The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

THE REASON by William Sirls

The Reason by William Sirls
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson
Release Date:  September, 2012
Pages:  412

About the Book:  When facing the impossible, will you believe?

Storm clouds gather over a small Michigan town. As thunder shakes the sky, the lights inside St. Thomas Church flicker . . . and then go out.

All is black until a thick bolt of lightning slices the sky, striking the church's large wooden cross--leaving it ablaze and splintered in two.

When the storm ends--the search for answers begins.

James Lindy, the church's blind minister, wonders how his small congregation can repair the cross and keep their faith in the midst of adversity. And he hears the words "only believe."

Macey Lewis, the town's brilliant young oncologist, is drawn to Alex, a young boy who's recently been diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia. She puts her hope in modern medicine--yet is challenged to "only believe."

And Alex's single mom, who has given everything she can to her boy, is pleading with God to know the reason this is happening . . . to save her son. But she only hears silence and wonders how she can possibly "only believe."

"The Reason" is a milestone debut novel, opening with a thunderbolt and never letting up as it introduces us to everyday characters who are wrestling with the questions: Where is God when bad things happen? And does God ignore the prayers of the faithful? The answer each character receives will astound readers while offering an unforgettable call to hope, to change, to . . . only believe.

"This is a skillfully written first novel with the narrative voice, knack for dialogue, and plot movement of a veteran author." --"Publishers Weekly"

Wanda's Review:  What a powerful book! Truly a heartwarming and emotional story.

Bizarre things were happening. A large wooden cross at a church is struck by lightning and seemed unfixable, but is suddenly repaired. Was it an act of God? A woman awakens from a five month coma - unusual, but not impossible - act of God? A blind pastor has his sight suddenly restored - act of God? There seems to be no logical reason for these happenings. 

Alex, a five year old boy, is diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia and there seems to be no hope. The family is told to "only believe," that's all they have to do for Alex to get well and be healed from this horrible cancer. But why does a child have to suffer? Do things happen for a reason? 

Faith is believing without seeing. "Only believe" is reiterated throughout this story. Our prayers will be answered in His perfect timing. Sometimes we don't receive the answer we want, but it will happen if it is God's will. 

This is a story about faith and miracles. A compelling and inspirational read. I highly recommend. 5 stars. 

The Author:
William Sirls
William Sirls
Over the course of his life, William Sirls has experienced both great highs and tremendous lows--some born of chance, some born of choice. Once a senior vice president at a major investment firm, he was incarcerated in 2007 for wire fraud and money laundering, where he learned a great deal more than he ever bargained for. Life lessons involving faith, grace, patience, and forgiveness are evident in his writing. He is the father of two and makes his home in southern Michigan.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Overlay - A Tale of One Girl's Life in 1970's Las Vegas

Overlay by Marlayna Glynn Brown
Author:  Marlayna Glynn Brown
Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release Date:  March 2012
Pages:  318

About the Book
What is it that makes one person's life interesting to another? Could it be the reader's perceived shared experiences with the writer? A profound thankfulness for not having shared such experiences? A desire to know about a life not personally lived? A well-crafted, mesmerizing and professionally written read? A story that evokes reader emotion - whether it be relief, anger, fear, sadness or joy? A desire to see a situation through to the end? Our shared universal desire for entropy, balance, peace and happy endings?

Author Marlayna Glynn Brown has crafted an extraordinary tale of survival and resilience in spare and convincing prose. Written from a child's point of view from ages 4 to 17, this tale describes the precarious childhood of Marlayna in 1970s Las Vegas.

The desert perimeter serves as a hot, dry and dangerous barrier that shuts out the rest of the vibrant world and bleaches away any sense of the joy that colors childhoods. Born into an ongoing cycle of alcoholism, addiction and abandonment amidst fallen adults, Marlayna develops a powerful sense of self-preservation in contrast to the people entrusted with her care. Her story explores the personalities of the bizarre characters who populate her life as she moves from home to home, parent to parent, family to family and ultimately to homelessness at the age of fourteen. Out of the resources of her remarkable childhood emerges an inner strength that will charm and captivate readers and remain in their consciousness long after the last page of her story has been turned.

