Reviews by Sandi W.

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The Witches at the End of the World
by Chelsea Iversen
Bonds of Love... (9/9/2023)
I so wanted to like this book much more than I actually did. I like books driven by characters, as in speech, or by the plot, where ever the story is going. I found this book to revolve more around the 'thoughts' of the two main characters. So between that, and the prose and binding of the story, which I did think was good and interesting, I was a bit disappointed.

That is not to say that this book is bad - it it far from that. It just was not related to me in the fashion that I like best. So I could only read short patches of it at a time and my interests went to other books I was enjoying more.
The House of Lincoln: A Novel
by Nancy Horan
Abraham Lincoln from a new persapective... (6/8/2023)
A different take on the life of Abraham Lincoln. This story is told from the point of view of a young Portuguese refugee, Ana, who went to work for the Lincoln's as a Saturday girl. She not only looked after the children, but did some housework. As she aged she become more indispensable to Mary Todd Lincoln.

The book moves through the well known life of Lincoln, almost as an after thought. It concentrates more on his private life and how that affected Ana, his home town of Springfield and his family life in the White House. Once assassinated the story moves more to Mary, but still remains on Ana and her adult life.

Taking place in the 1840's to the 1890's the story depicts the Underground Railroad, the Springfield race riots, and the Civil War. With Illinois being my home state, I have studied a lot about Abraham Lincoln and believe that this historical fiction book was well researched. The slant of bringing in a house girl to tell the story was ingenious and made the reading from her point of view interesting.
King of the Armadillos
by Wendy Chin-Tanner
Great Debut... (6/2/2023)
4.5 stars Thanks to BookBrowse and Flatiron Books for a chance to read this ARC. Publishes July 25, 2023.

This is a great debut novel by Wendy Chin Tanner. She based the story on her own father when he spent time in Carville, Louisiana. Carville has a federal institution there that quarantined people in the 1950's known to have Leprosy.

In the story Victor is sent to Carville. He made the long trip from China as a child, to live in the Bronx with his brother and father. As he assimilates to the States he comes down with Leprosy. His father sends him to Carville.

During his stay at Carville, Victor makes friends with an unforgettable cast of characters. He finds his first love, his first best friend, as all the while he is undergoing treatment for his disease. There is trust, betrayal, loss and tragedy. As he fights to get better and be released, the family he once had is slowly falling apart. His new found promising career is pulling him in one direction and his family in the other.

A great coming of age story, set in the 1950's, pulling a young Chinese immigrant in a number of ways as he tries to recover from a community shaming disease called Leprosy.
The Gifts: A Novel
by Liz Hyder
Great Debut Book (4/23/2023)
I am usually leery of books that come from too many points of view and was therefore leery of this book. However I think the author did a great job in keeping the protagonists separated and involved in their own stories until the time to bring them all together.

You won't be able to put this book down. It has a number of things that I like in a book. It has short direct chapters that keep you turning pages. Magical realism, historically based in London, strong women and a good ending to name just a few of its attributes.

This is essentially the tale of four females struggling in a male dominated Victorian England to find their place in society. Great debut.
Homestead: A Novel
by Melinda Moustakis
The Ups and Downs... (3/16/2023)
As much as I wanted to like this book I fear that I did not. Where other people read 'artistic prose' I read choppy hard to understand sentences that just felt incomplete in thought. Although by the end of the book I had gotten into the cadence of the writing, that did not mean that I was enjoying it.

Two virtual strangers meet and marry within days. She is looking for belonging, he is looking for children to help on the Alaskan acreage he plans to homestead. One hundred and fifty acres selected from a surveyors map in the 1950's - a wilderness that must be developed. The story is the ups and downs of both homesteading and learning to live with the stranger that you married.
The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise
by Colleen Oakley
Such a fun story. (11/17/2022)
Such a fun story. Character driven, laugh out loud funny, mystery. Put an octogenarian and a 21 year old together on a cross country road trip in an aging Jaguar, add in a decades old crime and a failed soccer career, then put a twist at the end. That sums up to one hilarious novel you just can't put down.
River Sing Me Home
by Eleanor Shearer
From Barbados to Trinidad she walked and sailed (10/5/2022)
3.75 stars Thanks to BookBrowse and Berkley Books for the ARC and allowing me to read and review. Publishes January 31, 2023

Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy. These are the names that have Rachel laying awake at night yearning. These are the five living children that were taken away from Rachel over the years as her Master sold them away.

Rachel was a slave in Barbados in the 1800s. The Emancipation Act of 1834 freed the slaves, but on her plantation slaves had to apprentice for six more years before they could gain their freedom. So Rachel ran. She was determined to find her missing children.

This story tells of her travels and which children she found. From Barbados to Trinidad she walked and sailed, determined. Without her children freedom meant nothing. Each child now an adult with a life of their own. Who would travel with her, who would turn their back on her and who was lost forever?

This is a debut book. Shearer did a good job of putting her story across. Enough was given to vest you in the story, to allow you to dream with the protagonist, and to understand the circumstance of the adult children. The trip that Rachel was on was almost a character in itself. