South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber

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Magical!

EXCERPT: It was the kind of day in Buttonwood, Alabama, where trouble slipped into town with the breeze, jarring awake sleepy springtime leaves on the massive oaks and sky-high hickories. It scraped parched dirt, sending dust skittering along the trail like it was running for cover. It whistled its warning, plain as day to anyone who cared to listen.

If anyone could recognize the cautionary tune, it was me.

I was a Bishop after all. My family name was practically synonymous with the word ‘trouble’. Daddy, Twyla, and my three brothers had embraced trouble like long-lost kin, consequences be damned. And look where that had landed them – each now dead and buried.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Blue Bishop has a knack for finding lost things. While growing up in charming small-town Buttonwood, Alabama, she’s happened across lost wallets, jewelry, pets, her wandering neighbor, and sometimes, trouble. No one is more surprised than Blue, however, when she comes across an abandoned newborn baby in the woods, just south of a very special buttonwood tree.

Sarah Grace Landreneau Fulton is at a crossroads. She has always tried so hard to do the right thing, but her own mother would disown her if she ever learned half of Sarah Grace’s secrets.

The unexpected discovery of the newborn baby girl will alter Blue’s and Sarah Grace’s lives forever. Both women must fight for what they truly want in life and for who they love. In doing so, they uncover long-held secrets that reveal exactly who they really are–and what they’re willing to sacrifice in the name of family.

MY THOUGHTS: ‘What’s that Dahl quote? ‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

I found magic in this wonderful book. By the end of the first page, I knew that I had found something special. Heather Webber, whom I have never read before, reached out and touched my heart, enchanted my mind, and kept me enamored right through to the last page.

The characters are depicted so clearly and cleverly that they are never anything less than real. ‘Sarah Grace…..if she were a book, her binding would be pristine, and her pages glued together to hide what was inside.’ ‘If there were a personification of Southern Gothic, it would be Oleta. Dressed in one of her overly starched, vintage short-sleeve shirtwaist dresses with matching pillbox hat, she was altogether nightmarish with her nearly skeletal figure, short grey hair, black eyes, sharp cheekbones, barbed tongue, and utter self-righteousness.’

The writing is gentle and enthralling. It is Southern. I could hear the characters in my mind. The story of this abandoned baby tore at my heartstrings and misted my eyes. Notice that I didn’t say ‘unloved.’ Baby Flora is loved greatly, by a large number of people.

There is a lot of love in this book. Not romance. Love. Blue’s love for this tiny baby left for her to find. Her love for her family, the notorious Bishops. Marlo and her love for her husband Moe, now suffering from dementia. And magic. The magic of love.

There is also a good dose of mystery in South of the Buttonwood Tree, and it’s not confined to the identity of the baby’s mother.

If you need a little magic in your life, or you want a wonderful read that will make you forget the current troubles in the world, this is the book that will do it.

❤❤❤❤.6

‘In the book of life, everyone has chapters they don’t like reading out loud.’

THE AUTHOR: Heather Webber, aka Heather Blake, is the author of more than twenty-five novels. She loves to read, drink too much coffee and tea, birdwatch, crochet, and bake. She currently lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, and is hard at work on her next book.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

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EXCERPT: Wearing nothing but their father’s old seersucker pajama tops over their panties, the four girls pushed Genevieve’s convertible to the end of the long drive before Vivi climbed behind the wheel and started it. There was only a dollop of gas in the tank so they couldn’t get far.

‘I just know we shouldn’t be doing this,’ Necie said as they journeyed into the night. ‘We should have at least put on pajama bottoms.’

‘Necie, this is not a mortal sin, you know,’ said Teensy.

‘I do not recall it being listed in the Baltimore Catechism,’ Vivi said.

‘Moses didn’t utter one word about pajama bottoms when he came down from the mountain,’ said Caro.

‘Well,’ Necie said, ‘I guess these tops do cover more of our bodies than our swimsuits do.’

