks: a teen queen with roots in the tony precincts of East Avalon and the crowded working class corner of West Avalon, home to Grudder Aviation factory, the island’s bread-and-butter. Maddie falls in love with Brooks, Leslie’s and Jules’ son, and that love feels as urgent to Maddie as the questions about the new and deadly cancers showing up across the island. 

Her upbringing on economically segregated Long Island and her fascination-followed by-heavy research into gypsy moths inspired this novel, translating her acute observations into a literary meditation on race, politics, and community. In incorporating the political tensions of the 1992 presidential election, Fierro makes powerful parallels to the 2016 presidential Clinton campaign. 

Vivid with young lovers, gangs of anxious outsiders; a plotting aged matriarch, a demented military patriarch; and a troubled young boy, THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER is about love, gaps in understanding, and the struggle to connect: within families; among friends; between neighbors and entire generations. 


Book Rating: 6.5/10

Pensive, poignant and undeniably tragic!

In this latest novel by Fierro, she transports us to Avalon Island, an islet infested by not only the gypsy moth but small-town, small-minded politics, economics, and environmental consciousness.

The prose is vivid and exquisitely descriptive. The characters are destructive, materialistic and damaged. And the plot, which is ultimately about love, life, loss, cruelty, deception, familial dynamics, and vengeance has too many subplots and tackles too many issues, including industrial pollution, social and class division and strife, abuse, racism and emerging sexuality to not get a little bogged down and awkward.

I have to admit this was a really hard one for me. There is no doubt that Fierro can write and write well and some readers will love the dark, somber feel of this story, but for me, I couldn’t quite connect with the characters and the story had too much misery and not enough redemption.

About the Author

JULIA FIERRO is the author of the novels The Gypsy Moth Summer and Cutting Teeth. Her work has been published in Buzzfeed, Glamour, The Millions, Poets & Writers, Time Out New York, and other publications. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Julia founded The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop in 2002, a creative home to more than 3,500 writers in NYC, Los Angeles and Online.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Julia Fierro for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is available now.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                          

For more information on Julia Fierro, visit her website at: juliafierro.com/author/

or follow her on Twitter at: @JuliaFierro

#BookReview #BecomingBonnie by Jenni L. Walsh #BonnieAndClydeVersary
@jennilwalsh @forgereads

Synopsis:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.


Book Rating: 9/10

This is a remarkably fascinating interpretation about the life of Bonnelyn Parker, a young, sweet, god-loving girl who became known as one of the most notorious outlaws of the 20th century. She was, ultimately, a victim of the times and longed and strived to help support and protect those she cared for.

It is a story about familial responsibilities, poverty, coming-of-age, survival, friendship, dreams, desire and love.

The prose is precise and fluid. And the story takes us back to the mid-to-late 1920s to a dusty town on the outskirts of Dallas where people worked hard but didn’t always have much, prohibition was in full force and the worst, longest and deepest economic depression was just about to hit.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story. It is a well written, intriguing, rich story, and even though there is not much known about Bonnelyn’s early life and the events that led up to her close, intimate relationship with the fugitive Clyde Barrow, Walsh has done an exceptional job of taking historical facts and surrounding them with fiction that is both alluring and exceptionally captivating.

About the Author:

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. 

Thank you to Jenni L. Walsh and Forge Books for providing me with a copy in an exchange for an honest review.

This novel is available now!

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links:

                                          

For more information on Jenni L. Walsh visit her website at: jennilwalsh.com 

or follow her on Twitter at: @jennilwalsh

#BookReview
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman
by Denis Thériault @PGCBooks

Synopsis:

Bilodo lives a solitary daily life, routinely completing his postal rounds every day and returning to his empty Montreal apartment. But he has found a way to break the cycle — Bilodo has taken to stealing people’s mail, steaming open the envelopes, and reading the letters inside. And so it is he comes across Ségolène’s letters. She is corresponding with Gaston, a master poet, and their letters are each composed of only three lines. They are writing each other haikus. The simplicity and elegance of their poems move Bilado and he begins to fall in love with her. But one day, out on his round, he witnesses a terrible and tragic accident. Just as Gaston is walking up to the post-box to mail his next haiku to Ségolène, he is hit by a car and dies on the side of the road. And so Bilodo makes an extraordinary decision — he will impersonate Gaston and continue to write to Ségolène under this guise. But how long can the deception continue for? Denis Thériault weaves a passionate and elegant tale, comic and tragic with a love story at its heart.


