The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman

EXCERPT: As she neared the double doors of the bus station, she slowed. Help wanted ads, business cards, and what seemed like a hundred missing kid flyers covered a bulletin board next to the door – row after row of innocent smiling faces lined up like faded yearbook photos. She’d always hated those photos: the word MISSING all in caps knocking you between the eyes, the grainy photos taken on happier days before the kids were abducted, when everyone was still blissfully unaware that they’d be stolen from their families some day. The flyers were plastered all over Staten Island, inside the grocery stores and post offices, outside the bowling alleys and movie theaters, on the mailboxes and telephone poles. Something cold and hard tightened in her chest. Would her twin sister’s face be on one of those damn flyers too? And where were all those poor innocent kids? What horrible things had they endured? Were they dead? Still suffering? Crying and terrified, wondering why their parents, the people who had promised to love and protect them forever, hadn’t saved them yet? She couldn’t imagine a worse fate.

ABOUT ‘THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK’: Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.

Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her deeply. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.

Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined…

MY THOUGHTS: I am torn by this book and may revise my rating once I have thought on it some more.

I honestly think a better title may have been ‘The Lost Souls of Willowbrook’.

I worked in a government mental institution in New Zealand in the 1970s and I am happy to report that it was mostly nothing like Willowbrook. There was the occasional ‘old school’ attendant or nurse who could be cruel and uncaring, but mostly we were bright young men and women who had learned respect and were intent on improving the lot of the residents by providing the best care possible. The only ‘locked wards’ were the ones that housed the criminally insane or the extremely violent. Our wards, even the old ones, were bright and clean, the residents well fed and, where possible, their independence nurtured. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ‘home’ to many long term residents, and a welcome refuge for acute admissions.

So Willowbrook came as a bit of a shock to me. After I finished listening to the audiobook I read some of the archived articles and examined the photos. I couldn’t get over the sheer size of Willowbrook, and the design of the building made it eminently unsuitable for housing the disabled, the ‘feeble-minded’. Mr Dewey, what were you thinking? There was obviously a demand, a need for accommodation and care; but just as obviously Willowbrook was not the answer.

Now, onto the book that I am reviewing. While I admire what the author set out to do, it just didn’t resonate for me. I didn’t like the plot and failed to feel anything at all for the characters. I think that I may have enjoyed this more had Sage been a more likeable character.

The language used to describe the conditions Sage encounters in Willowbrook is repetitious. I felt like the author was trying too hard to shock me, and it all felt ‘over-exposed’. And y’all that know me know that I prefer not to be belted about the ears with a piece of 4 x 2 when you’re trying to get your point across. Less is more.

There are numerous holes in the plot (view spoiler)

This should have been an atmospheric and chilling read but, sadly for me, it felt mostly flat.

⭐⭐.9

#TheLostGirlsofWillowbrook #NetGalley

I: @ellenmariewiseman @kensingtonbooks

T: @EllenMarieWise @KensingtonBooks

#comingofage #historicalfiction #humanrights #mystery #murdermystery

THE AUTHOR: A first-generation German American, Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in NYS. Ellen lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and two spoiled Shih-tzus, Izzy and Bella. When she’s not busy writing, she loves spending time with her children and grandchildren.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Kensington Books for supplying a digital ARC and to RB Media for supplying an audio ARC of The Lost Girls of Willowbrook written by Ellen Marie Wiseman and narrated by Morgan Hallett for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Sandy’s July 2022 Reading Roundup

I started July with 18 books to read for review and ended up with 20 🤷‍♀️ Of those I read 15, and am almost finished the 16th, giving me an 80% review success rate, well up on my dismal 64% rate for June. Plus I read or listened to four books purely for pleasure during the month. And read and reviewed two titles from my backlist. So that was a total of twenty-two reads for the month of July.

I read one debut novel during July, A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett which I rated ⭐⭐⭐.6

plus I read five books by authors I haven’t previously read. They were: Aft the Flood by Dave Warner ⭐⭐⭐⭐.3

Old Friends Reunited by Maddie Please ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Saint of Lost Things by Tish Delaney ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

One Last Day of Summer by Shari Low ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#Rejected Goddesses by Natalie Watson and Nina Holmes ⭐⭐.9

My Netgalley feedback ratio is still at 69%. I wonder what it will take to crack the 70% mark. I think I would need to stop requesting books entirely, and that’s not likely to happen.