Wanda's Review
This book is a memoir of the author's young life - a child with an alcoholic father and a mother who just doesn't seem to care - a very dysfunctional family. With a very simplistic style, Marlayna writes with strength, painting a vivid picture that captures your attention from the beginning.

Many times Marlayna displays anger at her mother and is confused how she could both hate and love her mother at the same time. There was very little food purchased for the house and many times Marlayna cried herself to sleep because she was so hungry. It it weren't for the free lunch program at school, she wouldn't have eaten at all. But, they always seemed to have money for jugs of wine, gallons of vodka, and cartons of cigarettes.

I read this book awhile back and it's a book you don't want to miss.  This is truly a powerful and gripping read. It had to take a lot of courage for Marlayna to share such a personal story - a story that will touch your heart and soul. In spite of all the hardships and challenges she faced, Marlayna Glynn Brown persevered and now has three college degrees and has had several different careers. My rating for this book is 5 stars and I highly recommend it.

Taken from the book -
Today was so sad. I really don't like Christmas anymore. It's no fun for me. It is depressing. I don't spend any time with my father. He's drunk anyway so I don't want to be with him. It's so lonely. I just sit here by myself on Chrismas Eve and cry. There is no dinner, no presents. no family, no hugs or kisses. Just one scrawny little Christmas tree with my father's present underneath it. He'll let it sit there for another year for all he cares. I didn't even get one surprise or anything. I don't want to be by myself anymore. Please God - it's not that much to ask and it means so much to me. I wish I at least had someone here to hug me and tell me that everything will be alright.

The Author
Marlayna Glynn Brown

Marlayna Glynn Brown

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I WEAR THE BLACK HAT - Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) --- Reviewed by WC

I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman
Author:  Chuck Klosterman
Publisher:  Scribner
Release Date:  July 9, 2013
Pages:  224

About the Book

Chuck Klosterman has walked into the darkness. As a boy, he related to the cultural figures who represented goodness—but as an adult, he found himself unconsciously aligning with their enemies. This was not because he necessarily liked what they were doing; it was because they were doing it on purpose (and they were doing it better). They wanted to be evil. And what, exactly, was that supposed to mean? When we classify someone as a bad person, what are we really saying (and why are we so obsessed with saying it)? How does the culture of deliberate malevolence operate?

In I Wear the Black Hat, Klosterman questions the modern understanding of villainy. What was so Machiavellian about Machiavelli? Why don’t we see Bernhard Goetz the same way we see Batman? Who is more worthy of our vitriol—Bill Clinton or Don Henley? What was O. J. Simpson’s second-worst decision? And why is Klosterman still haunted by some kid he knew for one week in 1985?Masterfully blending cultural analysis with self-interrogation and imaginative hypotheticals, I Wear the Black Hat delivers perceptive observations on the complexity of the antihero (seemingly the only kind of hero America still creates). I Wear the Black Hat is a rare example of serious criticism that’s instantly accessible and really, really funny. Klosterman continues to be the only writer doing whatever it is he’s doing.

WC's Review
No one argues today that O J Simpson, Ted Bundy, Jerry Sandusky, Joseph Stalin, Mao ZeDong, and the father of all villains, Adolf Hitler, are the most heinous of ne'er do wells. But Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell, Charles Bronson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain? Rogues, perhaps, but hardly villains. It remains a mystery as to what made Lew Alcindor a villain other than his height and his stupid appearance in the movie Airplane.

Author Klosterman appears obsessed with famous folks we both love and hate, claiming in many instances that all villains, as exemplified by Cosell and Ali, knew exactly what they were doing in order to create fame. The secret to success rests in a persona that seems not to give a damn what folks think. Surely the most famous of all high jackers, D B Cooper, exuded confidence and won the support of a stewardess who in those days were hired because of their looks and shapely legs.