Book Rating: 8/10

Unique, quirky and exceptionally thought-provoking!

This is a short but poignantly sweet story about a young, content postman by the name of Bilodo who lives a simple life by day and a much more exciting though deceptive life by night as he secretly indulges in the writings of strangers and the lives and love those letters express.

The prose is exquisitely descriptive. The imagery is beyond words with metaphors and similes that ignite all the senses. And the plot is truly a well-crafted love letter to Haiku poetry, Zen philosophy and Japanese culture from the symbolic, magical kimono to ‘ensō’ the circle representing creative enlightenment all the way to the sobering yet karmic ending.

This is ultimately a story about life, love and death and although the storyline as a whole is morally questionable the writing itself is so beautiful you can’t help but be engrossed, immersed and swept away in this poetic, fable-like, love story.

Thank you to PGC Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is available now.

Pick up a copy of this story from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                  

For more information on the titles available from PGC books visit their website at: pgcbooks.ca

or follow them on twitter at: @PGCBooks

#BookReview
Mothers And Other Strangers
@ginasorell @PGCBooks

Synopsis:

“My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was nineteen, and knowing that she was already pregnant with a dead man’s child, she accepted.”

Thus begins this riveting story of a woman’s quest to understand her recently deceased mother, a glamorous, cruel narcissist who left her only child, Elsie, an inheritance of debts and mysteries. While coping with threats that she suspects are coming from the cult-like spiritual program her mother belonged to, Elsie works to unravel the message her dying mother left for her, a quest that ultimately takes her to the South African family homestead she never knew existed.


Book Rating: 8.5/10

Heart-wrenching, engrossing and deeply moving!

This is an intriguing novel that highlights the enduring physical and psychological effects parents can have on their children and emphasizes just how important guidance, affection, respect and love are in child development.

The prose is eloquent and fluid. The characters are fragile, tormented and raw. And the plot is a subtle journey into one middle-aged, woman’s life as she tries to discover her true self and find some form of closure and happiness while piecing together all the secrets and sins of a mother she never truly knew.

Overall this is an incredibly thought-provoking, gripping, beautiful debut by Sorell that does a remarkable job of illuminating the complex bonds and emotional ties between mothers and daughters.

About the Author

Born in South Africa and raised in Canada, Gina Sorell now resides in Toronto, and lives in a world of words. Some of those words are: writer, namer, creative director, artist, daughter, sister, wife and mother.
After two decades as a working actor of stage and screen in NYC, LA, and Toronto, Gina decided to return to her first love–writing, and graduated with distinction from UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Gina likes to balance out the long solitary hours of novel writing, with her work as a Creative Director of Eat My Words, a SF based branding firm, where she collaborates all day long with innovators and entrepreneurs whose identity she establishes with only one word, their name.

Thank you to PGC Canada for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is available now.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from the following links.

                                            

For more information on Gina Sorell visit her website at: ginasorell.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @ginasorell

#Excerpt
Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh
@jennilwalsh @torbooks

Synopsis:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

Excerpt:

Chapter 1    

But I, being poor, have only my dreams.

Hands in my hair, I look over the words I wrote on the Mason jar atop my bureau. I snigger, almost as if I’m antagonizing the sentiment. One day I won’t be poor with dreams. I’ll have money and dreams.

I drop my hair and swallow a growl, never able to get my stubborn curls quite right.

My little sister carefully sets her pillow down, tugs at the corner to give it shape, the final touch to making her bed. “Stop messing with it.”

“Easy for you to say. The humidity ain’t playing games with your hair.”

And Little Billie’s hair is down. Smooth and straight. Mine is pinned back into a low bun. Modest and practical.

Little Billie chuckles. “Well, I’m going before Mama hollers at me. Church starts in twenty minutes and you know she’s got to watch everyone come in.”