The four books I didn’t read in July that are now added to my backlist are:

Guilt Trip by Ed James

Golden Age Locked Room Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler

Mother of All Secrets by Kathleen M. Willett

Truly, Darkly, Deeply by Victoria Selman

My five star reads for July were: In the Middle of Hickory Lane by Heather Webber

Outside Looking In (DCI Matilda Darke #2) by Michael Wood

A Room Full of Killers (DCI Matilda Darke #3) by Michael Wood

The Lost Children (DCI Matilda Darke #9) by Michael Wood

One Last Day of Summer by Shari Low

Old Friends Reunited by Maddie Please

I have seventeen reads for review scheduled for August. Fingers crossed that there are no late approvals. If I don’t read anything from my backlist I should be able to get through all of these.

Happy August reading!❤📚

The Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle by Matt Cain

EXCERPT: Gracie was still asleep on his lap when I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! began at nine o’clock. In this episode, a comedian Albert had never found funny, a pop star he’d never heard of, and somebody who called himself a ‘social media influencer’, a profession he’d never understood, were sitting around the camp talking about their biggest fears.

‘Mine’s spiders,’ said the pop star, pulling a face.

‘Mine’s snakes,’ said the comedian, squirming. He turned to the influencer. ‘What’s yours?’

‘People,’ Albert said out loud, talking over the influencer. ‘People.’

As the chatter on TV continued, Albert couldn’t help considering his answer. He hadn’t always been frightened of people; when he’d been at school he’d been quite sociable and had lots of friends, friends like Tom Horrocks and Colin Broadbent. When they were little, the boys had played British Bulldog, Piggy, and Finger, Thumb, or Icky in the playground, later on meeting up to go to the pictures or the local temperance bar, later still sneaking into pubs, each of them doing their best to look old enough to be served at the bar, goading each other on and reveling in the shared thrill of transgression. It was a transgression they knew was only minor and might even make their fathers proud, reminding them of a similar rite of passage in their own youth.

But then everything had changed.

Albert had been given a blunt message about what his friends thought of people like him, what the world at large thought about people like him – of the real him, the him he’d been careful to keep well hidden. As a result, he’d gradually begun backing away from everyone and had first retreated into his work, later into caring for his mam. Little by little, he’d been overwhelmed by a new shyness, a shyness that was bolstered by fear, like a current he’d been powerless to swim against – until he was drowning in it.

But it doesn’t do to dwell.

ABOUT ‘THE SECRET LIFE OF ALBERT ENTWHISTLE’: Albert Entwistle is a private man with a quiet, simple life. He lives alone with his cat Gracie. And he’s a postman. At least he was a postman until, three months before his sixty-fifth birthday, he receives a letter from the Royal Mail thanking him for decades of service and stating he is being forced into retirement.

At once, Albert’s sole connection with his world unravels. Every day as a mail carrier, he would make his way through the streets of his small English town, delivering letters and parcels and returning greetings with a quick wave and a “how do?” Without the work that fills his days, what will be the point? He has no friends, family, or hobbies—just a past he never speaks of, and a lost love that fills him with regret.

And so, rather than continue his lonely existence, Albert forms a brave plan to start truly living. It’s finally time to be honest about who he is. To seek the happiness he’s always denied himself. And to find the courage to look for George, the man that, many years ago, he loved and lost—but has never forgotten. As he does, something extraordinary happens. Albert finds unlikely allies, new friends, and proves it’s never too late to live, to hope, and to love.

MY THOUGHTS: Love and loss. I bet there are a lot of Albert (and Alberta) Entwhistles out there, people who have hidden their love, their desires, their dreams in order to conform to society.

Albert is the loveliest character. It’s a wonderful journey, watching him come to terms with himself, come out of his shell, and work out what he really wants from life. Of course, he has some help along the way. Marjorie, his boss, has a terminally ill grandson, a diabolical digestive system, and is not coping well with menopause, a fact she is not at all reticent about sharing, much to Albert’s embarrassment. Nicole, a young black single mum with aspirations and an uncertain love life. Edith, elderly and alone, who used to be a great beauty with many suitors, but is now desperate for company.

Albert’s coming out is a wonderfully warm story that had me with earplugs in, listening at every opportunity. It’s a story of personal growth, of a man filled with fear and shame who slowly becomes honest with himself, optimistic and looking forward to his future. It’s an emotional story. I cried for Albert the teenager, and for his friend George. I was saddened by the unhappy, reclusive man Albert became. I wept tears of joy and relief as Albert found himself, his new self, a man who made friends and helped others. There were places I laughed out loud, and snorted coffee through my nose.

There’s really nothing surprising in this story, but that’s not a criticism. It’s a lovely heartwarming experience and one that I am glad to have had. Two things further enriched my listening pleasure: narrator Simon Vance was superb. He singly narrated a large cast of characters and not once was I confused about who was speaking. The second was author Matt Cain talking about his research and some excerpts of his interviews with gay men who lived through the eras that Albert’s story is set in.

Highly recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#TheSecretLifeofAlbertEntwhistle #NetGalley

I: @mattcainwriter @recordedbooks

T: @MattCainWriter @rbmediaco

#audiobook #contemporaryfiction #comingofage #historicalfiction #lgbt #romance

THE AUTHOR: Matt Cain is a writer, broadcaster, and a leading commentator on LGBT+ issues. Born in Bury and brought up in Bolton, Matt now lives in London with his partner, Harry, and their cat, Nelly.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to RB Media via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of The Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Library by Bella Osborne

EXCERPT: The post lady came in and handed over a pile of letters and something Christine had to sign for. Christine let out a gasp worthy of anyone winning a TV prize jackpot but her face told a different story. Maggie went to see what had caused it but Betty was quicker off the mark.

‘Something wrong?’ asked Betty, her face laden with glee.

‘They’re closing us down,’ said Christine, followed by a dramatic sob as she clutched the podium for support.

Betty was quick with the tissues, which gave Maggie a chance to swivel around the offending letter and have a quick read for herself. She wasn’t surprised to see that Christine had made a mansion out of a Lego brick. ‘It’s inviting you to a meeting about the future of the library, Christine.’ It wasn’t exactly an eviction notice. Maggie had seen plenty of those in her time.

Christine looked affronted. ‘That’s what it means.’ She stabbed the letter with a neat fingernail. ‘It came by recorded delivery. They call you to a meeting and that’s when they tell you they’re closing you down. . .’

ABOUT ‘THE LIBRARY’: Two different generations. Two unusual people. Thrown together to save their local library.
Tom is a teenager and blends into the background of life. After a row with his dad, and facing an unhappy future at the dog food factory, he escapes to the library. Tom unwittingly ends up with a bagful of romance novels and comes under the suspicion of Maggie.

Maggie is a pensioner and has been happily alone for ten years, at least that’s what she tells herself. When Tom comes to her rescue a friendship develops that could change her life. As Maggie helps Tom to stand up for himself, Tom helps Maggie realise the mistakes of her past don’t have to define her future.

They each set out to prove that the library isn’t just about books – it’s the heart of their community.

Together they discover some things are worth fighting for.

MY THOUGHTS: I needed this! If you want a book that is going to make you smile and your heart swell, this is it!

The characters are realistic, relatable and mostly lovely, except Kemp who is an out and out bully. Thomas Harris, just like the author, is seriously lacking in self-esteem, and feels like he is invisible – ‘Not actually invisible – that would make me interesting and I’m not. I’m the person others find easy to forget. The one who is lost in the crowd.’ – except to Kemp, who always manages to see him and make his life even more miserable than it already is.

Maggie is in her 70s, and lives alone on a smallholding with just her animals for company. The highlight of her life is the weekly book club at the library. She is an extraordinary character with hidden depths and a tragic secret.

Maggie and Tom meet at the library after Tom’s dad smashes his x-box which seems like a tragedy at the time but which is probably the best thing that ever happened to him, because he starts reading again, something he hasn’t done since his mum died.

A friendship that will change both their lives begins when Tom comes to Maggie’s aid when she is getting mugged.

