Category Archives: Reviews

Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri: A Review

Amy Impellizzeri’s Tall Poppy Writers Page

Amazon Blurb: Set in the past, and present, LEMONGRASS HOPE is a captivating and unpredictable love story, with a dose of magical realism and time travel, that fans of authors such as Audrey Niffenegger, Alice Hoffman, and Toni Morrison will appreciate and embrace. Like Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret this novel weaves together ordinary lives and events to tell an extraordinary tale of connection, loss, renewal, and of course, hope. As Kate Sutton’s decade-long marriage to Rob erodes and unravels, Kate fears that the secrets she guards from the world, including Rob’s emergency room proposal, and a whirlwind love affair from her past, have always doomed her fate. When she unwittingly receives a glimpse at what her life could have been like had she made different choices all those years ago, it is indeed all she could have ever wanted. A confirmation of her greatest hope, and her greatest fears. LEMONGRASS HOPE will draw you in with characters so relatable and real, you will cheer for them one moment and flinch the next. A tale that invites you to suspend disbelief-or perhaps decide to believe once and for all-in the potent power of love and connection over time and choice. Oh, and the dress. There’s this lemongrass dress . . .

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REVIEW: This book has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list since it came out over a year ago. The author is a participating member of a large international online writers group I belong to (Women Writers, Women’s Books, or http://www.booksbywomen.org). Ms. Impellizzeri is a former corporate lawyer, turned fiction and non-fiction writer. She puts her knowledge of the practice of law to good use in exploring the character of Rob, Kate’s husband.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lemongrass Hope is first and foremost a compelling and relatable piece of contemporary fiction. A twist of plot late in the book provides an unexpected bit of magical realism to the story that makes Lemongrass Hope just that little bit different from other books exploiting themes of “what might have been.” Above all, Kate Sutton is a woman with whom many readers will be able to empathize.

Kate has a deep and passionate affair with Ian, but she takes a safe route into the long term, more practical relationship with Rob. The marriage progresses through many familiar phases: establishing their career(s), kids and moving to the suburbs. With exceptional clarity, Amy captures the duality with which so many women with careers and young children struggle, and zeros in with pinpoint accuracy on the discomfort that often exists between stay-at-home moms and moms that work outside the home. Amy clearly describes Kate’s transition from an academic and intellectual 20-something, enjoying life in Manhattan, to a woman strained to her limits by the demands of her career, being a supportive wife to a partner-track attorney, and being the mother of two young children. Seeing that transition, we are set up beautifully when Kate is confronted with several life altering events, one on top of the next, and she embarks on a Heartbreak Cruise to try to get her thoughts together.

Amy writes Kate’s character in such a way that I was alternatively sympathetic and yelling at her. Kate’s evolution from young adulthood, believing she can control her life, to a wiser woman who knows how to control the things she can, and let go of what she can’t is a commonly told story. In Lemongrass Hope, it becomes remarkable in how simply and beautifully the story unfolded for me. Much of the story arc is predictable with one VERY notable exception. But it doesn’t matter, because the story is so elegantly told.

Lemongrass Hope explores old themes in a new way, offering a fresh view of the question “What if I’d done things differently?” This book was enjoyable, optimistic and fast-moving. I recommend it.

Among the places you can buy this book is
Amazon. Here’s the link.

http://www.amazon.com/Lemongrass-Hope-Amy-Impellizzeri/dp/1939288533/ref=la_B00N3WBOO8_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453088733&sr=1-1

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REVIEW: Water’s Edge by Jennifer McArdle

Water’s Edge is a book that I saw promoted in a social media group I belong to. I was in the mood for a light romance, and the premise really appealed to me, so, off to Amazon I went. The blurb reads:

Nora has a comfortable home and a successful fiancé, but her seemingly ideal life feels more like a prison than a fairy tale. So when Nora inherits her late uncle’s home in a small southeast Alaskan town, she leaves behind everything she’s ever known in search of something better. Tucked away from the rest of the world, in a land where one false step can mean the difference between life and death, Nora must learn how to rely on herself for survival… and to open her heart to new possibilities.

There is a lot to like about this book. First, it’s the rare romance that takes place in Alaska! The descriptions of the geography, of the Southern Inner Passage of Alaska, are really well crafted. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska, and feel like I was given a literary glimpse of what it looks like. Ms. McArdle seems to really know where she’s set her story and describes it beautifully. I found myself, over and over, wanting to see the places she describes for myself. Nora, the protagonist, is a very likable woman. She does seem to have had more life experience than most young women at 25 years, though. Jake is a very likeable man. He’s handsome, capable and friendly. There are the misunderstandings that make for a bumpy start in the romance, and another misunderstanding that disrupts their blooming romance, but everything ultimately turns out well. The story is easy to read, light and comfortable.

I did have some trouble with the book, though. The biggest problem I had was with the premise that a 25 year old L.A. transplant feels like she can adapt to living alone on a small island off the coast of Alaska. That one issue led to the other questions I was left with. All we are told about her history relates to a failed engagement to someone that sounds like the worst kind of superficial, overbearing creep. It just didn’t seem reasonable to me that she would feel confident that she’ll be able to not only adapt during summer, but also be able to survive an Alaska winter, no matter how mild that winter might seem to someone accustomed to dramatic seasonal changes. More background that supports her resilience and strength would be helpful. As an example, her new home is only accessible via a small boat that she has to learn to operate in a single lesson, or be stranded without supplies in an unheated cabin with no running water or electricity. While this is not really much of a problem in the summertime, Alaska summers are short and they will be a much bigger problem when cold weather sets in.  Maybe there’s something about her upbringing that gives her the confidence to take that on.

I was also particularly struck by the how dangerous some of Nora’s activities would be, if attempted in real life. For example, Nora attempts to chop her own firewood with an ax, without having done it before and without having been taught how by someone else. As far as we can tell, she’s never even seen it done. Maybe another character could have provided some basic lessons on managing her new home — lighting a fire, chopping wood, hauling water. The juxtaposition of the danger and Nora’s lack of experience, and her stubbornness at accepting help made it difficult for me to believe in her. Throughout most of the book, I kept expecting something REALLY awful to happen to her, and while she has a couple of pretty frightening / dangerous experiences, I never was fully convinced that she understood the stakes of the change she was making. Apart from a few passing thoughts about Jake being able to help her, before they are involved with each other, (what if it turns out he doesn’t want to?), Nora seems unconcerned that winter will be really challenging, or assumes that Jake will help. I found details like that distracting from the overall story.

Jake is a handsome, friendly, capable young man who finds Nora irresistible after getting over his initial impression that she’s a spoiled, pampered brat. While Nora is really not those things, I think the story would have benefited from a little more of Jake having a bad opinion of Nora, and having his opinion changed more slowly. Again, more details on how Nora worked to fit in (did she buy more than a raincoat and boots at the General Store?) would have helped me really believe in her character. Jake’s sister, Lily, could also have provided some more texture in how Jake’s feelings evolved. On a positive note, I really enjoyed how Nora got over her impression of Jake (leaving that out–no spoilers here) and how they get to know one another better. The author uses a device in that process that, while I’ve seen it before, is not overused and is very effective.

Overall, I feel like this book could have been improved with some fairly small, but important, expansions and tweaking. If I’d understood something about Nora’s past, her upbringing, I might have been able to believe how she felt she could adapt. Maybe she’d been camping a lot as a child. Maybe she’d spent time with relatives in rural areas. But unfortunately, we don’t have clues to what Nora’s life was like before she was engaged to the jerk. There’s a secondary story that is hinted at — that of Nora’s father — but very little is actually said about it. I wish there had been a bit more of that. Perhaps that could have provided a foundation for some of the things that seemed hard to believe. While the author touches on the struggles between Nora and Jake to understand each other, and to overcome their own preconceived notions, and she touches on Nora feeling out of place, I found myself wanting more depth in those areas. Ms. McArdle describes the landscape so richly and overall, I wanted the characters to have as much depth as she gives the beautiful scenery.

