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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Publisher:  Random House LLC
Release Date:  March 17, 2015
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
My rating:  2 Stars⭐️⭐️

About the Book: 
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Switzerland never felt like home to Anna Benz, a housewife and mother of three. She had been living in Switzerland, having arrived from America nine years earlier, and felt confined to a small area because she did not drive, not having a license. Her life consisted of using locomotives, or by the willingness of Bruno, her husband, or Bruno’s mother, Ursula, driving her to her destination. Anna was a language student and became sexually involved with Archie Sutherland, also a language student. Anna had a desire to be wanted, but she really couldn’t differentiate between need and want. She felt she was neither plain or pretty – just irrevocably average and mediocre.

And the story unfolds as this complex and desperate woman, ‘a good wife, mostly,’ searches for meaning to her life. The story is packed with graphic sex, infidelity, and betrayal. It was clear early on that this book and I were not meant to be. With very explicit sexual scenes and profanity, this book had no appeal to me. Most of the characters were shallow and I never felt any empathy or connection to them. The storyline was strange and dark, with a disturbing topic, and never pulled me in.

But ---- on a positive note – The author wrote in a meticulous and descriptive way – very lyrical.

My rating is 2 stars. I bought this book on impulse and obviously it was a mistake on my part.

About the Author:  Jill Alexander Essbaum's publications include the full-length collections Heaven, Harlot, and Necropolis, and a chapbook of sonnets, Oh Forbidden. Her poems have appeared in religious journals, hoity-toity journals, online journals, formalist journals, and erotic publications. She is obsessed with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, her five cats, puns, sex, Old Time Radio, and God. And: Words. An associate editor for the online journal Anti-, and a blogger for the Best American Poetry blog, she's presently at work on a novel vaguely based on the time she spent living in Zürich, Switzerland. She believes most firmly that wit trumps irony, clever beats disaffected, and, in all things, sincerity is key.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

DEVOTIONS FROM THE GARDEN: Finding Peace and Rest from Your Hurried Life By Miriam Drennan

Publisher:  Thomas Nelson
Release Date:  March 31, 2015
Pages:  224
Rating:  5 Stars⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Book Description: 
Come to the garden alone, and fill your soul with His presence.

There's nothing on earth like the peace and loveliness of a magnificent garden. It's the place where Adam and Eve first fellowshipped with God, and where you, too, can escape from this chaotic world into His loving arms of beauty and serenity."Devotions from the Garden" takes you to that place where senses are restored as dewdrops settle and butterflies gather to witness the miracles of God's creation bloom and grow. These ninety devotions explore the parallels of life with the elements of the garden to help you see God, to sense His presence, to soothe your soul, and to rest in knowing He is with you throughout each day. Included are striking photographs with a fresh, contemporary design for timeless appeal.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Rich in content and elaborately designed, Devotions from the Garden is absolutely one of the most beautiful devotionals I’ve ever used. What a great way to enhance your Scripture readings! The beauty of flowers, one of God’s many blessings, will simply lift your spirits and refresh you soul.

There are 90 devotions that include Scripture, and each ends with a prayer, and many are illustrated with photos of flowers and garden designs. The daily readings cover many aspects of gardening and weave them together with the uplifting Scripture, giving a refreshing perspective to your daily spiritual needs. A perfect way to start the day! My rating is 5 stars.

I received a complimentary copy of this devotional from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author: 
Miriam Drennan is the author of Devotions for the Beach and the Days You Wish You Were There and Soar Above the Madness: Surviving Office Politics Without Losing Your Mind, Your Job, or Your Lunch. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she enjoys gardening and playing with words. Drop her a line at

Saturday, April 18, 2015

SECRETS FROM THE PAST By Barbara Taylor Bradford

Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  2013
Pages: 368
Genre:  Women's Fiction
Rating:  3 Stars

Book Description: 
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a powerful and emotional novel about one woman’s quest to uncover long-buried secrets about her family--secrets she will stop at nothing to uncover, no matter the consequences. At thirty, American photojournalist Serena Stone has already made a name for herself with her unique and dramatic coverage of wars in the Middle East, following in her famous father’s footsteps.  But after his unexpected death in France, she ends her job at the renowned photo news agency, weary of years of danger.  Leaving the front lines behind, Serena returns to New York where she starts work on a biography of her celebrated father.  When Serena discovers that her former lover Zachary North is in trouble overseas, she's forced to leave the safety of her new life, and head back to a place she was trying to escape...and her life will never be the same again. As she brings Zac back to health in Venice, she discovers a shocking secret in the archives of her late father’s work.  It is a secret that will propel her back to war-torn Libya, risking her life looking for clues that she hopes will piece together the mystery surrounding her parents’ marriage and the part of their life together that she never knew.