The Library isn’t so much about the efforts to save the local library as a touching story of an unlikely friendship. It’s a heartwarming and uplifting read that left me with a smile on my face and needing to read more from this author.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.3

#TheLibrary #NetGalley

I: @bellaosborneauthor @avonbooksuk

T: @osborne_bella @AvonBooksUK @aria_fiction

#comingofage #contemporaryfiction #familydrama #sliceoflife #smalltownfiction

THE AUTHOR: Bella’s stories are about friendship, love and coping with what life throws at you. She likes to find the humor in the darker moments of life and weaves these into her stories. Bella believes that writing your own story really is the best fun ever, closely followed by talking, eating chocolate, drinking fizz, and planning holidays. She lives in the Midlands, UK with her lovely husband and wonderful daughter, who thankfully, both accept her as she is (with mad morning hair and a penchant for skipping). (Amazon)

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Aria & Aries via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Library by Bella Osborne for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan

EXCERPT: When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl. She was in love, my mother said, like it was an excuse. She didn’t know what she was doing. I had never been in love then, not really, so I didn’t know what my mother meant, but I do now.

ABOUT ‘OCEAN STATE’: In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart. Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel’s younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight. Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single mindedly, and are compelled by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated.

MY THOUGHTS: Teenage love (or is it hormones?) and the eternal love triangle – one boy, two girls – so it’s not going to be pretty.

Ocean State dissects the passionate teenage relationships between three teenagers, focusing mainly on the two girls, Angel and Birdie, and their families. Myles hardly features at all, and I am unable to decide if he is immature and easily manipulated, flattered by the fact that he has two girls fighting over him, or if he is ultimately the manipulator. Marie, Angel’s younger sister, is the observer, the chronicler of events.

Ocean State is the story of a murder, but it wouldn’t be right to call it a mystery, because the killer’s identity is established in the very first sentence.There is only the how and why to be determined, only the impact on the guilty and their families and the victims family to be worked through. There’s no suspense, no twists and turns, just a story of obsession, jealousy, and a young woman who allows these emotions to override any modicum of common sense she may have had instilled by her mother and grandmother, causing her to act without giving any thought to the consequences.

It’s a great read. It’s compelling, complex and engaging. I flew through it in twenty four hours, but I am left with questions. Myles – he is a pivotal character and yet he is largely ignored. He didn’t need to do the things that he did, but was he the manipulator or the manipulated? And what happened to him after he served his time? We know what happened to Angel.

And yes, Angel; did she ever feel any remorse, any guilt? Does she ever look back at that time and wonder what her life would have been like, if…..? Does she still think about Myles, or he about her? Do their paths ever cross again?

And I have not been able to put Marie out of my mind. Her sad life as a child, one that doesn’t seem to be much better as an adult.

Nature? Or nuture? You can make up your own mind.

⭐⭐⭐.6

#OceanState #NetGalley

I: @stewart_onan1 @groveatlantic

T: @StewartOnan1 @stewartonan @GroveAtlantic

#comingofage #contemporaryfiction #crime #familydrama

THE AUTHOR: Stewart O’Nan is renowned for illuminating the unexpected grace of everyday life and the resilience of ordinary people with humor, intelligence, and compassion. (Amazon)

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Grove Atlantic via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Impossible to Forget by Imogen Clark

EXCERPT: August 2018

My dear friends,

If you are reading this, then I must be dead. (I’ve always wanted to say that – so very Agatha Christie! And please don’t cry, Leon. It’s only a bit of fun. X)

Seriously though, I want to thank you all for being there for me over the last couple of months. It’s been pretty tough, but having you lot in my corner has made it easier to cope. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d have done without you. I couldn’t have wished for a better bunch of mates.

But there’s just one last thing I need to ask you to do for me.

Obviously, my biggest concern is my beautiful girl, Romany. I will never understand a universe that lets a parent die before they have finished preparing their child to live. It’s all kinds of wrong. Yet we are where we are.

Without me, Romany will be left all alone. Even though she’s about to turn eighteen, she’s really still a child with so much to learn about the world, good and bad. She needs someone to be there for her, a guardian if you like, to guide her until she finds her feet. It won’t be forever, just until she finishes her A levels and gets a place at university, but I can’t bear to think of her struggling through school on her own. I had to do that, and I don’t want history repeating itself.

That’s where you come in. I charge you, my dearest and most trusted friends, with the vitality important task of steering her through the challenging months ahead.

