Friday, June 21, 2019

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan


Please welcome Madison- our newest reviewer!  
Please see the bottom of our review policy page to contact her for your review requests.




 4 Star

Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. 

When his master's eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or "Titch," is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. 

He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Titch abandons everything to save him. 

What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life, one which will propel him further across the globe. 





Madison- 4 Star

I highly recommend reading Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. When I began reading this novel, all I knew was it was set in the 19th century, and narrated by Washington Black – a slave boy born on a plantation in Barbados. What I discovered was a grand historical adventure story that takes you all over the world. I could not put this book down and found myself excitingly waiting until the end of the day when I could curl up in bed and find out what was going to happen next in the life of Washington Black. Esi Edugyan tackles themes of friendship, family and what is means to be free. The protagonist Washington Black possesses scientific and artistic skills that allow him privileges that others born into slavery would not be afforded. He muses “I had long seen science as the great equalizer. No matter one's race, or sex, or faith - there were facts in the world waiting to be discovered. How little thought I'd given to the ways in which it might be corrupted.” 
I was very impressed with how Edugyan recreated a time she did not live with such vivid detail, certainty and elegance. Each character was realistic and complex with Washington Black, the narrator, being someone you could relate to even if you share no common characteristics. 

My only complaint would be that I found the ending fell a little bit short for how grand and epic the rest of the story had been.


All opinions are our own.

Connect with Esi Edugyan:






Friday, May 31, 2019

Return to the Little Cottage on the Hill by Emma Davies

3.5 Star

It has been a difficult few years for thirty-year-old Megan Forrester, completing her apprenticeship and trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with her gorgeous boyfriend, Liam. 

She’s returned home to compete in a local craft competition. The prize is the chance to design beautiful new gates for the estate at the bottom of the hill, a job which could secure her future in the village forever. 

As the contest gets underway, Megan is devastated when a rival design turns out to be almost identical to hers. Someone in the close-knit community must have leaked her sketches, but who? Is it the same person spreading heartbreaking rumours about Liam? 

Down to the last few left in the competition, Megan throws her heart and soul into a show-stopping final piece… but will winning even matter when the truth about Liam is finally revealed? 



Kathryn - 3.5 Star

I read this novel a little while ago so am writing my review without the benefit of it being freshly on my mind- not recommended as the details are a bit fuzzy.  However, sometimes it actually just helps you to remember how you felt about the story overall rather than being picky about little things.  

For starters I remember being fascinated by the blacksmith trade and the running of the big house more than the characters and their inter-minglings.  This is likely due to the fact that this is book three of the same series and I may have missed some of the details of the people running the house.   
I remember thinking that I needed to seek out the first two books to really get into the series.   It can certainly stand alone but I did feel that I was missing a certain level of feeling for them.  

The personalities are all warm and lovely though and I was rooting for them all to succeed in their various pursuits.   I felt a bit lacklustre about the romances, but truly that's ok with me as the friendships and the depth of the ventures kept me entertained.

The were a number of storylines to keep me entertained and I felt very much engrossed with the plot and hopeful for all those involved.  I also found myself very visually aware of the setting which I always appreciated!  Definitely interested in the other novels in the series. 


Thank you to Bookouture for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.


Connect with Emma Davies:
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Friday, May 17, 2019

The Shop Girls of Lark Lane by Pam Howes

3 Star

Liverpool, 1945. As the war draws to a close, Alice and Terry Lomax are building a new life with their young daughter Cathy. After years away fighting, Terry is a stranger to his daughter and must work hard to win her trust and love. 

Alice and old friend Sadie work in the haberdashery of Lewis’s department store, where bomb damage scars the walls and rationing is still in force. Yet Lewis’s remains open, a sign of strength in the midst of Liverpool’s post-war ruins. 

Though memories of those lost in the war are fresh, Alice and Sadie look forward to the future. But then a tragic accident leaves Alice a widow, and the father of Sadie’s child – a man she hoped never to see again – is back in Liverpool… 

With Alice struggling to start again alone, and Sadie desperate to protect her son, can these two shop girls overcome their troubles and keep their hopes alive – even with all the odds against them?



Kathryn - 3 Star

I am a fan of Pam Howes because she creates characters that seem perfectly placed, with depth and warmth but also weaves into the narrative some serious challenges. I really enjoyed the last series I read from her (The Liverpool Girls) so I was hoping for the same immersion into this novel.  