Among the fairer gender, Sharon Stone, Taylor Swift, Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, and Sarah Palin make the list of villainous women. Sarah Palin? Oh Sarah, we hardly knew ye, for the press destroyed you before you left Alaska largely because you did not fit their image of a true woman who acts with perpetual vitriol and revenge akin to that of their heroine, Hillary, who for some reason fails to make Klosterman's honor roll. Perhaps the author could not find anything good about this truly villainous woman. Monica left a stained dress to ensure her fame while Stone, of course, forgot to wear underwear.

The section about the fate of Joe Paterno comes closest to nailing the pathetic flaw that destroyed Joe and propelled him into the abyss of villainy. If read just for the insight into Bronson's character Paul Kersey, this slim expose is worth the read. Snidely Whiplash is almost as entertaining as the cartoon.
Klosterman is overly wordy with personalities he is unsure of, but succinct and pithy with ones who are true hero/villains. 4 Stars

              The Author
Image of Chuck Klosterman

Monday, October 28, 2013


The Melody of Secrets by Jeffrey Stepakoff
Author:  Jeffrey Stepakoff
Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books
Date To Be Released:  October 29, 2013
Pages:  272

About the Book
Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage. Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.

Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world...

Wanda's Review
This is a compelling story about Maria Reinhardt, a talented musician, who must decide between the love of two men, her husband, Hans, or Cooper, the forbidden love that goes back twelve years to WW ll.

1945 - Germany - Maria, is 18 years old and WW ll is coming to an end. James Cooper, a fighter pilot, enters her life suddenly and a strong love develops, but ends abruptly when they are separated.

1957 - Huntsville, Alabama - Maria, brilliant, gifted, and beautiful was fine boned, and feminine, with blonde hair and a creamy complexion - a Grace Kelly look-a-like. She was a fine violinist, playing first violin in the Huntsville Symphony. Life may be difficult and imperfect, but to Maria, music could be magical, and through it she could escape into its protective world and everything would be perfect. But suddenly James Cooper is back in her life in Alabama. For 12 years Maria lived her life thinking she would never again see this man, and now everything is about to change.

Hans, Maria's husband, had gotten her out of Germany when the world was collapsing. He was someone to build a solid foundation with and he seemed to be a good man. Hans was a scientist, working on guided-missile projects, who put science above everything. He believed space was mankind's destiny. Hans and Maria had a young son, Peter, who spent most of his time away from home at a boarding school.  Maria had a warm relationship with her son.  Hans liked having him away at boarding school because he didn't have the time to put into a father-son relationship.

James Cooper had a certain assuredness in his actions and displayed a hint of kindness. After his separation from Maria in Germany, Cooper was never able to feel whole again, never finding a love like Maria.

Sabine is a German friend of Maria, whose husband's involvement as an SS officer with the Nazis surfaces. This information causes Maria to question Han's past. Should Maria seek out the truth? There were no easy answers - the past was complex - the future seemed full of promise. And the story unfolds ---

I kept thinking there was no way this story could have a happy ending. But, I must say, the ending was perfect, although bittersweet, and perhaps allowing some revelations to come. The only quibble I had with the book is that it started out slowly, taking me a little time getting into it. But the tempo soon picked up and it was a great read! 4 stars.

I received an early reviewer's copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be read and on Twitter @ghmstudio.

The Author
Jeffrey Stepakoff

Saturday, October 26, 2013

THE ALMOND TREE by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Publisher:  Garnet Publishing
Release Date:  September 30, 2012
Pages:  352
About the book:  The Almond Tree is an epic novel, a drama of the proportions of The Kite Runner, but set in Palestine. A beauty..I predict it will become one of the biggest best sellers of the decade. Huffington Post. 

