What's New

Book Reviews

Wednesday
Sep062017

Book Review: Seeds of Intention

Seeds of Intention. Andrea Thome. Hesse Creek Media: September 5, 2017, Trade Paperback, E-book, and Audiobook, 312 pages.

Reviewed by Kandice Cole.

Seeds of Intention is the second book in the Hesse Creek series by Andrea Thome. This novel takes place at the Walland Resort nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The setting provides a gorgeous backdrop that adds richness and depth. The story follows the journey of Garrett, the talented gardener at the Walland, and Willow, the new resort manager, as their paths intertwine after an unexpected turn of events finds Garrett reeling from a failed marriage proposal.

Willow quickly feels a romantic connection with Garrett after several chance encounters at the resort. She attempts to express her interest in Garrett one evening but is quickly rejected. Garrett does not intend to do that, but his broken heart has left him feeling defensive. He feels the connection too but is uncertain that he wants to open up his heart again. Willow respects his wishes and stays distant but cannot avoid him completely since they work together. Even from afar, Garrett finds himself becoming more attracted to her as they casually get to know one another. With the help of their mutual friends Wyatt and India, who were the main characters of the first Hesse Creek Series book, they start to open up to one another and develop a friendship. Their platonic relationship turns romantic after a Thanksgiving dinner ends early due to India going into labor.

As they both learn to trust one another and be vulnerable, their relationship quickly blossoms. Garrett gains an unwavering devotion to Willow and shows his commitment by every action that he takes to protect her. Willow gives Garrett the validation and care that he needs to be honest and intimate with her. Willow finds herself experiencing one tough situation after the next, and Garrett is by her side. From near-death experiences to cross-country relocations, they navigate it all with grace and love.

Fans of Nicholas Sparks’ books will enjoy Andrea Thome’s writing. She manages to tell a classic romantic story that is interesting, vibrant, and surprising. She writes in unexpected twists to the plot that feel realistic and not overly exaggerated. The characters are well-developed and the supporting characters play an important role in shaping the story. She delicately weaves the characters from the first Hesse Creek novel into this second one, connecting both stories naturally.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and found myself longing to visit the Smoky Mountains that Andrea describes in such great detail. I am looking forward to the next installment of the Hesse Creek series. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for women's fiction, romance, or general fiction to add to your reading list.

 

Tuesday
Sep052017

Book Review: Pink Slips

Pink Slips. Beth Aldrich. Restoring Essence, June 5, 2017, Trade Paperback, E-book, and Audiobook, 266 pages.

Reviewed by Jessica Cage.

With Pink Slips, Beth Aldrich makes a smooth transition into novel writing from her previous work: Real Moms Love to Eat, a non-fiction book filled with yummy recipes. The story is set in Chicago, where a pregnant Betsy is receiving threatening notes and is left home alone when her husband is away for business. She is left vulnerable and afraid and in an unexpected twist, her dog Barney is there to help her through it. From the opening pages, the reader is engaged and intrigued wanting to know more about the characters inside.

Pink Slips is a touching yet suspenseful story. Though Betsy’s connection with Barney comes a little bit out of left field and could have been better developed, the interactions between her and her pup are enjoyable and readers will grow to care about Aldrich’s characters and become thoroughly swept up in the action. This is a clean and easy read. Overall, it is well done.

 

Friday
Aug252017

Book Review: Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir

Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir. Annette Gendler. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, April 4, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 232 pages.

Reviewed by Deb Lecos.

Jumping Over Shadows is a powerful and creative telling of the author falling in love with a Jewish man, their eventual marriage, and her conversion to Judaism. Ms. Gendler layers this narrative with the story of her Great Aunt Resi’s marriage to a Jew, just prior to the Nazi takeover of Germany. The author answers the question “Is there any form of love not worth fighting for?” She takes a reader on a journey through her introduction to the Jewish faith and her own questions about what she believes, the complexities of interfaith relationships, and the horror and pain that has been heaped upon the Jewish people and those that loved them during the Nazi era and the modern world.

Throughout this personal and honest memoir, Ms. Gendler beautifully interlaces two time periods, bringing readers along as she learns more about the history of her family. In Czechoslovakia, a few years before the war, the author’s Great Aunt Resi fell in love with a Jewish man at a time when different religions not only kept people apart but, in the ensuing years, being Jewish or related to a Jew got people killed in gas chambers. When the day arrived that Nazis assumed power over their hometown, Resi and her husband Guido had to make a terrible choice for the sake of their children.

With that as the tragic backdrop, in Germany 1985, Annette Gendler meets and falls in love with a Jewish man whose family prefers him to marry a woman of the Jewish faith. He is a child of survivors of the Holocaust and she a German shiksa—a non-Jewish woman. They keep their relationship a secret until they are sure the love they have for each other can survive the scrutiny and judgment of an interfaith and intercultural marriage.

After the author marries Harry Gendler, she learns the traditions of keeping a Jewish home kosher. As she is schooled in the art of making gefilte fish from her husband’s Aunt Rachel, Ms. Gendler speaks to Harry on the phone in German. Aunt Rachel, who had been imprisoned in a concentration camp, had heard German on many occasions in her past. When the phone call ends, Aunt Rachel wonders aloud why she cannot understand the dialect Annette used. German soldiers had beaten her nearly to death in Auschwitz, their language no doubt a painful reminder.