Howes gave Alice a really difficult start and an even more challenging middle.  Her husband returning from war to be killed so shortly afterwards was heartbreaking so I was immediately entrenched in the hardship that was about to follow for her. But her choice to allow herself to be pursued by another man, a friend of her husband,  seemed doomed from the start and I couldn't quite get my head or heart to see it the way Alice did.  Her life was difficult without remarrying but I was not a fan of the new man.  I was also frustrated because her life without a husband didn't seem to be insurmountable, she had support from her brother, friends and her mother in law.  It's perhaps a sign of the times that the need for a husband would have her still choose someone with red flags rather than be alone.   

But what I loved most about the story was Alice's love for her brother, her daughter and her friends.  This is really a novel of friendship and family relationships rather than romance.  The strength of all the women is apparent.  


Thank you to Bookouture for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.


Connect with Pam Howes:

Friday, May 10, 2019

Stranded on a desert island with Bo Kearns

Please welcome Bo Kearns, author of Ashes in a coconut, as she tackles our Desert Island Interview!



Bo Kearns is journalist and writer of fiction, is the author of Ashes in a Coconut, a novel set in Indonesia, where he lived for three years. He is a feature writer with Northbay biz magazine and the Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper. His short stories have won awards—First Prize, Napa Valley College writing contest, Honorable Mention-Glimmer Train Fiction Open competition, and Finalist- Redwood Writers On the Edge genre competition. Other works have been published in the annual California Writers Club Literary Review, Napa Valley Writers First Press, The Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine and Sonoma: Stories of a Region and Its People. He is a UC Naturalist, beekeeper, avid hiker and active supporter of conservation causes. He lives in the wine country of Sonoma with his wife. 



Connect with Bo:
 Website     Goodreads

Bo Kearns Stranded on a Desert Island

If you could only have one book with you, what would it be?

The aptly named One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I could read the engaging, complex, weird family saga over and over again while waiting for help to arrive.

What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?

A top-of-the-line hammock.

What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?

A machete. I could use it to slash off the tops of coconuts and drink the refreshing milk while swaying in the hammock, reading Solitude.

Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?

I’m a social person. Briefly would be okay. After a few weeks I’d invent a character and we’d have a chat.

If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?

The ghost of Carl Sagan. We could gaze at the clear night sky and the brilliant stars, while discussing the mysteries of the universe and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

What modern technology would you miss the most?

A toss up— my electric toothbrush or my laptop.

What food or beverage would you miss the most?

A glass of crisp, cold California Chardonnay to sip with my sashimi catch-of-the day.

How many days do you think you would cope without rescue?

By nature I’m optimistic. I could hang in there as long as ships appeared on the horizon, even if they passed me by.

What is the first thing you would do when rescued?

Have a group hug—me, my wife, my daughter and my dog.

What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?

You won’t believe what happened to me!


Ashes in a coconut



Set in 1983, when Laura Harrison sets aside her fashion design career to follow her banker husband, Jack, to Jakarta, hoping the effort will save her marriage. She has a bad feeling about it all, though. There, he struggles with different rules and corrupt business people while she thrives, joining the effort to save the rain forest and orangutans. But when Jack considers funding development in the rain forest, and when his business associates turn frightening, all Laura's premonitions seem less far-fetched. 




Available at:
Amazon Barnes & Noble Kindle 

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Single Mums' Mansion by Janet Hoggarth

3.5 Star

Amanda Wilkie unexpectedly finds herself alone with her three children in a rambling Victorian house in London. Her husband leaves them, claiming he's just 'lost the love', like one might carelessly lose a glove.

A few months later, Amanda's heavily pregnant friend, Ali, crashes into her kitchen announcing her husband is also leaving. So, after Ali's baby Grace is born, they both move into Amanda's attic. And when Jacqui, a long-lost friend and fellow single mum, starts dropping by daily, the household is complete.

Getting divorced is no walk in the park, but the three friends refuse to be defined by it. And, as they slowly emerge out of the wreckage like a trio of sequin-clad Gloria Gaynors singing 'I Will Survive', they realise that anything is possible. Even loving again...




Kathryn - 3.5 Star

I quite enjoyed this book but it wasn't what I was expecting.   Far from light-hearted it actually had some quite serious situations in it that had me questioning the genre I thought I was reading.  It's entirely possible that I'm a bit far removed from the situation of single parenting and dating with children!   