I shake my head; that woman always has her nose to the ground. Little Billie scoots out of our bedroom and I get back to taming my flyaways and scan my bureau for my favorite stud earrings, one of our few family heirlooms. Footsteps in the hall quicken my fingers. I slide in another hairpin, jabbing my skull. “I’m coming, Ma!”

A deep cough.

I turn to find my boyfriend taking up much of the doorway. He’s got his broad shoulders and tall frame to thank for that.

I smile, saying, “Oh, it’s only you.”

Roy’s own smile doesn’t quite form. “Yes, it’s only me.”

I wave him off, a strand falling out of place. Roy being ’round ain’t nothin’ new, but on a Sunday morning … That gets my heart bumping with intrigue. “What ya doing here so early? The birds are barely chirpin’.”

“It ain’t so early. Got us less than twenty minutes ’til—”

“I know.”

“Thought I could walk you to church,” Roy says.

“Is that so?” My curiosity builds, ’specially with how this boy is shifting his weight from side to side. He’s up to something. And I ain’t one to be kept in the dark. Fingers busy with my hair, I motion with my elbow and arch a brow. “That for me?”

Roy glances down at an envelope in his hand, as if he forgot he was even holding it. He moves it behind his back. “It can wait. There’s actually something else—”

I’m across the room in a heartbeat, tugging on his arm. “Oh no it can’t.”

On the envelope, “Final Notice” stares back at me in bold letters. The sender is our electric company. Any excitement is gone.

“I’m sorry, Bonnelyn,” Roy says. “Caught my eye on it in the bushes out front.”

My arms fall to my sides and I stare unblinking at the envelope, not sure how something so small, so light, could mean something so big, so heavy, for our family. “I didn’t know my ma hadn’t been paying this.”

Roy pushes the envelope, facedown, onto my bureau. “I can help pay—”

“Thanks, but we’ll figure it out.” I sigh at my hair, at our unpaid bill, at the fact I’m watching my sister after church instead of putting in hours at the diner. Fortunately, my brother’s pulling a double at the cement plant. Ma will be at the factory all afternoon. But will it be enough?

I move in front of the wall mirror to distract myself. Seeing my hand-me-down blouse ain’t helping. I peek at Roy, hoping I don’t find pity on his face. There he goes again, throwing his weight from foot to foot. And, sure, that boy is sweet as pie, but I know he ain’t antsy thinkin’ my lights are suddenly going to go off.

“Everything okay, Roy?”

“Yeah.”

That yeah ain’t so convincing.

“You almost done here?” he asks. Roy shifts the old Mason jar to the side, holds up the earring I’d been looking for.

I nod—to the earring, not to being done—and he brings it to me. Despite how this morning is turning out, I smile, liking that Roy knew what I was looking for without me having to tell him.

“Ready now?” he says.

I slide another pin into my hair. “Why’s everyone rushing me?”

Roy swallows, and if I had five clams to bet, I’d bet he’s nervous ’bout something. He edges closer to my bureau. He shakes the Mason jar, the pieces of paper rustling inside. “When did you write this on the outside?”

But I, being poor, have only my dreams.

I avert my eyes, being those words weren’t meant for Roy’s. “Not too long ago.”

“Ya know, Bonnelyn, you won’t always be poor. I’ll make sure of that.”

“I know I won’t.” I add a final pin to my hair. I’ll make sure of that.

“So why’d you write it?”

“I didn’t. William Butler Yeats did.”

Roy shoves his hands in his pockets. “You know what I mean.”

I shrug and stare at my reflection. “It inspires me, wanting to be more than that line. And I will. I’ll put a white picket fence in front of my house to prove it.”

Your house?”

I turn away from the mirror to face him. His voice sounded off. Too high. But Roy ain’t looking at me. He’s staring at the wall above my head. “Our house,” I correct, a pang of guilt stabbing me in the belly ’cause I didn’t say our to begin with. “That jar is full of our dreams, after all.”

Really, it’s full of doodles, scribbled on whatever paper Roy had on hand. Napkins. Ripped corners of his textbook pages. The top flap of a cereal box. He shoved the first scrap of paper in my hand when we were only knee-high to a grasshopper: quick little drawings of me and him in front of the Eiffel Tower, riding horses with dogs running ’round our feet, holding hands by the Gulf’s crashing waves.