I’ll give it three stars. It was good, but could have been improved.

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REVIEW: The Oven House by Lynne Rees

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

I recently joined a group on Facebook called Book Reviewers Workshop. It’s the brainchild of a member of another FB group I’m in, Women Writers, Women’s Books. And between these two groups, I will never be at a loss for recommendations of books to read and/or review. THE OVEN HOUSE is a book that was offered for review in the Book Reviewers Workshop that I kept scrolling back to.

I chose to read THE OVEN HOUSE because a) it looked interesting and b) it is short. Only 72 pages in PDF form. I can usually read that many pages in a day or two during my commute and I wanted a quick read in between some other reading and reviewing commitments I’d made.

I am typically a fan of really big, deep books. Mostly because I thought (notice my use of past tense here) that it took many, many pages to really develop the kinds of characters I was interested in, and the stories they had to tell. I stand corrected by Lynne Rees. Like a brilliantly talented sketch artist, using poetic language as her pencil, she deftly gives the reader a highly emotional and empathetic glimpse into the feelings of infatuation, guilt, grief and joy.

The book begins at the point of a broken heart and as it unfolds, details emerge on how this heartbreak came to pass, and the aftermath of that pain. While the story unfolds, though, we are also give a very intimate look into the mind and heart of a woman in love with one man and infatuated with another. And somehow, through that intimate look, it becomes comprehensible–the slippery slope that can lead from a casual flirtation into disrupting one’s entire existence. The key to all of this is, I think the writers’ ability to evoke imagery and emotion in a very few words. Take, for example, this passage in Chapter 1

“This feels too important to walk away from [,] is guaranteed to make her body grind with the sheer waste of what she thought they had, what they could have had, and if she can still manage to bear this and get through the night, then she might be able to get through the rest.”

There is a pace to the writing here that felt, as I was reading it, as though I were being hurtled across time by the words. I felt a sense of urgency that was particularly poignant to me.

It is moments like this, throughout the book, that give it a richness that belies how brief the book really is. Ms. Rees packs so much reflection and feeling into each page that, by the time the book finishes, it has felt as fulfilling as a book many times its length. Every word is carefully chosen to be exactly the right word, meaning exactly what the author wants to convey and leading the reader into the feelings of the moment.

And if you believe, as I did, that brief meant it wouldn’t take long to read, you’d be mistaken there, too. It doesn`t take days to read, but there is so much to process here that it is best savored, re-reading the sentences that touch you, and then moving on, rather than reading at a normal, casual pace.

I will be looking for more of this writers’ work in the future.

Amazon.com The Oven House

Check out this book on Goodreads: The Oven House

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Review: If The Light Would Stay by J.G. Lucas

FULL DISCLOSURE: A COPY OF THIS BOOK WAS PROVIDED TO ME BY THE AUTHOR IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW.

Let’s start with this: I REALLY enjoyed this book (I inhaled it) and am looking forward to its sequel. If the Light Would Stay seems to be classified as Paranormal Romance. In my opinion, it’s much closer to Urban Fantasy. There’s a paranormal element to the story (in an otherwise “normal” character or two). There is some romance, but it’s not formulaic Romance novel romance. It’s contemporary fiction and crosses several genres. This is the first novel by a writer whose work I will look for again and again.

The book starts out nearly all narrative, and takes its time building the main characters and story. The pace picked up just around the point where I started feeling a little frustrated. I loved the characters, who were both very real and mysterious. And despite being angry at Tess (the female protagonist) at the end of the book, and a little confused by her actions, I immediately went back to the beginning and started a re-read to catch some of the nuances of story and re-experience some of the very beautiful descriptive language that J.G. Lucas uses throughout her book. Sam and Liam, two other main characters, are also just wonderfully drawn, with clear personalities. I especially fell in love with Liam’s character. Getting to know Sam and Tess is a bit more difficult and I think we’ll get to know them much better through future books.