I liked Amanda and her attitude towards her children and her friends.  Despite being in a quite precarious position she does tend to just get on with things while still questioning everything she's doing.  I would be the same I think.   Her ex is a most confusing character and he's not exactly helpful about his intentions.   Her mum friends each come with baggage of their own which was realistic and well plotted to enhance the story.   

The book definitely takes on all the emotions from the heartbreak (for me it was particularly hard for Amanda's children) to the chaos and laughs of trying to find a new normal. 

My only issue was that the partying evenings seemed a bit out of place with the rest of the feel of the story and the characters.


All opinions are our own.

Connect with Janet Hoggarth:


Friday, April 26, 2019

At the Wedding by Matt Dunn

3 Star

Livia’s been planning her wedding to Jed for ages. Now, at the venue in beautiful Barcelona, with her dress pressed and the guests all on their way, she’s only left one tiny detail until the last minute: letting the groom know he’s about to get hitched.

But as far as Jed’s concerned, they’ve been bumping along just fine for ten years and even have a baby on the way, so why spoil things with an ‘I do’? Especially when he’d really rather not.

Meanwhile the guests are arriving with plenty of baggage of their own. Fading reality star Liam’s still on the lookout for a plus-one; Rachel’s has refused to come—and dumped her into the bargain; and divorcee Patrick’s date is more of the ‘mid-life crisis’ variety.

But as the ceremony approaches, and with no sign of Jed, there’s only one thing on all of their minds: will there be a bride and groom at the wedding?



Kathryn - 3 Star

Truthfully as I was reading At The Wedding I was completely involved in the plot.  It was intriguing and eventful throughout and I sped through it.   But... it turned out mostly as you would expect which was a touch disappointing given the amount of suspense drawn into those couple of days.  

My other issue was that I think it was partially supposed to be fun (as well as heartfelt). While funny in parts I can't actually say I was laughing out loud and I think there may have been room for some more silliness and shenanigans given the scene.   I was also mildly concerned that I didn't really feel for the two main characters.  I found them frustrating and could not get on board with the hold up in getting married.   Perhaps this is because I am the marrying kind though and I should not expect others to be?

A good aspect was that I was as interested in the supporting characters as much as the main couple which is tricky to accomplish in a fast paced read and I appreciated that.  I like Matt Dunn's writing and overall felt that this novel was entertaining and provided some food for thought about how people's minds work.


Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Matt Dunn:
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

RX by Rachel Lindsay

4 Star

In her early twenties in New York City, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Rachel Lindsay takes a job in advertising in order to secure healthcare coverage for her treatment. But work takes a strange turn when she is promoted onto the Pfizer account and suddenly finds herself on the other side of the curtain, developing ads for an antidepressant drug. She is the audience of the work she's been pouring over and it highlights just how unhappy and trapped she feels, stuck in an endless cycle of treatment, insurance and medication. Overwhelmed by the stress of her professional life and the self-scrutiny it inspires, she begins to destabilize and while in the midst of a crushing job search, her mania takes hold. Her altered mindset yields a simple solution: to quit her job and pursue life as an artist, an identity she had abandoned in exchange for medical treatment. When her parents intervene, she finds herself hospitalized against her will, and stripped of the control she felt she had finally reclaimed. Over the course of her two weeks in the ward, she struggles in the midst of doctors, nurses, patients and endless rules to find a path out of the hospital and this cycle of treatment. One where she can live the life she wants, finding freedom and autonomy, without sacrificing her dreams in order to stay well. 



Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

I don't often read memoirs, nor do I really read graphic novels. This book has been hanging around on my side table for a couple months now, waiting for me to pick it up. For some reason it spoke to me, possibly because the author now lives in Burlington,Vermont, which is one of my favorite places.

It didn't take me very long to get through it, even with the time I stopped to peruse the drawings in more detail. I felt compelled to slow down and take my time with this book, probably partly because the art spoke to me on it's own but also partly because of the subject matter.

Mental illness is something I'm not very comfortable with, probably because I don't feel like I know enough about it but also because I know everyone's experience is, or can be, vastly different. I felt like I didn't understand where the author was coming from at times with her reactions but I also don't suffer from her disease and I also don't have to worry about health care coverage.

So this book opened my eyes about what this type of experience could be like and what challenges a person may go through. I really appreciated her candor and bravery in sharing something so very personal as it was most probably very difficult to do.


Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for our review copy.   All opinions are our own.

Connect with Rachel Lindsay:
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