As this illuminating memoir moves through Annette Gendler’s eventual conversion to Judaism, the author reflects on what faith means—not only to her, but also to the broader issues our world is currently struggling with. Walls that have been built through separation, both by beliefs and the real bricks stacked between us, cannot stop the force of humanity rising. Germany making it illegal to use or distribute swastikas, perform Nazi salutes, or have statues memorializing Nazis, and the destruction of the wall dividing that country are a testament to what is possible.

As I read this story, I reflected on my own obtuseness about history repeating itself until the framework for hate and division are finally deconstructed. As Ms. Gendler has so beautifully conveyed, love is found between our innate humane souls, and it behooves us to accept all people as worthy and allowed to love who they love, and believe what they believe. It is there in that vast space of acceptance that true humanity and peaceful coexistence resides. Love is not contained in a box that separates us, but is rather a doorway to one another. 

Jumping Over Shadows is a timely and thought-provoking book, one that I urge people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds to read and reread. Intolerance is not sustainable in a society of many people with differing backgrounds. Acceptance is the only humane path forward.

 

Wednesday
Aug162017

Book Review: Darkling Spinster

Darkling Spinster. Wes Payton. Torrid Books: September 14, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 352 pages.

Reviewed by Deanna Frances.

Wes Payton’s new novel, Darkling Spinster, is a Western-style romance with a hint of fantasy and science fiction. The novel takes place in the 1800s in a southwestern town called Tombstone and tells the story of a thirty-something unwed “spinster” named Reb, who finds that the small town has more to offer than it initially seems.

In the beginning of the novel, Reb moves to Tombstone to live with her wealthy older sister, Milly, and husband, Monty. The first several chapters describe Milly’s goal of trying to marry off her younger sister. Although Milly introduces several eligible suitors to her sister, Reb cannot seem to move on from her former fiancé, who was killed over ten years prior in the Civil War. Milly’s husband also joins this quest and brings forth an unlikely man that does catch Reb’s attention, a handsome pig farmer named Paul.

As Reb and Paul’s relationship grows, he tells her that he is not necessarily who he says he is and admits that he is a writer, originally from the future, who had somehow traveled back in time to the 1800s. At first, Reb is startled by this news, and ultimately believes that Paul is lying to her. As the story progresses, she realizes that her feelings for Paul are too strong to let his time traveling past come between them, and she agrees to assist him with his quest to find another time traveler so that he can return to his own time.

Initially, I was a bit skeptical about how this novel was going to play out with its wide range of genres, but I will admit that I truly enjoyed reading Reb and Paul’s story. As a fan of romance and historical fiction, this novel fit nicely into my range of interest. I was a little concerned about how Payton was going to tie in science fiction, but I believe that Paul’s time traveling past was a perfect hint of the genre to add to the story.

Knowing Payton’s history with playwriting was very interesting, because I could definitely see his background through the writing style of this novel. The chapters are very short and written in more of a dialogue-heavy “scenic” style, which kept the novel fast paced and interesting. I appreciated the easy-read feel of this novel, but I do wish that Payton would have added more descriptions—the novel feels very scripted and dialogue-heavy as is.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Darkling Spinster, and I believe it is a wonderful read for any fan of historical fiction, romance, and science fiction. I believe that Payton’s seamless use of several different genres has created a novel for many types of readers to enjoy.

 

Monday
Aug142017

Book Review: Beer and Gasoline

Beer and Gasoline. John Knoerle. Chicago: Blue Steel Press, August 1, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 298 pages.

Reviewed by Wayne Turmel.

“The Mojave Desert runs on beer and gasoline,” says one of the characters in Beer and Gasoline. It is that kind of insight into both the location (the desert around Needles, CA) and the times (1968, in all its cold-war paranoia and before the incursion of civilization into the last wild places) that serve as the engine for John Knoerle’s enjoyable spy thriller.

The protagonist, CIA agent Hal Schroeder, has appeared in three other novels in Knoerle’s “American Spy Trilogy.” This book appears to be the final, most cynical, entry in the series. Sent on a mission to uncover a murder near a top-secret installation deep in the desert, Schroeder discovers secrets hidden in the desert that make him question his loyalty to the Agency as well as its paranoid but brilliant leader, James Jesus Angleton. He becomes the key to a story involving double-crossing spies, Korean War deserters, Native American journalists and a young—but already far too cynical—local cop.

Fans of Cold War espionage stories will enjoy Knoerle’s well-thought-out and researched capture of time and place. I found the story easy to jump into, even though I had not read the previous titles in the series, although that might have helped with Schroeder’s backstory. The characters are unique and perfect for the time period. They are familiar without being the same old tropes.

Readers should know going in that Beer and Gasoline is not told in a traditional narrative. Rather, the story is told in flashbacks through documentary evidence: transcripts, newspaper articles, personal letters, and the handwritten notes of an aging, world-weary, and increasingly cynical spy. The presentation is unique, although some might find it distracting. When it works—as in the transcription of a surveillance audio—it’s fast paced, engaging, and moves the story along at breakneck speed. Some of the personal notes and letters required a suspension of disbelief that took me out of the story for a moment, and the author's use of “Dear Reader” seemed a bit out of place. However, these flaws did not diminish my enjoyment of the book.

As a fan of spy fiction, history, and the Mojave Desert and its residents, I enjoyed the ride.