Michelle Cohen Corasanti delivers a universal story of human courage and perseverance in her debut novel, The Almond Tree. Beginning in a small rural village, a young boy named Ichmad comes of age from the 1950’s to 2010 in a journey of enlightenment and understanding of the climate that surrounds him.
The Almond Tree is an inspirational story of unfathomable pain and an incredible perseverance. The Almond Tree humanizes a culture and brings characters from a distant land to life, with a family united by love but divided by their personal beliefs. From Ichmad’s staunchly traditional and at times overbearing mother, to his father who believes in the power of education, the crux of the family’s story lies in the growing dispute between two brothers who choose very different paths in order to create a new future.
The Almond Tree brings humanity and clarity to the Arab-Israeli conflict and reveals themes of redemption and family sacrifice. Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s personal experience of living in Israel for seven years while attending high school and obtaining her undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern studies from the Hebrew University lends her the perspective, insight and ability to shed new light on a controversial history. The Almond Tree showcases the resilience of the human spirit and brings forth a message of the necessity of education and a plan for peace in the conflict.

Wanda's Review:  I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads - First Reads winner.

This is a beautifully written story that will leave no reader untouched - a story that will devour you from the beginning. 

1950's - An Israeli-occupied Palestinian village. A very graphic and devastating scene begins the story as Amal, a small, energetic child, loses her life when she leaves the safety of her home to chase a butterfly, and wanders into the devil's field. This is the story of Ichmad, a Palestinian boy, and his family, facing the horrors and fears during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Ichmad, a very brilliant boy, idolized Albert Einstein. His father, Baba, was so proud of him. Ichmad was a reader and a thinker. His family was evicted from their home and relocated to a mud-brick hut that was smaller than a chicken coop. The family was once very rich, but not anymore. All hope was gone as they endured so much pain and hardship with many shocking events occurring throughout the story. 

Abbas, a year younger than Ichmad, was the brother with the charisma. He was very athletic, but finding it very hard to grow up in Ichmad's shadow. The almond tree overlooked the village and Abbas and Ichmad spent many hours in the tree looking at the moshav, watching the Jews through a telescope. The story unfolds throughout many years as Ichmad's family lives through much sorrow and devastation. Ichmad eventually becomes a brilliant scientist, as the story continues through several eras, and his work becomes his salvation. 

The characters are filled with depth and passion and the author's descriptive writing brings the period details to life. This is a story of family loyalty, love and sacrifice. Brilliant - poignant - achingly sad. I highly recommend with a 5 star rating.
Author:  MICHELLE COHEN CORASANTI has a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. She is, also, a lawyer trained in international and human rights law. A Jewish American, she has lived in France, Spain, Egypt, and England, and spent seven years living in Israel. She currently lives in New York with her family. The Almond Tree is her first novel.
Image of Michelle Cohen Corasanti

Friday, October 25, 2013

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Publisher:  Bethany House Publishers
Release Date:  August 8, 2013
Pages:  385
Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden
About the Book:  After her father's death, Mollie Knox takes over his watchmaking company and uses her head for business to solidify the good name of the 57th Illinois Watch Company. Her future looks bright until the night her beloved city is destroyed in the legendary Great Chicago Fire. With her world crumbling around her, Molly must do whatever it takes to save her company in the aftermath of the devastating fire.

Zack Kazmarek is an influential attorney with powerful ties to the political, mercantile, and ethnic roots of Chicago. His only weakness is Mollie Knox, a woman who has always been just beyond his reach. However, all bets are off after the fire destroys Chicago, and Mollie is in desperate need of assistance. Just as Zack finally begins to pursue the woman he loves, competition arises in the form of a hero from her past who can provide the help she needs to rise from the ashes.

While Mollie struggles to rebuild, the two men battle for her heart. One has always loved her, but the other has the power to save her. In the race to rebuild the city, can she survive with her business and her heart intact?

Wanda's Review:  1871 - The city of Chicago was being destroyed as a solid wall of angry flames towered into the sky. People were in a panic with total anarchy on the streets. The roof of the waterworks had collapsed and the pumps had failed. There was no water left to battle the blaze and the firefighters abandoned their engines and evacuated the city. The fire had burned a four mile path along Lake Michigan and almost a mile wide. More than a hundred thousand people had been left homeless and more than half of the businesses had been burned out. One of those businesses was the 57th Illinois Watch Company, known for the most beautiful watches in America, with their spectacular artistry and hand engraved gold cases. 