As Vivi drove, it seemed that not only the Ya-Yas’ bodies but the earth and sky were sweating. The very air they breathed was almost a juice. Moonlight spilled down into the convertible, onto the four friends’ shoulders and knees and on the tops of their heads, so that their hair seemed to have little sparks shooting off it. ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered ‘ played on the radio. Vivi had no idea at all where she was headed, but she knew that whatever direction she went, her friends would go with her.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she’s directed, her mother gets described as a “tap-dancing child abuser.” Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for.

MY THOUGHTS: ‘The beauty of imperfect love.’ That is the essence of the series of books that begins with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

On the surface, this is a story of friendship, love and survival. But it goes so much deeper than that. Wells explores the mother daughter bond, with all its misunderstandings and misconceptions, hurt feelings and petty feuds, and the underlying love that ultimately overshadows everything else.

This is not a subtle story. It is big and loud and blowsy. Flamboyant. Southern. It is full of emotion from full-blown histrionics to studied indifference. It’s characters love and hate with equal abandon, they drink, and cuss, and appear to neglect their children. But they have a bond, seemingly unbreakable, so that when something threatens one of them, they circle their wagons and protect one another.

But what happens when that threat, that danger, comes from inside? Siddalee Walker is about to find out. A few careless words to a reporter about her mother may have just exiled her from her family forever….

I love this book. Adore it. It is my favourite of the three in the series. Tattered is how I would describe its condition. Definitely beyond well worn. I read it often and I find it extremely difficult to put into words how much this book makes me feel. I laugh (a lot) and cry (not quite so much) every time I read it. It invokes memories, pleasant and not so pleasant, of my own childhood. Every time I read this, I get something different from it. Definitely one of my lifetime top ten books.

❤❤❤❤❤

THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Wells was born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana. “I grew up,” she says, “in the fertile world of story-telling, filled with flamboyance, flirting, futility, and fear.” Surrounded by Louisiana raconteurs, a large extended family, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s Parish, Rebecca’s imagination was stimulated at every turn. Early on, she fell in love with thinking up and acting in plays for her siblings—the beginnings of her career as an actress and writer for the stage. She recalls her early influences as being the land around her, harvest times, craw-fishing in the bayou, practicing piano after school, dancing with her mother and brothers and sister, and the close relationship to her black “mother” who cleaned for the Wells household. She counts black music and culture from Louisiana as something that will stay in her body’s memory forever.

In high school, she read Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” which opened her up to the idea that everything in life is a poem, and that, as she says, “We are not born separately from one another.” She also read “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s indictment of the strangling consumer-driven American culture he saw around him. Acting in school and summer youth theater productions freed Rebecca to step out of the social hierarchies of high school and into the joys of walking inside another character and living in another world.

The day after she graduated from high school, Rebecca left for Yellowstone National Park, where she worked as a waitress. It was an introduction to the natural glories of the park—mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and geysers—as well as to the art of hitchhiking.

Rebecca graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, where she studied theater, English, and psychology. She performed in many college plays, but also stepped outside the theater department to become awakened to women’s politics. During this time she worked as a cocktail waitress–once accidentally kicking a man in the shins when he slipped a ten-dollar bill down the front of her dress—and began keeping a journal after reading Anais Nin, which she has done ever since.

DISCLOSURE: I own my own copy of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, published by Harper Collins. And do not ever try to part me from it.

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 and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Museum of Forgotten Memories

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EXCERPT: She grinds her shoe against the floorboards, tips the toe of it onto the rug. The black leather is dusty grey with what is left of summer. ‘I wondered for years if I should have told the truth. And then, when Richard . . . you know.’

I have no idea what to say next. I am a dumb beast and my body has been replaced with the mounted frame of one of the animals. My eyes are glass and staring, my mouth is full of plaster teeth, solid pink stone tongue.

The house has claimed me as it’s own.

I try to remember that this loss belongs to her too – the loss of the brother she loved and hadn’t been able to see for years – but there isn’t room in my hurt heart for other people’s problems.