In addition to getting to know more about Sam and Tess, there are a few loose ends that I would have liked to have seen tied up a bit more tightly at the end, but I guess that will also have to wait for future books.

I tend to categorize books as “snacks” or “meals”. This book, while a quick read for me, was not simple to read. So I think of it as a light meal — quick, but filled with flavor and texture.

Amazon Kindle Store: If the Light Would Stay

Goodreads: If the Light Would Stay

NOTE: I have started corresponding with this author and hope to be working with her as a beta reader for Book 2. She’s a lively correspondent and I’m enjoying getting to know her as a person, in addition to as a writer.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Literary Suspense, Reviews, Urban Fantasy, Women's Fiction

The River Maiden (Book One of The Once and Future series) by Meredith Stoddard

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of Meredith’s beta readers for the final manuscript of this book. I re-read it in final form before writing this blog entry.

THE RIVER MAIDEN pulled me in from the very first line, and kept pulling me through the book with its rich descriptive language and relatable characters. The first third of the book spends a good deal of time establishing our main characters as they are in the present, while the second two thirds of the book really explore the story and pick up the pace. By the end of the book, I wanted Book Two. Badly!

Dermot (our main male protagonist) appears deceptively predictable. Somehow, though, the reader realizes that there is more here than meets the eye. Sure, he’s gallant, he’s remarkably handsome, he’s sensitive without being weak. But he’s also smart and has depth that’s conveyed very subtly. Since we don’t find out until a bit later that there is already a boyfriend in Sarah’s life (this is NOT a spoiler), the attraction/denial between Sarah and Dermot seems to point to Sarah’s trust issues. There’s also a good bit of foreshadowing of a mystery that will unfold as the story develops. As the book progresses, though, Dermot becomes much more a predictable romance hero. His character and personal struggles become much more fully explored, and while he still has the characteristics from the beginning of the book, the reader starts to see that the gallantry runs deeper and is based on genuine respect and interest in Sarah, her past, present and future.

Sarah, our female lead character, is more fully formed from the beginning. A good deal of the beginning of the book explores her history, how she was raised by her grandmother (not a spoiler–this is explained in the first few pages), her connections to the old Appalachian culture, and her central conflict. Again, much of this is revealed in the beginning of the book, but the impact of her past doesn’t start to become clearer until we’re much more deeply engaged in the story. Even at the end of the book, though, there are mysteries that the reader still wants to understand. I wish that there had been a little more resolution in some of the main story, but despite wishing that, The River Maiden left me satisfied by a wonderful tale.

One of the elements I loved most about this book was how Ms. Stoddard was able to set the book in contemporary times, but retain the feel of historical fiction. I think part of that was her inclusion of “auld” traditions–those of Scotland and Appalachia, as well as a touch of Nova Scotia. I had a sense of times and worlds colliding in this book and it was very effective. Ms. Stoddard’s use of, and expertise in, folklore is generously sprinkled throughout the book. There’s also substantial mystical occurrences, but somehow, The River Maiden doesn’t cross the line from contemporary and reality-based fiction into  paranormal fiction.

For many, many years, I’ve gravitated toward books that used Celtic mythology in their plots and themes. There’s something in those stories that resonates with me strongly. I would guess they resonate with many others as well, judging by the number of books that use Celtic mythology as a starting point! The River Maiden embraces the story-telling traditions of the Celtic peoples, and brings it into the modern world in a very engaging way.

I can’t wait to read more of Meredith Stoddard’s work and look forward to Book Two of the Once and Future Series. If you want to read more of her writing after finishing The River Maiden, try her two novellas on Amazon: The White House and A Fond Kiss. Both books are excellent and (this seems to be a trademark) leave the reader wanting more!

http://www.amazon.com/River-Maiden-Once-Future-Book-ebook/dp/B00KPI2JZ6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1412129689&sr=1-1&keywords=the+river+maiden

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