Mollie Knox had taken over the watch business after her father's death. Losing the business to the fire is devastating, but Mollie is determined to save the company. And the story unfolds ---

Mollie is a passionate artisan and a strong business woman who likes a safe and orderly world. She is struggling to find a way to get this company back in action. Too many people depended on her and she will not accept failure. This fire would not be the end of her or the business. And, along the way, Mollie has two attractive suitors.

The impeccable Zack Kazmanek is an attorney for Hartman's, a prestigious department store. He's been attracted to Mollie for three years, but he'd been icily aloof to her before the fire. Why the sudden change? Beneath his polished veneer of success, he is rather rugged and aggressive. Mollie is attracted to Zach, but can she trust him?

Colonel Richard Lowe is Mollie's second suitor. He seems to have a strong moral code and he is a gentleman to the core. If Mollie married the Colonel, she would never have to face financial insecurity again. But, could she really fit into his world? Mollie just wants a man who truly loves her, imperfections and all, but she seems to be caught in a whirlwind.

The author does a marvelous job getting into the minds of the characters and spins a tale of twisitng emotions. The book has a good flow with a satisfying conclusion, although predictable. However, there were times when the storyline seemed to drag a bit. Elizabeth Camden's style of writing never disappoints me. I highly recommend. 4 stars. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for an honest review. The opinions shared in this review are my own.

Author:  Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Publisher: Wm Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date:  9/17/2013
Pages:  416
Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill About the Book:  Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, was raised as a Scientologist but left the controversial religion in 2005. In Beyond Belief, she shares her true story of life inside the upper ranks of the sect, details her experiences as a member Sea Org—the church's highest ministry, speaks of her "disconnection" from family outside of the organization, and tells the story of her ultimate escape.

In this tell-all memoir, complete with family photographs from her time in the Church, Jenna Miscavige Hill, a prominent critic of Scientology who now helps others leave the organization, offers an insider's profile of the beliefs, rituals, and secrets of the religion that has captured the fascination of millions, including some of Hollywood's brightest stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

WC's Review:  Why does it take Jenna, niece of David Miscavige, ecclestiastical and business leader of The Church of Scientology, so many years to leave the Sea Org, the inner core of the Scientology parish? The answer is she can't, for it is the only life she knows. Alienation from parents, constant verbal abuse, thought and emotions control, and never ending physical labor are all Jenna and her new husband Dallas expect from their existence at the "Ranch." This revealing story of the inherent horrors of life in the monstrosity developed by L Ron Hubbard in the mid 1950s, exceeds the manipulative mindset of the all-knowing state written by George Orwell in 1948.

Jenna slowly comes to the reluctant realization that something is not right here in Scientology paradise.

Well written and provocative, the reader may find himself growing weary, wondering why Jenna remains hesitant about getting out of there. One, of course, questions the sanity of Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Greta Van Susteren.
Highly recommended.  5 stars  

Author:  Jenna Miscavige Hill
Jenna is the niece of David Miscavige, current leader of Scientology. She grew up as a member of the Sea Organization, and was disconnected from her parents at a young age. She left in 2005, and is now happily married, living a fulfilling life outside the church. Jenna has been an active opponent of Scientology abuses, and hopes that her work can help educate others about the dangers of Scientology and the Sea Org.

Lovely Strings by Regina Russell

Publisher:  Abner Publishing
Release Date:  December 26, 2012
Pages:  414
Lovely Strings by Regina Russell About the Book:  The bridge is out and the women are stranded. If the lawyer can't get to them how are they going to find out why they were summoned to the cabin in the woods? They were told there was a will but the women are strangers and don't know anyone who has died. 
One of them has an idea: Let's tell our stories. We're bound to connect in some way and maybe then we can figure out what's going on and who brought us here. After all, they reason: We're not going anywhere and it continues to rain.
Not everyone likes the plan though, especially when revealing things about their past is involved. And who is not telling everything she knows?
One of them even wonders, "Can you inherit something bad?" 
Finally, some of the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together for the women as they share their stories of romance and heartache. Secrets kept for years are exposed and friendships are formed. A lost love is discovered and relationships once thought gone forever are renewed in this inspirational and intriguing novel.
And all this time, there is someone waiting-waiting and longing to be found but no one even knows they exist.