I know it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that just one of you shoulders this massive responsibility, so I’ve decided to ask you all to play to your individual strengths.

ABOUT ‘IMPOSSIBLE TO FORGET’: Just turned eighteen, Romany is on the cusp of taking her first steps into adulthood when tragedy strikes, and she finds herself suddenly alone without her mother, Angie, the only parent she has ever known. In her final letter, Angie has charged her four closest friends with guiding Romany through her last year of school—but is there an ulterior motive to her unusual dying wish?

Each of the four guardians possesses an outlook on life that Angie wants to give her daughter as a legacy. Three of them have known each other since university: the eternally nomadic and exotically named Tiger; the shy and practical Leon with his untapped musical genius; and Maggie, a brilliant lawyer who doesn’t know her own abilities. But the fourth guardian is a mystery to the others: they’ve never even heard of former model Hope before…

As the guardians reflect on their friendship with Angie, it becomes apparent that this unusual arrangement is as much about them as it is about Romany. Navigating their grief individually and as a group, what will all five of them learn about themselves, their pasts—and the woman who’s brought them all together?

MY THOUGHTS: Impossible to Forget is a nice read about a mainly nice group of people, but it’s nothing special and, honestly, I was expecting so much more.

I never became fully invested to the point where the characters felt real to me, that it mattered what happened to them. I picked up other books in preference to this, and yet I didn’t dislike it, it just failed to move me.

One of the problems I think, was that there was far too much backstory, chapter upon chapter of it; in fact, it makes up the majority of the book. A lot of it was unnecessarily repetitive and could have been done without. For all the background given, the characters still fell flat.

The premise is interesting, but I believe that this could have been a far more emotionally fulfilling experience than what I had. Unfortunately, this is not impossible to forget.

⭐⭐.8

#ImpossibletoForget #NetGalley

I: @imogenclarkauthor @amazonpublishing

T: @imogenclark @AmazonPub

#comingofage #contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #sliceoflife

THE AUTHOR: Imogen initially qualified as a lawyer but after leaving her legal career behind to care for her four children, she returned to her first love – books. She went back to University, studying English Literature part-time whilst the children were at school. It was a short step from there to writing novels.

Imogen’s great love is travel and she is always planning her next adventure. She lives in Yorkshire with her husband and children.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Impossible to Forget by Imogen Clark. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan-Hyde

EXCERPT: We bounced along on that rutted dirt road, saying exactly nothing. It was cool, just after dawn, and the day was clear but no colour at all. Like steel. I had my back up against the tailgate, facing the mountains, watching them grow closer as we bumped along. They had always been there, as long as I had been alive, but only as a background for my world. They never seemed entirely real. More like a movie set, or one of those theater plays with a painted backdrop to make it seem as if the stage has the depth of a real outdoors scene.

My stomach jangled with fear at going up there on foot. They looked big and powerful and unforgiving, and that made me feel small.

I thought about what my father had said. How it was rough country up there, and how I didn’t get that yet. How I hadn’t had much in the way of hardship. It gave me a chill.

Then I remembered the words that came right after.

My father saying, ‘It’ll make a man out of him.’

My mother countering with, ‘Unless he dies first.’

It brought a shiver that I think the others might have seen if they hadn’t been watching the view.

Still, I knew that whatever awaited me, there was no backing down now. And I wasn’t sorry about that. I was scared. But I was still ready.

ABOUT ‘BOY UNDERGROUND’: 1941. Steven Katz is the son of prosperous landowners in rural California. Although his parents don’t approve, he’s found true friends in Nick, Suki, and Ollie, sons of field workers. The group is inseparable. But Steven is in turmoil. He’s beginning to acknowledge that his feelings for Nick amount to more than friendship.

When the bombing of Pearl Harbor draws the US into World War II, Suki and his family are forced to leave their home for the internment camp at Manzanar. Ollie enlists in the army and ships out. And Nick must flee. Betrayed by his own father and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he turns to Steven for help. Hiding Nick in a root cellar on his family’s farm, Steven acts as Nick’s protector and lifeline to the outside world.

As the war escalates, bonds deepen and the fear of being different falls away. But after Nick unexpectedly disappears one day, Steven’s life focus is to find him. On the way, Steven finds a place he belongs and a lesson about love that will last him his lifetime.