‘And that’s it?’ I am reeling. One stupid conversation, one banal argument. One single moment that ricocheted through my family for years: that cast a shadow over my whole marriage. ‘That’s the whole reason he never spoke to his grandfather again? Ever? Just a family secret?’

‘Family secrets can be huge, Cate.’ She gestures at herself. ‘They destroy those who know them and they torture those who are outside them.’

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Cate Morris thought she’d met her match in Simon at university—until she laid eyes on his best friend, Richard. Cate and Richard felt an immediate and undeniable spark, but Richard also felt the weight of the world more deeply than most.

Now, four years after Richard’s suicide, Cate is let go from her teaching job and can’t pay the rent on the London flat she shares with her and Richard’s son, Leo. She packs the two of them up and ventures to Richard’s grandfather’s old Victorian museum in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea, where the dusty staff quarters await her. Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate falls in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds and makes it her mission to revive them. When the museum is faced with closure because of a lack of visitors, Cate stages a grand reopening, but threats from both inside and outside the museum derail her plans and send her spiraling into self-doubt.

As Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death—and the role she played in it—in order to reimagine her future.

MY THOUGHTS: What a magnificent read! Harris writes with a lyrical realism. She takes tough subjects: grief, suicide, depression and fractured families, and writes with such emotional rawness, such descriptive beauty, that the reader cannot help but be drawn in. I finished this book with tears running freely and a goofy smile on my face. But don’t be thinking that this is a ‘happily-ever-after’ book. It’s not. This is not a romance. This is a story of a deep and lifelong love, of an abiding loyalty, of grief, of desperation and determination.

Cate lost her husband to suicide. Now she has lost her job and her home. Out of options, she turns to her dead husband’s family estate, using the clause in the Trust documents that allows tenure to the direct descendants of Hugo, founder of the museum and Richard’s grandfather, to give her son and great-grandson to Hugo, a home. Richard always refused to take her to his childhood home, so she has no idea what to expect.

Cate is a Londoner, as is son Leo, used to places filled with chattering people, a cacophony of smells, sounds and taste, with friends who are able to step in to care for Leo if necessary. And Leo had everything he needed in London: sports teams and music lessons, art groups, dancing and, most importantly, his friends. How are they going to survive living in a outdated ‘apartment’ where the kitchen is three floors below their rooms, in a rambling and remote country mansion (Hatters) seriously in need of maintenance, their only company a strange and resentful old woman and a pot smoking gardener with a criminal conviction?

The only thing that makes it bearable for Cate is the thought that it’s not permanent, it’s only until she gets another job…

The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris is an intricate and beautiful story of three generations of a family dogged by the black dog of depression. It is sad, tragically so, but it is also one of the most beautiful pieces of writing that I have ever read.

❤❤❤❤❤

#TheMuseumofForgottenMemories #NetGalley

In some parts of the world, this book is published under the title ‘Where We Belong’

‘The most bitter thing about love; you can’t understand it, measure it – not all its edges and intricacies – until it’s gone and the clear print of its negative self is left behind.’

‘We none of us get out alive and none of us get out without some pain.’

‘The sun is thinking about setting, lowering itself into a comfortable position on the horizon, letting go of the heat of the day.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.

Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves). Her short stories tend not to end quite so well…

Things that interest Anstey include her children and granddaughter, green issues and conservation, adoption and adoption reunion (she is an adopted child, born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965), stepfamilies, dogs, and food. Always food. She would love to be on Masterchef but would never recover from the humiliation if she got sent home in the first round.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan

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EXCERPT: Summer 2017

Boop Peck had looked everywhere for her favourite lipstick. It wasn’t in the bathroom, or in her purse, bedroom, or her pocket. She shuddered at the injustice: Boop remembered her first telephone number – 359J – but not the whereabouts of the lipstick she’d worn the day before. Or was it the day before that? She peeked around and patted herself again. Nothing. A lost lipstick wasn’t the end of the world. Unless it was Sly Pink, her discontinued colour of choice, which it was.

Enough with the lipstick.

The girls would arrive soon. No, the ladies would arrive soon. Boop chuckled. Ladies sounded so stuffy, boring, and inaccurate. Even at eighty-four Boop and her friends would always be girls – and they’d never be boring.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Everything seemed possible in the summer of 1951. Back then Betty Stern was an eighteen-year-old knockout working at her grandparents’ lakeside resort. The “Catskills of the Midwest” was the perfect place for Betty to prepare for bigger things. She’d head to college in New York City. Her career as a fashion editor would flourish. But first, she’d enjoy a wondrous last summer at the beach falling deeply in love with an irresistible college boy and competing in the annual Miss South Haven pageant. On the precipice of a well-planned life, Betty’s future was limitless.

Decades later, the choices of that long-ago season still reverberate for Betty, now known as Boop. Especially when her granddaughter comes to her with a dilemma that echoes Boop’s memories of first love, broken hearts, and faraway dreams. It’s time to finally face the past—for the sake of her family and her own happiness. Maybe in reconciling the life she once imagined with the life she’s lived, Boop will discover it’s never too late for a second chance.

MY THOUGHTS: What a delightful read! I really didn’t want to close the rather beautiful cover on The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan. I finished reading with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

This is a story of family and friendship, hope and disappointment, owning your mistakes, taking control over your own future and making it the best future it could possibly be.

The summer Betty was four, her parents had dropped her off with her grandparents in South Haven for the weekend – and had never come back for her. Her Jewish grandparents have raised her with love, a strong work ethic, and big dreams for her future. But the summer of 1951, the year Betty is crowned Miss South Haven, just when it seems that all her dreams are within reach, something happens to change her life.

The Last Bathing Beauty travels back and forward in time between 1951, when she was still Betty Stern, a smart and sassy girl on the cusp of a great future, and 2017 when she is Boop Peck, widow, mother of one son, grandmother of two girls, and great-grandmother of 2 point something great-grandchildren.

Betty is quite wonderful. I fell in love with her character. I aspire to be her should I make the great age of eighty-four. Actually, I aspire to be her long before then. She is going to be my role model.

Amy Sue Nathan has created a vivid and captivating picture of life in a Jewish family at a holiday camp in 1951. The summer romances, the morals and mores of the time, so very different from now, when mixing outside your social/religious/racial circle was frowned upon, and young women were expected to marry to please their families and improve their social status.

This is a lovely story, told with both humour and empathy. I will be reading this author’s other books. Highly recommended.

❤😪❤😪.5

‘You’re never too old to find love and throw a good party.’

‘Sometimes it takes a long time to get things right.’

THE AUTHOR: Amy Sue Nathan is Writer of novels, lover of cats, morning coffee, dark chocolate, and bold lipstick. Former vegetarian, occasional crafter, adequate cook, loyal friend, proud mom to two awesome adults.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3288654035

After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill

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EXCERPT: There was Black Forest cake in the refrigerator. Edward made coffee and served the cake onto plates with generous scoops of vanilla bean icecream.

Willow disappeared up the iron staircase to swap Edward’s jacket for something more comfortable. She descended wearing one of his sweatshirts over her cocktail dress and took both plates to the couch, placing his on the glossy surface of the coffee table beside a small Matchbox Mercedes Benz.

‘You’re writing something new?’ she accused, picking up the toy car.

He brought in two mugs of coffee, set them down, and took the car from her. ‘Yes.’

She gazed up at him. ‘So, tell me.’

Edward sat beside her on the couch and told her about Madeleine d’Leon, his crime writer.

Willow listened, eating cake as she concentrated on the picture he was building. ‘And so the story is about…?’

‘It’s an exploration of an author’s relationship with her protagonist, an examination of the tenuous line between belief and reality, imagination and self, and what happens when that line is crossed.’

Willow nodded gravely. ‘I’m not sure what that means, but it does sound award winning.’

Edward laughed.

Willow’s high-arched brow furrowed slightly. ‘Isn’t your heroine a little ordinary, Ned? Maybe you should jazz her up a bit, give her a dark past as, say, a stripper or a drug dealer.’