Wanda's Review:  This is a book I read awhile back, but I'm still thinking about it.  Lovely Strings was a beautiful, powerful, and soul -stirring book. The writer effortlessly weaves together the lives of seven women, creating a powerful web of deceit, lies, and misdeeds. But, also included is the stunning power of love and redemption. This is a very complex, multi-layered story, but the individual stories come together beautifully. The author has a unique and clever style that clearly communicates the story. There is a brief description of the main characters in the front of the book that I found so helpful. 

The seven women all receive a letter from a law firm stating that each is a beneficiary of a bequest from an anonymous person. They are all summoned to a cabin in the woods for the reading of the will, but there is a bad storm. The bridge into the cabin is blocked by a fallen tree and they become stranded. They are an eclectic group of women who are thrown together in a cabin, but have no idea how their lives might tie together. Who is the benefactor? What, if anything, do they have in common?

The women begin to reflect on their lives, telling their personal stories and startling revelations unfold. The story becomes an adventure with the camaraderie of the women and the mystery of it all. How can one human being alter the lives of so many?

The story has an intriguing group of characters that will capture your heart with a lot of twists, turns, and surprises to be found throughout. The tempo of the storyline picks up early on and I was taken in from the beginning through the end. The writer clearly knows the human heart, which is portrayed in her writing. Lovely Strings has a powerful message, It speaks to the heart about redemption, hope, and new beginnings. 

 Take the time to read this book - you will not be disappointed. An amazing read that will evoke many emotions. I highly recommend. My rating is 4 stars.
Note: I received a complementary copy of this book for an honest review. The opinions shared in this review are solely my own.  More of my reviews are posted on
Regina Russell Regina Russell

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

Publisher:  Bantam
Release Date:  July 22, 2013
Pages:  368
The Life List by Lori  Nelson Spielman

About the Book:  In this utterly charming debut — one woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.

1. Go to Paris
2. Perform live, on a super big stage
3. Have a baby, maybe two
4. Fall in love 

Brett Bohlinger has forgotten all about the list of life goals she’d written as a na├»ve teenager. In fact, at thirty-four, Brett seems to have it all—a plum job at her family’s multimillion-dollar company and a spacious loft with her irresistibly handsome boyfriend. But when her beloved mother, Elizabeth, passes away, Brett’s world is turned upside down. Rather than simply naming her daughter the new CEO of Bohlinger Cosmetics, Elizabeth’s will comes with one big stipulation: Brett must fulfill the list of childhood dreams she made so long ago. 

Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mother’s decision. Some of her old hopes seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other dreams (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. For each goal attempted, her mother has left behind a bittersweet letter, offering words of wisdom, warmth, and—just when Brett needs it—tough love. 

As Brett struggles to complete her abandoned life list, one thing becomes clear: Sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places.

Wanda's Review:  Elizabeth Bohlinger, an extraordinary woman, mother, grandmother, and friend, was a remarkable woman who touched so many lives so profoundly. And now she was gone, her diagnosis and death had come so quickly. 

Brett, age 34, is the only one of the Bohlinger children who is single. Brett assumes she will become president of Bohlinger Cosmetics and she is not feeling confident that she can handle it. The company had become a mutltmillion dollar enterprise largely because of Catherine, Brett's sister-in-law, who was vice president and very competent with a good head for business. Brett is humiliated when the will is read and Catherine inherits her mother's shares of Bohlinger Cosmetics, making Catherine the CEO of the company. But, the biggest shock is when Brett finds out she must complete a life list before she receives her inheritance - a list of goals written by Brett when she was 14 years old - a ludicrous list that will mean major life revisions. And the story unfolds ---

Brett was a lovable character with a genuine sweetness about her, but her life seemed to be lacking a basic human need called love. Her mom took a huge gamble, trying to fix Brett's life. She wanted to ensure Brett's happiness and was calling all the shots for each scene in her life by forcing Brett to venture out of her comfort zone and complete this list. 