MY THOUGHTS: Steven may think that he is ready to face whatever is ahead, but he is wrong. No one could possibly predict or be ready for the events that take place. Life changes fast.

Like Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, it is about to become both the best of times, and the worst. Before they return home, the lives of all four boys will have changed irrevocably, taking them in directions they never could, nor should, have imagined.

Steven Katz is one of four fourteen year old boys at the centre of this story, which is told entirely through his eyes. He is a boy who feels at odds with the world and those around him. He just doesn’t fit in until he meets Suki, Nick and Ollie, and a friendship is formed that will last their entire respective lives.

Catherine Ryan-Hyde is an automatic read for me and I looked forward to Boy Underground, expecting ‘an emotional and uplifting’ read as promised. But it never happened. I felt strangely detached from the story and never quite became fully invested. In fact, I found myself skimming in places and, once or twice, debated not finishing. I’m glad I did finish, but the fact that it took me four days to read this speaks for itself.

I loved the friendship between the four boys, the sense of solidarity and their need to protect one another. But at certain points that should have produced a strong emotional response in me, I felt little or nothing. Maybe it’s me . . .

I felt the thread involving Nick’s father accusing his son of a crime that he himself had committed to be a weak link in the story. It never rang true and seemed to drag on interminably.
I became bored and frustrated by the improbability of it.

The family dynamics of this era were interesting. Other than the Yamamoto’s, none of the boys had close family relationships. Steven’s family is very insular and remote from one another. They don’t talk. Their characters are rigid and dogmatic. There is no obvious affection between family members, and ‘what people think’ and their own social standing is extremely important to them.

There is a wonderful, wise character by the name of Gordon Cho who rapidly became my favourite and a surrogate father/sounding board for Steven.

I would have liked this more, I think, had we been able to see into the other boy’s lives. I would have loved to know more about the Yamamoto’s lives in the internment camp; how Ollie felt as he set off for war; and Nick’s experiences as he struck out on his own.

‘The older I get, the less I know. I mean that in a good way. It seems that most of the trouble in this world stems from the things that we’re sure we know. Now that I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that I know nothing, the world is a constant, pleasant surprise. And the things that I allow life to bring me are consistently better than anything I might have sought – or even imagined – for myself.’ And while I am sure that the world is not entirely ‘a constant, pleasant surprise,’ this is a sentiment that I can definitely relate to.

Boy Underground was a good read, but not a great one, although I seem to be an outlier on that point. As I said, maybe it’s me . . .

⭐⭐.8

#BoyUnderground #NetGalley

I: @catherineryanhyde @amazonpublishing

T: @cryanhyde @AmazonPub

#comingofage #historicalfiction #sliceoflife #WWII

THE AUTHOR: I am the author of more than 30 published and forthcoming books. I’m an avid hiker, traveler, equestrian, and amateur photographer.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan-Hyde for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinion.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

EXCERPT: When Anton arrived the following day, he found that Delphine had set up a work table for him at the window overlooking the park.

Having never lived with a woman before, still less with one who fascinated him so much, he found it difficult to settle down to work. Panama seemed more than remote, it seemed unreal. Emerald and her devotions, Maxwell and his brandy bottle, the giant wheel that turned the lock gates lying flat in its braced iron bed . . . Perhaps he had in truth caught yellow fever and hallucinated all these things.

What was real was the smell of coffee from the kitchen next door, the sound of Delphine singing to herself as she tidied, her footsteps on the wooden floor. He went in, stood behind her and put his arms around her waist, then pressed himself against her.

ABOUT ‘SNOW COUNTRY’: 1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

MY THOUGHTS: Snow Country is a book of dreams, yearning and hope balanced against the horrors of WWI and the approach of WWII, and the struggles, both political and personal, of the period in between. The scope of this novel is huge, almost too huge, and I sometimes felt swamped by it, rather than encompassed by it as I have with other works I have read by this author.

Lena is the common thread, the character who ties the other characters to the story. She is from a poor background, poor in both money and upbringing. She was also a poor student, leaving school with few academic skills, but natural abilities in other areas. All Lena really wants is to be loved, and a good part of this story is devoted to her journey towards finding that love. It is not a smooth, nor a predictable path.