‘She’s a lawyer.’

‘I suppose that’s pretty close. But – I don’t know – what about a bizarre hobby? She could be a taxidermist. Taxidermists are interesting.’

‘She’s a writer, Will.’

‘But how are you going to make that sustain an entire book? Opening a laptop and typing isn’t exactly an action scene.’

‘The story is about what goes on in her head and how powerful that becomes.’ He took a gulp of coffee as he tried to explain. ‘She has to be outwardly normal. But, Will, her mind is extraordinary. It’s exciting.’

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Madeleine d’Leon doesn’t know where Edward came from. He is simply a character in her next book. But as she writes, he becomes all she can think about. His charm, his dark hair, his pen scratching out his latest literary novel . . .

Edward McGinnity can’t get Madeleine out of his mind–softly smiling, infectiously enthusiastic, and perfectly damaged. She will be the ideal heroine for his next book.

But who is the author and who is the creation? And as the lines start to blur, who is affected when a killer finally takes flesh?

MY THOUGHTS: Awesome! Awesome! And absolutely brilliant!!!!!

After She Wrote Him will mess with your head. Who is real? Everyone? No one?

At one point during this read I wanted to jump up and dance about, whooping and hollering with excitement. It’s THAT good.

After She Wrote Him (but did she write him? Or did he write her? Or were they writing each other?) starts out in a fairly ordinary manner, then gradually becomes more complex as the characters begin to interact. By the end of the book I had absolutely no idea who, if anyone, was the author, and who,if anyone, was the creation.

And that ending…totally unexpected and tragic. An ending that left me not only wanting to read more from this author, but craving a large portion of Black Forest Gateau with vanilla bean icecream. (There is a lot of descriptions of beautiful food in this book.)

🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂

#AfterSheWroteHim #NetGalley

‘We writers, we’re crafters of lies. We call them novels, or stories, or narratives but, in essence, they’re a collection of lies, interesting, thrilling lies that make you laugh and cry but, in the end, still lies.’

‘Real life is full of coincidences and scenarios too far-fetched for fiction. It’s also full of liars. In fiction, the only liar is the author himself.’

THE AUTHOR: Not so long ago, Sulari Gentill was a corporate lawyer serving as a director on public boards, with only a vague disquiet that there was something else she was meant to do. That feeling did not go away until she began to write. And so Sulari became the author of the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries: thus far, six historical crime novels chronicling the life and adventures of her 1930s Australian gentleman artist, and the Hero Trilogy, based on the myths and epics of the ancient world. In 2014 she collaborated with National Gallery of Victoria to write a short story which was produced in audio to feature in the Fashion Detective Exhibition, and thereafter published by the NGV.

Sulari lives with her husband, Michael, and their boys, Edmund and Atticus, on a small farm in Batlow where she grows French Black Truffles and refers to her writing as “work” so that no one will suggest she get a real job.

Sulari’s first novel was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – Best First Book. She won the 2012 Davitt Award for Crime Fiction, was shortlisted in 2013 Davitt Award, the NSW Genre Fiction Award, 2012 Boroondara Literary Award, and the 2013 Scarlett Stiletto Award. She was offered a Varuna Fellowship in 2010.

In the final stages of a new standalone manuscript, Sulari is also working on the seventh book of the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, and playing with ideas for a new series or two… perhaps three.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3062167499

She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker

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EXCERPT: Pittsburgh had a lot of cemeteries. This particular one, All Saints Hollow, was one of the largest.

The mausoleums.

I didn’t much like the mausoleums.

When we drove by a cemetery, Auntie Jo said you’re always supposed to hold your breath to keep the spirits of the dead from finding you. I’m not sure why this rule didn’t apply when you were actually in the cemetery, but if it applied anywhere, it would be at the mausoleums. The air was still here. I pictured the dead peeking out from the cracks in the stone, bony hands ready to reach out and snatch unsuspecting little boys, pulling us into those squat structures, never to be seen again.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: After the loss of his parents, young Jack Thatch first met Stella as a child—this cryptic little girl of eight with dark hair and darker eyes, sitting alone on a bench in the cemetery clutching her favorite book. Gone moments later, the brief encounter would spark an obsession. She’d creep into his thoughts, his every waking moment, until he finally finds her again exactly one year later, sitting upon the same bench, only to disappear again soon after.