Well-kept secrets, passionate love, obsession, betrayal, redemption, and the power of the past to control the future propel Secrets from the Past, the explosive new novel from The New York Times bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford

Wanda's Thoughts: 
As with the author’s other novels, Secrets from the Past has a strong and determined woman as the central character, with some family drama, but this one just didn’t measure up. The characters were flat, relationships felt forced, and the shallow storyline being rather predictable, had little to draw me in – very few unexpected twists.

A few positive notes – the descriptive writing is beautiful and is still what you’d expect from this writer. Also, a part of the story takes us to war torn Libya that adds credibility and some interest to the storyline.

Unfortunately there were too few redeeming qualities and I found this book to be just lukewarm. My rating is 3 stars.

About the Author: Barbara Taylor Bradford is the author of 25 bestselling novels, including Playing the Game, Breaking the Rules, and The Ravenscar Dynasty. She was born in Leeds, England, and from an early age, she was a voracious reader: at age 12, she had already read all of Dickens and the Brontë sisters. By the age of twenty, she was an editor and columnist on Fleet Street. She published her first novel, A Woman of Substance, in 1979, and it has become an enduring bestseller.

Barbara Taylor Bradford’s books are published in over 90 countries in 40 languages, with sales figures in excess of 82 million. Ten of her novels have been adapted into television mini-series starring actors including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Deborah Kerr and Elizabeth Hurley. She has been inducted into the Writers Hall of Fame of America, and in June of 2007, Barbara was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II for her contributions to Literature.

She lives in New York City with her husband, television producer Robert Bradford, to whom all her novels are dedicated, and their Bichon Frise dogs, who sit under her desk while she writes.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoyPublisher:  Crown
Expected Release Date:  May 5, 2015
Pages:  320
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Book Description:  When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.
   Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. 
   Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

Wanda's Thoughts:  1859 – Harpers Ferry - A Negro insurrection has taken place where wagonloads of rifles were seized, with plans to distribute weapons to slaves for a national mutiny. Captain John Brown had been arrested as the leader of this uprising and was convicted of treason, murder, and conspiracy. 

Sarah Brown, daughter of John Brown, has a deep determination to follow the path of her father. She knows how deeply invested her father was in the Great Abolition calling. She would prove herself a significant contributor to the Underground Railroad by drawing maps. She was a talented artist who would be very useful to the cause. 

21st Century – New Charlestown, West Virginia – Eden Anderson finds a porcelain-doll’s head, with no body attached, in a root cellar. It appears to have been purposely removed. Why would someone remove a doll’s head?

And the story unfolds as these two stories come together and the author weaves true historical facts into fiction. 

Sarah McCoy’s captivating writing style is simply superb as she paints a picture with her words. The story is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, giving you a good feel for the time and place. My rating is 5 stars.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Sarah McCoyAbout the Author:  SARAH McCOY is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the novels The Baker's Daughter, The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico and Grand Central. 

The Baker's Daughter was praised as "a beautiful heart-breaking gem of a novel" by Tatiana de Rosnay and "a thoughtful reading experience indeed" by Chris Bohjalian. The Baker's Daughter was a Doubleday/Literary Guild Book Club selection and a GoodreadsChoice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction in 2012. Sarah has taught writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She currently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas, where she is working on her next novel (releasing in Summer 2015 from Crown).

For more information on Sarah and her writing, visit her website:

Friday, April 10, 2015


Publisher: Bantam
Release Date:  March 3, 2015
Pages:  320
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3 Stars⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Book: 
For readers of Amanda Coplin and Chris Bohjalian, In Wilderness is a suspenseful and literary love story—a daring and original novel about our fierce need for companionship and our enduring will to survive.

In the winter of 1966, Katherine Reid receives a shattering diagnosis. Debilitated by a terminal and painful illness, Katherine moves to an isolated cabin deep in Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. There, with little more than a sleeping bag, a tin plate, and a loaded gun, she plans to spend the few short months remaining to her in beautiful but desolate solitude. Her isolation brings her peace, until the day she realizes the woods are not as empty as she believed. A heartbeat in the darkness. Breathing in the night. Katherine is not alone. Someone else is near, observing her every move.

Twenty-year-old Vietnam veteran Danny lives in the once-grand mansion he has dubbed “Gatsby’s house.” Haunted by the scars of war and enclosed by walls of moldering books, he becomes fixated on Katherine. What starts as cautious observation grows to an obsession. When these two lost souls collide, the passion that ignites between them is all-consuming—and increasingly dangerous.

Suffused with a stunning sense of character and atmosphere, Diane Thomas’s intimate voice creates an unforgettable depiction of the transformative power of love, how we grieve and hope, and the perilous ways in which we heed and test our hearts.

Wanda's Thoughts: 
In Wilderness is a very dark and intense story set in Georgia’s Appalachian mountains during the 1960’s. This is the tale of two lost and complex souls who enter into a very strange and obsessive relationship, both carrying demons of the past.