My favourite characters were those of Delphine, a Frenchwoman with whom a young and inexperienced Anton falls in love; and Martha, a therapist at the psychiatric institute. My least favourite character was Rudolf, whose only great passion is politics, and who seems incapable of recognizing human emotions in others, or of responding to them.

This is a very slow moving read with a lot of dialogue. At times I found it hard to get to grips with the characters. Even after finishing it, I am still not sure if Lena’s, Rudolf’s and Anton’s stories were merely a vehicle for the political history of Austria between the wars, or vice versa. Looking back on this reading experience it was like stumbling down a long, unfamiliar path in the dead of night, with no light, and no idea of where you are going.

I did love the section devoted to the building of the Panama Canal. It was such a huge feat, built at the cost of so many lives, and I had never before considered the logistics of the task. Faulks made this very real for me.

There is some beautiful writing in Snow Country, but this is nowhere near the author’s best work, of which my personal favourite is Birdsong.

⭐⭐⭐.1

#SnowCountry #NetGalley

I: #sebastianfaulks @randomhouseuk @hutchheinemann

T: @ SebastianFaulks @RandomHouseUK @HutchHeinemann

#comingofage #historicalfiction #mystery #romance #sliceoflife

THE AUTHOR: Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independent”, and then went on to become deputy editor of “The Sunday Independent”. Sebastian Faulks was awarded the CBE in 2002. He and his family live in London.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison

EXCERPT: ‘… if they can’t stand to see a young woman exercise her rights, then maybe they need an education in how the modern world works.’

The waiter turned on his heel and left, and my mother began to collect her things. I reached out and put my hand on hers. ‘Where are you going, Mama? Don’t let them bully us into leaving.’

‘It’s not them,’ she said softly. ‘It’s you.’ I saw her eyes fill with tears. ‘Your manners, your lack of etiquette, of decency – living here with a man you’ve only just met – even your lovely hair . . .’ She reached out and tucked a piece of my cropped hair behind my ear. ‘It’s all gone.’

She stood, pushed in her chair and gently placed her handbag on her arm. ‘Olive, you’re forgetting who you are.’

‘You’re wrong, Mama,’ I said, almost in a whisper. ‘For the first time in my life I know exactly who I want to be.’

ABOUT ‘THE SHOW GIRL’: It’s 1927 when Olive McCormick moves from Minneapolis to New York City determined to become a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. Extremely talented as a singer and dancer, it takes every bit of perseverance to finally make it on stage. And once she does, all the glamour and excitement is everything she imagined and more–even worth all the sacrifices she has had to make along the way.

Then she meets Archie Carmichael. Handsome, wealthy–the only man she’s ever met who seems to accept her modern ways–her independent nature and passion for success. But once she accepts his proposal of marriage he starts to change his tune, and Olive must decide if she is willing to reveal a devastating secret and sacrifice the life she loves for the man she loves.

MY THOUGHTS: Spanning 1927 to 1929, and encompassing the beginning of the great depression, The Show Girl is an exciting and balanced blend of history, drama, and romance.

Harrison has captured the excitement of the end of the roaring twenties; a time of changing social mores, a time of desperate need for excess as people tried to block out the devastation and decimation of the first world war. There is a frantic need for enjoyment, and social boundaries are pushed as women begin to assert their independence.

This is the backdrop to a story of a young woman with ambition, a dream that, despite all the obstacles placed in her way, she is determined to attain. Young and naive in New York City, this is both a coming of age story and a social commentary. I hope I am not making this sound dull, because it is anything but. It is brimming with life, love, and drama.

Harrison’s characters are very true to life. Olive comes from a very traditional family; a rigidly strict father, and a mother who stays at home to care for the children. Their plans for Olive were more along the lines of a nice little job in a department store until she marries, than a scantily clad show girl!

Olive is not always a likeable character. Sometimes, like most of us, she doesn’t even like herself. But Olive is determined, and very single-minded; totally focused on reaching her goal even if she is abandoned by her family along the way. And she is the star of this story. The spotlight never leaves her.

I found this a fascinating read. On my bucket list is a trip to Paris to see the Follies Bergére, and it is on this famous troupe that Ziegfield based his own troupe of dancers in New York. So between that, and The Show Girl being written by Nicola Harrison, I just knew I had to read this book. I was not disappointed.