The body of a man found in an alley, every inch of his flesh horribly burned, yet his clothing completely untouched. For Detective Faustino Brier, this wasn’t the first, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. It was no different from the others. He’d find another just like it one year from today. August 9, to be exact.

Isolated and locked away from the world in a shadowy lab, a little boy known only as Subject “D” waits, grows, learns. He’s permitted to speak to no one. He has never known the touch of another. Harboring a power so horrific, those in control will never allow him beyond their walls.

All of them linked in ways unimaginable.

MY THOUGHTS: When I read the promotional blurb for this book, ‘SHE HAS A BROKEN THING WHERE HER HEART SHOULD BE conjures thoughts of early King and Koontz. A heart-pounding ride that creeps under your skin and will have you turning pages long into the night.’, I thought ‘Yeah, right.’ I had not been having a good run with my reading. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. But this did.

I was consumed by it. I woke in the early hours of the morning after dreaming of Jack and Stella, and cemeteries, and read through the remainder of the night until it was finished with me.

And the blurb is right. She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be, is reminiscent of early King and Koontz. ‘As the older woman turned, as she spun around, the wind caught the edge of her coat and I saw something beneath it, an image that is still as clear as day in my mind; the barrel of a shotgun resting against her leg.’ …. ‘The Gunslinger’ was the first thing I thought of. But it is also so much more…there really is nothing to compare this to. It is in a class of its own.

Yes, this is horror, but it is plausible. Do we know what trials/medical experiments are/were being carried out? No, we only know what we are told. And as my favourite uncle was fond of saying, believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see.

Although the main theme is horror, there’s more. Barker writes with a tongue in cheek humour-
‘What don’t you do while I’m gone?’
‘Open the door.’
‘Except for the pizza guy.’
‘Except for the pizza guy.’…..’What if the pizza guy is an axe wielding murderer and he wants to chop me into little pieces?’
‘Well then, don’t tip him.’

There is romance, and coming to grips with the reality of life and death, and adventure and heartbreak and action all wrapped into one package. And it works, brilliantly. I have in the past, and very recently, criticised authors for trying to pack too many genres into their work, of trying to be too many things to their readers. Barker proves that it can be done, and very successfully.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and yet it is surprisingly easy to keep track of them. Some of them are very ordinary, some are strange, and others just downright weird. All have depth and all, strangely, feel very real.

This book is eerie, and weird. It is enthralling and compelling. It will stay with me for a long time. I will especially remember it whenever I see a white SUV. This is a book that is going on my favourites shelf, and one that will be reread.

❤😱😱😱❤

‘The light of morning reached through my window and tried to grab me under my mound of blankets.’

‘She wore her uniform like a hanger with feet.’

‘Potential parents paraded through in search of a good find, not unlike bargain shoppers at a yard sale.’

‘You don’t answer any of my questions.’…..’Maybe you should stop asking questions.’

And one quote that I think is particularly pertinent right now:’Of all things, I believe I’ll miss the night sky the most. The absolute vastness of it, the unknown. While we’re down here, fighting our pesky little battles, we’re really just a little speck on the shoe of the universe. Any problem life may present seems so small, so insignificant, when you simply look up and realise your true place in all things.’

THE AUTHOR: J.D. Barker is the international best-selling author of numerous novels, including DRACUL and THE FOURTH MONKEY. He is currently collaborating with James Patterson. His novels have been translated into two dozen languages and optioned for both film and television. Barker resides in coastal New Hampshire with his wife, Dayna, and their daughter, Ember.