Our dreams. Plenty of ’em. Big and small. Whimsical and sweet.

But this here is the twenties. Women can vote; women are equals, wanting to make a name for themselves. I’m no exception. Sure, I’ll bring those doodles to life with Roy, but I would’ve added my own sketches to the jar if I could draw. Standing at the front of my very own classroom. At a bank counter, depositing my payroll checks. Shaking hands with a salesman, purchasing my first car.

Call it selfish, call it whatever ya like, but after struggling for money all my life, my dreams have always come before ours.

Still, I link our hands. “I’m ready to go.”

* * *

“Hallelujah!”

The congregation mimics my pastor’s booming voice. The women flick their fans faster with excitement. Pastor Frank shuffles to the right, then to the left, sixty-some eyes following his every movement. From the choir pews off to the side, I watch his mesmerized flock hang on his every word, myself included. My ma is amidst the familiar faces. She prefers to use Daddy’s brown hat to cool herself, holding on to him even after he’s been gone all these years. I can’t say I blame her.

“Amen!” we chime.

Pastor Frank nods at me, and I move from the choir box to the piano. I bring my hands down and the first chords of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” roar to life. Every Sunday, I sit on this here bench, press my fingers into the keys, and let the Lord’s words roll off my tongue. Ma says Daddy would be proud too. I sure hope that’s true.

It’s another reason why I’ll make something of myself. In our small town or in a big city, it doesn’t matter much, but Bonnelyn Parker is going to be somebody. Wherever life takes me, whatever final notice stands in my way, my daddy will look down on me and smile, knowing I ain’t struggling, I’m thriving. I’m more than poor.

I push my voice louder, raise my chin, and sing the hymn’s last note, letting it vibrate with the piano’s final chord.

The congregation shouts praises to the Lord as Pastor Frank clasps his hands together and tells us all to, “Go and spread His word.”

Voices break out, everyone beating their gums at once. I slip off the bench, weave through the crowd. A few people are always louder than the rest. Mrs. Davis is having a potluck lunch. Mr. Miller’s best horse is sick. He spent his early morning hours in his barn, from the looks of his dirty overalls.

Ma’s got more pride than a lion and makes certain we’re dressed to the nines, even if our nine is really only a five. Still, my older brother’s vest and slacks are his Sunday best. And even though we’ve got secondhand clothes, my sister’s and my white blouses are neatly tucked into our skirts. We may be pretending to look the part, but our family always gets by. We find a way, just like we’ll make sure that electric bill gets paid. Though I don’t like how Ma let this bill get so late.

I rush through the church’s double doors, sucking in fresh air, and shield my eyes from the sun. A laugh slips out. There’s my brother, playing keep-away from my little sister with one of her once white shoes. Buster tosses the shoe to Roy. Roy fumbles it. No surprise there, but part of me wonders if his nerves from earlier are sticking ’round. On the way to church, he wouldn’t let me get a word in, going on nonstop ’bout the weather. I reckon the summer of 1927 is hot, real hot, but not worth all his fuss.

“Little Billie, those boys picking on you?” I call, skipping down the church steps, keeping my eyes on Roy.

He takes immediate notice of me, missing my brother’s next throw. “Say, Bonnelyn.” Roy wipes his hairline. “I was hoping to do this before church, but you were having trouble with your…” He gestures toward his own hair, then stops, wisely thinkin’ better of it. “I’ve a surprise for you.”

“A surprise? Why didn’t you tell me so? I could’ve hurried.”

He also wisely doesn’t comment on my earlier irritation at being hurried.

“Follow me?” Roy asks, his brown eyes hopeful.

“Not today, lover boy,” Buster cuts in. “Bonn’s watching Billie.”

Billie hops toward me on one foot, her voice bouncing as she proclaims how she’s eleven and doesn’t need to be babysat no more. I bend to pick up her lost shoe, letting out a long sigh. Roy sighs too. But Roy also looks like a puppy that’s been kicked.

“Will the surprise take long?” I ask him. “Buster doesn’t need to be at work for another two hours.”

“Actually an hour,” my brother says. “But Roy here probably only needs a few minutes, tops.” He winks, and Roy playfully charges him.