Quote from the book - "There will be another sky, my love, just you wait."

This beautifully structured story touched my heart. The story was brought to life by the unique characters and I enjoyed the splashes of humor spread throughout. I also felt the sadness of Brett's loss of her mother - very poignant. And all the loose ends were tied up neatly at the end. Just an incredible debut novel by an amazing writer! Most definitely a favorite for 2013 with a 5 star rating. Don't miss this one.  

The Author:
Lori  Nelson Spielman

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Title:  Blackberry Winter
Author:  Sarah Jio
Publisher:  Plume
Release Date:  September 25, 2012
Pages:  288
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
About the Book:  Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator's.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 "blackberry winter" storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways...

Wanda's Review:  This is storytelling at its best. This was the first book I read by this author and I was hooked.  Sarah Jio effortlessly spins two stories together that are separated by nearly a century. A captivating storyline you'll not soon forget that combines both a love story and mystery with much emotion. The beautifully written poignant ending will tug at your heart. A superlative novel by a talented author - don't miss this one! My Rating is 5 stars.

The Author:
Sarah Jio

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

Publisher:  W W Norton Co
Release Date:  March 4, 2013
Pages:  304
The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
About the Book:  A sophisticated and suspenseful novel about the poignant lives of two women living in different eras.
On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, an uncompromising young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie O, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless marriage or follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying. Decades earlier, in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. By telling the stories of the dead, Vivien not only helps others cope with their grief but also begins to understand the devastation of her own terrible loss. The surprising connection between Claire and Vivien will change the life of one of them in unexpected and extraordinary ways. Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope.

Wanda's Review:  1960 - The era of Camelot, when John F Kennedy is about to take the oath of President with his beautiful wife, Jackie, becoming First Lady. Claire is married to Peter, who is a perfectionist and a demanding man. He always wants things done his way. They have a young daughter, Kathy, and Peter works at the Pentagon. Claire meets Miles Sullivan at a dinner party and her life changes. Miles makes her feel important and listens to what she has to say, making her feel worthwhile. They begin an affair.

Early 1900's - post San Francisco earthquake. Vivienne Lowe is an English teacher at a private school for girls. David Gardner, Esq. enters her life. David is an unhappy married man and soon they  become involved in an affair. The San Francisco earthquake occurrs and David disappears. Vivienne spends 13 years of her life hoping David is alive somewhere - 13 years holding onto a dream.

The story unfolds as the lives of these two women are woven together, creating a story about love, loss, and grief. Both stories of Vivienne and Claire are beautifully told. I was able to submerse myself into two different eras with the beautiful descriptive writing that made the characters and settings come to life. This novel, by an incredible author, delivers in every way and is one that I highly recommend. 5 stars.

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The Author:  Ann Hood
Ann Hood

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Pitcher by William Elliott Hazelgrove

Publisher:  Koehler Books
Release Date: September 1, 2013
Pages:  252
The Pitcher by William Elliott Hazelgrove
About the Book:  What a mother won't do for her son. A boy with a golden arm but no money for lessons. A mother who wants to give her son his dream before she dies. A broken down World Series pitcher who cannot go on after the death of his wife. These are the elements of The Pitcher. A story of a man at the end of his dream and a boy whose dream is to make his high school baseball team. In the tradition of The Natural and The Field of Dreams, this is a mythic story about how a man and a boy meet in the crossroads of their life and find a way to go on. You will laugh and you will cry as The Pitcher and Ricky prepare for the ultimate try out of life.

Wanda's Review:  Ricky Hernandez is a young Mexican boy who has a dream of becoming a major league pitcher. But first he needs to make the high school team. He is able to deliver a fast ball, but he has no control. Ricky's mom, Maria, is a very strong minded woman, and does her best to coach Ricky and help him make the team. She is struggling with health issues - she has Lupus. She has no health insurance and is going without medical treatment. Ricky and his mom are struggling financially. He has a loser for a father, who only comes around when he needs money. He sometimes physically abuses his mom, and Ricky has lost all respect for him. 