A note from J.D.
As a child I was always told the dark could not hurt me, that the shadows creeping in the corners of my room were nothing more than just that, shadows. The sounds nothing more than the settling of our old home, creaking as it found comfort in the earth only to move again when it became restless, if ever so slightly. I would never sleep without closing the closet door, oh no; the door had to be shut tight. The darkness lurking inside needed to be held at bay, the whispers silenced. Rest would only come after I checked under the bed at least twice and quickly wrapped myself in the safety of the sheets (which no monster could penetrate), pulling them tight over my head.

I would never go down to the basement.

Never.

I had seen enough movies to know better, I had read enough stories to know what happens to little boys who wandered off into dark, dismal places alone. And there were stories, so many stories.

Reading was my sanctuary, a place where I could disappear for hours at a time, lost in the pages of a good book. It didn’t take long before I felt the urge to create my own.

I first began to write as a child, spinning tales of ghosts and gremlins, mystical places and people. For most of us, that’s where it begins—as children we have such wonderful imaginations, some of us have simply found it hard to grow up. I’ve spent countless hours trying to explain to friends and family why I enjoy it, why I would rather lock myself in a quiet little room and put pen to paper for hours at a time than throw around a baseball or simply watch television. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to do just that, sometimes I wish for it, but even then the need to write is always there in the back of my mind, the characters are impatiently tapping their feet, waiting their turn, wanting to be heard. I wake in the middle of the night and reach for the pad beside my bed, sometimes scrawling page after page of their words, their lives. Then they’re quiet, if only for a little while. To stop would mean madness, or even worse—the calm, numbing sanity I see in others as they slip through the day without purpose. They don’t know what it’s like, they don’t understand. Something as simple as a pencil can open the door to a new world, can create life or experience death. Writing can take you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people you’ve never met, take you back to when you first saw those shadows in your room, when you first heard the sounds mumbling ever so softly from your closet, and it can show you what uttered them. It can scare the hell out of you, and that’s when you know it’s good.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hampton Creek Press (IBPA) via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker. 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and on https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3119732314

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts

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EXCERPT: I didn’t know when I stopped struggling, but at some point I did. I didn’t feel the razor run across my scalp; I only felt the closeness of Nurse Wilma’s hot and soft body that smelled of night-shift sweat. The stench made my stomach jerk and sputter, but there was nothing inside to come up.

Lorna was still chanting about the yellow canary and that the mine was safe. But I knew she was wrong. The mine wasn’t safe and we were all going to die here. Panic filled me while the restrains squeezed my arms and legs. The room was full of other patients, but none of them could help me. Then mother walked into the room and stood near the chair. Even though her eyes didn’t seem to see me, she must have sensed something was happening to me. She rarely came out of the room on her own. My breathing heightened and I started to scream. Nurse Joann, that’s who she was to me now, told me to stop, but when I wouldn’t she cupped her hands over my mouth and the back of my neck with such steadfastness that I couldn’t even try to bite. All I could do was listen to all the other voices and sounds in the room. But no one could hear me.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Pennsylvania, 1940s. The only life Brighton Friedrich has ever known is the one she has endured within the dreary walls of Riverside Home—the rural asylum where she was born. A nurse, Joann, has educated and raised Brighton, whose mother is a patient at the hospital. But Joann has also kept vital information from Brighton—secrets that if ever revealed would illuminate Brighton’s troubling past and the circumstances that confine her to Riverside. Brighton’s best friend is a boy she calls Angel, and as they grow up together and face the bleak future that awaits them, they determine to make a daring escape.

Nothing can prepare Brighton and Angel for life beyond Riverside’s walls. They have no legal identities, very little money, and only a few leads toward a safe place to land. As they struggle to survive in a world they’ve never seen before, they must rely on each other and the kindness of strangers—some of whom may prove more dangerous than the asylum they’ve fled.

MY THOUGHTS: Asylum means an offer of protection. But there was no protection at Riverside Home for the Insane. Quite the opposite.

I nearly stopped reading The Bright Unknown a third of the way through. I found it thoroughly depressing. But after reading Kathleen Gray’s moving review, I persevered, and although I didn’t love this book as she did, I did enjoy it more, and am glad I finished it.