My cheeks flush, and not ’cause Roy and I have done that. Roy hasn’t even looked at me in a way that would lead to that.

“Let’s go.” I bounce on my toes and push Roy down the dirt-packed street, then realize I don’t know where I’m going and let Roy lead. Buster’s laugher trails us.

We go over one block, passing my house, nestled between the cemetery and the library. An old picket fence that Ma’s been harping on my brother to paint for ages stretches ’cross the front.

Cement City is barely more than an intersection, and there ain’t much farther to go; just the cement plant, a few farms, and the river. Then there are the railroad tracks, separating us from Dallas.

I glance up at Roy, confused, when we stop at a home just past the library.

He motions toward the house, his sweaty hand taking mine with his. He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“What is it?” I ask him. “Why’re we here?”

“My father said they are going to tear down this old shack.”

With its crooked shutters, chipped paint, caved-in roof, I can understand why. No one’s lived here for years, and Ma doesn’t go a day without complaining ’bout its drab looks and how it’s bad for our little town.

I nod in agreement.

“But,” he says, “I’ve been squirreling away my pennies, and I’ve enough to save her.”

A cool heat rushes me, but I’m not sure how that’s possible. I wipe a strand of hair from my face. “You’re buying this here house?”

“I am,” he says, his Adam’s apple bouncing again. “For you and me. Our house.” Roy keeps talking before I can get a word—or thought—in. “Bonnelyn…” He trails off, digs into his pocket. “Here’s another one for your jar.”

My eyes light up, recognizing one of Roy’s infamous black-and-white doodles.

It’s our church.

It’s Roy.

It’s me, in a puffy dress.

I look up from the doodle. It’s Roy no longer standing in front of me but down on one knee.

“Bonnelyn Elizabeth Parker,” he says, “I’m fixin’ to take you down the middle aisle.”

I knit my brows. “Are you proposing?”

“Well I ain’t down here to tie my shoe.”

I’d laugh, but I’m stunned. Marriage? With Roy? I swallow, and stare at the drawing, his lovely, heartfelt drawing.

Sure, marrying Roy has always been in the cards. But … I’m not sure I’m ready yet. Some people wait ’til their twenties to get married, in today’s day and age, giving ’em plenty of time to make their own mark.

Roy taps the underside of my chin, forcing my gaze away from his doodle and down to him.

“I … um … I’m flattered Roy. I am. But we’re only seventeen—”

“Not now.” He stands slowly and palms my cheek that’s probably as flushed as his own. “We’ve got some growing up to do first. I know you got dreams for yourself.”

I sigh, in a good way. Hearing him acknowledge my goals relaxes me. Those jitterbugs change a smidge to butterflies. “You really want to marry me?”

“I do, Bonn.” Roy leans down, quite the feat to my five-foot-nothin’ height, and presses his lips lightly to mine. “When we’re good and ready. You tell me when, and that’ll be it. We’ll create a life together. How does that sound?”

I smile, even while my chest rises from a shaky breath. I curse my nerves for dulling my excitement. My boyfriend declaring he’s ready to build a life with me shouldn’t give me the heebie-jeebies. It doesn’t, I decide.

“We’ll finish school,” Roy says.

I force my smile wider.

“I’ll get a good-paying job as a reporter,” he goes on. “You can become a teacher, like you’ve always wanted. You can lead the drama club, be onstage, do pageants with our little girls.”

Now my grin is genuine. “We’re going to have little girls?”

“Of course. A little fella, too. ’Til then, I’ll fix this house up. She’ll be spiffy when I’m done with her, white picket fence and everything.”

“You think?”

“I know it.” He dips to my eye level. “You’re happy, right?”

Am I happy? I roll those five letters ’round my head. Yes, I’ve been stuck on Roy for ages. He made me happy when we were seven and he picked me dandelions, when we were ten and he stopped Buster from making me kiss a frog, when we were thirteen and he patched up my knee after I fell off my bike. The memories keep on coming, and I don’t want that happiness to stop. His proposal caught me off guard, that’s all. But, yes, we’ll make something of ourselves, and we’ll do it together.