⭐⭐⭐.9

#TheShowGirl #NetGalley

I: @nicolaharrisonauthor @stmartinspress

T: @NicolaHAuthor #StMartinsPress

#historicalfiction #romance

THE AUTHOR: I’m originally from Hampshire, England, and moved to California when I was 14. I studied Literature at UCLA and received an MFA in creative writing at Stony Brook University. Soon after college I moved to NYC and worked in magazine publishing. I was the fashion and style staff writer for Forbes and had a weekly column at Lucky Magazine. I spent many summers in Montauk, which inspired my first novel, but after 17 years in the Big Apple I recently moved back to California and have settled in Manhattan Beach with my husband, two sons and two chihuahuas. When I’m not writing I love to paddle board, do yoga and get outside with my boys.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to St Martin’s via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

All the Little Hopes by Leah Weiss

EXCERPT: Of her seven grandchildren, I am Oma’s favourite. In private, she tells me so. It’s because I am curious and have a deductive mind. I collect obscure words like ‘misnomer’ for contradiction and ‘knave’ for someone dishonest. My favourite word is ‘enigma’, for without mystery to challenge a curious mind, it will starve. My brother Grady calls me high and mighty for using ten dollar words in a ten cent town. Out loud, I call him rude, but inside my head I know he’s a chuff. Mama says I can be insensitive. She says language is meant to communicate, not separate, so I mostly spend ten dollar words inside my head.

Oma never returns to Germany. She dies in Riverton on twentieth of May, and her granite tombstone is etched with a mountain sketch we’ve only seen on a page in a travel book in our library. At her passing, our hope for thrilling danger passes with her.

We fear nothing will happen here . . . here where a lazy river rolls by, outsiders are rare, and farming rules our days.

We think we are safe here, where nothing happens – until something comes that undoes us all.

ABOUT ‘ALL THE LITTLE HOPES’: Deep in the tobacco land of North Carolina, nothing’s the same since the boys shipped off to war and worry took their place. Thirteen-year-old Lucy Brown is curious and clever, but she can’t make sense of it all. Then Allie Bert Tucker comes to town, an outcast with a complicated past, and Lucy believes that together they can solve crimes. Just like her hero, Nancy Drew.

That chance comes when a man goes missing, a woman stops speaking, and an eccentric gives the girls a mystery that takes them beyond the ordinary. Their quiet town, seasoned with honeybees and sweet tea, becomes home to a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp—and more men go missing. The pair set out to answer the big question: do we ever really know who the enemy is?

MY THOUGHTS: All The Little Hopes is a quietly moving book that I didn’t realise how much I had enjoyed until the last word faded from my earpiece. I just sat there a while, thinking on it, savouring the beautiful writing, the deceptively lazy pace which conveyed so much.

The characters are fascinating – Trula Freed, who has ‘the sight’; Aunt Fanniebelle, Lucy’s wealthy aunt who comes to the girls rescue more than once; Helen, Lucy’s older sister whose husband is off fighting the war in the Pacific; and Bert and Lucy, from whose points of view the story is told, girls on the cusp of womanhood, learning about life, and playing at Nancy Drew as they investigate the apparently unrelated disappearances of three men.

All the Little Hopes is a portrayal of family life in a small tobacco farming town in North Carolina that has lost a lot of it’s men to the war effort, and into whose midst is dropped a German prisoner of war camp. Weiss has written a deeply moving and atmospheric story of family, of love, of loss, of desperation, of prejudice, and redemption told through the eyes of two teenage girls.

Kate Forbes is an excellent narrator who had me fully immersed in this captivating tale. She has a lilting Southern accent, perfectly suited to this story.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.1

#AlltheLittleHopes #NetGalley

I: @leahweissauthor @recordedbooks

T: @RBmediaCo

#audiobook #comingofage #familydrama #historicalfiction #mystery #WWII

THE AUTHOR: Leah Weiss is a bestselling author born in eastern North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as an Executive Assistant at Virginia Episcopal School. Leah writes full time, enjoys meeting with book clubs, and speaking about writing and publishing later in life, after retirement.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to RB Media Recorded Books via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of All the Little Hopes by Leah Weiss for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com