I worked as a psychiatric nurse in the early 1970’s, and although the conditions were greatly improved by then, there were still some similarities in the way that unwanted family members, those who were born with some affliction that may be an embarrassment to the family, were still hidden away in the ‘chronic’ wards. Electric convulsive therapy was still used extensively, though far more humanely. I do recall seeing a straightjacket, but can’t ever remember one being used. Instead there were padded cells and sedatives.

There were still some of the ‘old school’ nurses who were cruel and treated the patients inhumanely, but they were definitely in the minority.

Reading The Bright Unknown has stirred up a slew of memories for me, some good and some not so good. I still can’t really define how I feel about this book, told from Brighton’s point of view over two timelines, the late 1930s/early 1940s and 1990. It is a sad book, in that those who are closest to us are often the cruelest. It shows the idiocy of the old adage ‘you have to be cruel to be kind.’

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, but it was an experience. It does show that shattered lives can be rebuilt, that human spirit can overcome great adversity, and that love can conquer all.

😢🤔🙂

There are two passages in particular that struck a chord in my heart:

‘Weeds bloomed, but that didn’t make them flowers.’

‘A lot of bad had to happen for us to have all the good in our lives.’

THE AUTHOR: Award-winning author Elizabeth Byler Younts writes historical fiction for Harper Collins/Thomas Nelson. She gained a worldwide audience through her first book Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. She is also the author of the Carol award-winning novel The Solace of Water, critically-acclaimed novel The Bright Unknown, and The Promise of Sunrise series. She has consulted on Amish lifestyle and the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect for two award-winning television shows. Elizabeth lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband, two daughters, and a small menagerie of well-loved pets.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Thomas Nelson Fiction via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2969247286?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

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EXCERPT: Her father was a great rabbi, but she was the one who had a true talent. For the thousandth time she wished she were a boy. She had no interest in marriage or babies, only in the world of scholars, from which she was prohibited. She could taste the bitter dirt as they finished digging, and she nearly choked on it. It occurred to her that once she broke the rules of her family and her faith, there would be no going back. But on this morning, all she knew was that she wanted to live.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman.

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

MY THOUGHTS: ‘Once upon a time something happened that you never could have imagined, a spell was broken, a girl was saved, a rose grew out of a tooth buried deep in the ground, love was everywhere, and people who had been taken away continued to walk with you, in dreams and in the waking world.’

This is a book that can’t be buttonholed into one or even two categories. Historical, magical, fantasy, love, family drama doesn’t even begin to describe The World That We Knew.

The author’s introduction is one of the most moving that I have read. Please don’t skip it. It tells how this book was born. And the relationship between fairytales and real life. If you don’t think there is one, then you really do need to read it.

The magical aspects of Hoffman’s writing does nothing to dilute the horrors of the Holocaust; in fact, if anything, it heightens the inhumanity of man against man. She writes beautifully and lyrically about one of the darkest periods in the history of man, holding nothing back, but always there is hope that shines like a beacon.

I was a history student, and WWII was one of my pet subjects, but I have learned more from Hoffman’s writing than I ever did in school. It is far easier to relate to and has far greater significance when it is on a more personal level.

I finished The World That We Knew last night and I have written a dozen reviews in my head during the day, all of which were far more eloquent and reflective than this. I had highlighted dozens of passages in an effort to capture the essence of this book. But after reading and rereading them, I stayed with the first; the one that says ‘all she knew was that she wanted to live.’ There is no greater desire in life than to live and to keep your loved ones safe. ‘If you are loved, you never lose the person who loved you. You carry them with you all your life.’ And the reverse is true, that if you love someone, you can never lose that person. You carry them with you all your life. And that, to me, is the essence of The World That We Knew; the magic of love.

❤❤❤❤

THE AUTHOR: Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew, The Rules of Magic, The Marriage of Opposites, Practical Magic, The Red Garden, the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, and The Dovekeepers. Her most recent novel is The World That We Knew. She lives near Boston.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The World That We Knew 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 or the about page on my webpage sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2941683080?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1