I lean onto my tiptoes and peck his lips with a kiss. “Roy Thornton, I’d be honored to be your wife one day.”

He hoots, swooping his arms under me. Before I know it, I’m cradled against his chest and we’re swinging in a circle.

I scream, but it’s playful. “You better not drop me, you clumsy fool.”

He answers me with a kiss on the side of my head, and then another and another, as he carries me toward my ma’s house.

Freeze, I think. I don’t want the secure way he holds me, the way the air catches my skirt, the hope for what’s to come, to stop, ever.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenni L. Walsh

About the Author:

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

 

Thank you to Jenni L. Walsh and Forge Books for providing me with an extract for my blog today! It was truly an honour to participate!

This novel is available now!

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links:

                                          

For more information on Jenni L. Walsh visit her website at: jennilwalsh.com 

or follow her on Twitter at: @jennilwalsh

#BookReview
After the Fall by Julie Cohen
@julie_cohen @StMartinsPress

Synopsis:

From the author who brought you Dear Thing, Julie Cohen, comes After the Fall — a poignant, beautifully heartbreaking novel about what it means to be family, the ties that bind us, and the secrets that threaten to tear us apart.

When an unfortunate accident forces Honor back into the lives of her widowed daughter-in-law, Jo, and her only granddaughter, Lydia, she cannot wait to be well enough to get back to her own home. However, the longer she stays with Jo and Lydia, the more they start to feel like a real family. But each of the three women is keeping secrets from the others that threaten to destroy the lives they’ve come to know.

Honor’s secret threatens to rob her of the independence she’s guarded ferociously for eighty years.

Jo’s secret could destroy the “normal” family life she’s fought so hard to build and maintain.

Lydia’s secret could bring her love―or the loss of everything that matters most to her.

One summer’s day, grandmother, mother and daughter’s secrets will be forced out in the open in a single dramatic moment that leaves them all asking: is there such a thing as second chances?


Book Rating: 8.5/10

Thought-provoking, reflective and deeply moving!

This is an intriguing novel that emphasizes the enduring mental and emotional anguish that can be caused by underlying grief, secrets, guilt, family dynamics, sexuality struggles, friendship and loneliness and emphasizes the importance of acceptance, closure, forgiveness and love.

The prose is expressive and clear. The characters are consumed, troubled, wounded and real. And the character-driven plot interweaves the lives of these three generations of women as they learn to cope, survive, support and love each other unconditionally.

This truly is an absorbing, emotional novel that is incredibly captivating and will tug at your heartstrings from start to finish.

This is the first novel I have ever read from Julie Cohen but I can tell you it definitely won’t be my last.

About the Author:

 

Julie Cohen grew up in Maine, USA, and studied English at Brown University, Rhode Island and Cambridge University in England. She moved to the UK permanently to research fairies in Victorian children’s literature at the University of Reading, and then taught English at secondary level. She now writes full time and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing. She lives with her husband and their son in Berkshire. She is also the author of Dear Thing and Where Love Lies.

 

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is due to be published on May 2, 2017. 

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                            

For more information on Julie Cohen, follow her on Facebook at: julie-cohen.com

or on Twitter at: @julie_cohen

#BookReview
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
@LizStrout @randomhouse

Synopsis:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction that recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.

“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.”

Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.


Book Rating: 8.5/10

Powerful, compelling and extremely thought-provoking!

In this latest novel by Strout she delves into the enduring emotional and psychological effects that socioeconomic differences, gossip and war has on some of the people we were introduced to in her previous novel “My Name is Lucy Barton” from the small town of Amgash, and highlights that every family has its struggles and life is never easy.

The characters are raw, troubled and vulnerable. The prose is sophisticated and smooth. And the plot is written in the form of nine linking stories that are full of familial drama, introspection, anger, shame, remorse, disappointment, abandonment, forgiveness, survival, support and love.

This is certainly a deeply moving novel that emphasizes just how much our childhood experiences shape us and reminds us of the importance to always believe that anything is truly possible!

Thank you to NetGalley, especially Random House, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is due to be published on April 25, 2017.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links. 

                                          

For more information on Elizabeth Strout, visit her website at: elizabethstrout.com

or follow her on twitter at: @LizStrout

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