Maria wants to see her son's dream come true. She approaches a retired major league pitcher to coach her son. Jack Langford pitched in the World Series in 1978 and won the Series. But, the pitcher doesn't want to coach Ricky. All he does is watch TV and drink beer, wallowing in self pity and drowning in his sorrows. He lives in a garage and passes out from drinking so much. What happened to Jack Langford, the pitcher? Where did all the greatness go? The pitcher finally, but reluctantly, agrees to help Ricky and prepare him to try out for the team. He tells Ricky he has talent, but no drive. And the story unfolds ---

This is a simple story, but a story with a lot of depth that leaves you with a warm feeling. Ricky is an endearing character who will capture your heart. The Pitcher is a relaxed, easy read that unfolds into a predictable, but happy ending. My rating is 4 stars. 

I received an Early Reviewers Copy from Library Thing and Koehler Books in exchange for an honest review of this book.  My reviews are also posted on

William Elliott HazelgroveAbout the Author:  FREE Download of Tobacco Sticks Book of the Month Club Starred Review Publishers Weekly I wrote my first novel out of college and didn't publish it until six years later. I gathered rejection letters like other people gather leaves and another three years passed before I published my second novel. I have been a janitor,waiter,real estate agent, broker, teacher, professor, construction worker, salesman...just about anything to keep on writing. Three years later I published my third novel. Then...I took a LONG BREAK and published my fourth book ten years later. WHOOPS. Oh well. I write in Ernest Hemingways Attic with the bats and the mice and the bees and the squirrels and Ernest old violin, trunk and books. Life could be worse. Rocket Man is coming out in December. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold

Publisher:  Bantam
Release Date:  July 2, 2013
Pages:  464
The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold
About the Book:  After more than twenty years of marriage, Chloe Sinclair comes home one night to find that her husband, Nate, is gone. All he has left behind is a cryptic note explaining that he's returned to their childhood town, a place Chloe never wants to see again. 

While trying to reach Nate, Chloe stumbles upon a notebook tucked inside his antique copy of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Written in code, the pages contain long-buried secrets from their past, and clues to why he went home after all these years. As Chloe struggles to decipher the notebook's hidden messages, she revisits the seminal moments of their youth: the day she met the enigmatic Sinclair children ane the increasingly dangerous games they played to escape their troubled childhoods; the first time Nate kissed her, camped out on the beach like Robinson Crusoe; and the elaborate plan she and Nate devised, inspired by "Romeo and Juliet, " to break away from his oppressive father. As the reason for Nate's absence comes to light, the truth will forever shatter everything Chloe knows--about her husband, his family, and herself.

Wanda's Review:  The Book of Secrets is beautifully crafted with an emotionally gripping story that will lure you in from the beginning - a book to be savored. 

Nate and Chloe Sinclair have been living in an unstable marriage, stemming from a tragedy that occurred twenty years ago. Nate had been rather fragile over the last few months, seeming on the verge of a breakdown. Secrets are slowly revealed through a notebook, written by Nate, that is written in code. 

Chloe is taken back to her childhood memories. She had been eight years old the day she met the Sinclair family, still young enough to believe in magic, but on the edge of not believing. The stately victorian house they lived in had a mystique about it, and she found magic that day, a day that would change her life forever. Nate, Cecelia, and Grace were home schooled by their very loving mother. But, their rather sinister father, who was a preacher, used very strong discipline on the children. Chloe develops a friendship with the Sinclair children and as the years pass a tender love develops between Chloe and Nate. And the story unfolds ----.

The author cleverly weaves together a story of deception, betrayal, and family secrets, delving deep into the hearts and minds of the characters. The storyline has mystery, drama and evokes many emotions along the way. This is most definitely a 5 star novel by and incredible author. A compelling read! 

I received an advanced reader's copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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 Author Website -
Elizabeth Joy Arnold