The premise of the story pulled me in, but unfortunately this book was not for me. With very explicit sexual scenes and profanity, this book might not appeal to many – definitely for mature readers. This was not a fast paced book, but a storyline that builds slowly, perhaps too slowly.

On a positive note, the writing is very descriptive, with lyrical qualities. And emotions were brilliantly expressed through the two riveting characters, Danny and Katherine. They were strange, dark, and quite odd, but I might add -  they were characters that you won’t soon forget. My rating is 3 stars.

I received a complimentary copy of this book as an Early Reviewers winner from LibraryThing.

About the Author: My second novel, In Wilderness, a literary thriller inspired in part by the haunting southern Appalachian folk ballads of violence and erotic obsession, was also my first. I wrote it in 1981 to distract myself from fears of dying, during an extended period of extreme ill health. I titled this early version The Clearing, gave my symptoms to its protagonist, and sent her into a Georgia mountain wilderness to either die or heal.
Before moving to New Mexico in 2009, I'd lived in Atlanta and north Georgia since age four, except for two years in New York earning an MFA in Theater and Film History and Criticism at Columbia University. I hold a BA in English from Georgia State University and have worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, now the AJC. In 1966, at 24, I became the nation’s youngest major-newspaper entertainment editor, reviewing local plays, interviewing national film and theatre celebrities (including directors Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, and Elia Kazan, and actors Susan Hayward, Carol Channing, and Michael Caine), and reviewing such iconic films as “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Blow Up.” I later joined Atlanta, then a controversial, pioneering city magazine. By the time I fell ill, I had become successful as a freelance writer.
Though nominated for the Pushcart Editors Prize, The Clearing was never published. My illness abated, I resumed my freelance career fulltime, studied in Georgia State’s Creative Writing program, and in 2002 completed The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley (The Toby Press, 2005). This coming-of-age novel enjoyed critical success and, for a small-press book, respectable sales.
In 2009, my husband and I moved to New Mexico. Homesick for the Georgia mountains, where we’d spent much of the previous seven years, I completely rewrote The Clearing, retitled it In Wilderness, and never dreamed anyone would publish it, since no one had before. A Santa Fe friend talked me into looking for an agent anyway and, miracle of miracles, I found one and she found a publisher for my book.
In Wilderness came out in March 2015 from Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, seven weeks before my 73rd birthday. It was names an "Amazon Best Book" for March 2015, was recommended by Library Journal for "readers who also like the raw, honest writing of Amy Bloom and Amanda Coplin," and endorsed by Lee Child as "Altogether spectacular."

Friday, April 3, 2015

BEYOND ALL DREAMS By Elizabeth Camden

Publisher:  Bethany House Publishers
Release Date:  December 15, 2014
Pages:  368
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  3+ Stars⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Book: 
Sweeping and Romantic Historical Drama from an Award-Winning Author
Anna O'Brien leads a predictable and quiet life as a map librarian at the illustrious Library of Congress until she stumbles across a baffling mystery of a ship disappeared at sea. She is thwarted in her attempts to uncover information, but her determination outweighs her shyness and she turns to a dashing congressman for help.
Luke Callahan was one of the nation's most powerful congressmen until his promising career became shadowed in scandal. Eager to share in a new cause and intrigued by the winsome librarian, he joins forces with Anna to solve the mystery of the lost ship.
Opposites in every way, Anna and Luke are unexpectedly drawn to each other despite the strict rules forbidding Anna from any romantic entanglement with a member of Congress.
From the gilded halls of the Capitol, where powerful men shape the future of the nation, to the scholarly archives of the nation's finest library, Anna and Luke are soon embroiled in secrets much bigger and more perilous than they ever imagined. Is bringing the truth to light worth risking all they've ever dreamed for themselves?

Wanda's Thoughts: 
Washington, D. C. – 1897 – Anna O’Brien found working at the Library of Congress the greatest privilege of her life. Anna’s father had been a Navy scientist who’d been one of the men who’d disappeared fifteen years ago on the USS Culpeper. The ship sank during a late season hurricane. Anna had found a mistake in an old naval report of the Culpeper and was asking that the case be reopened and corrected.

Luke Callahan was one of the most charismatic men in Congress, but had just recently been removed from the committee that controlled the budget of the United States. He was feeling rather humiliated, having plummeted a long way to the committee on fisheries.

Anna and Luke were both carrying wounds of the past and they both knew what it was like to feel abandoned in an uncertain world. And the story unfolds as a relationship begins to blossom between Anna and Luke and together they work to unravel the mystery of the Culpeper.

Elizabeth Camden is one of my favorites writers, and I’ve read most of her novels. Although the writing is her signature style, and well written, this one just didn’t capture my attention. The book is certainly readable, somewhat interesting, and well researched, but just not one of my favorites. My rating is 3 + stars.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Camden is the award-winning author of four books, including Against the Tide (2012), winner of a RITA Award, Christy Award, and Daphne du Maurier Award. With a master's in history and a master's in library science, she is a research librarian.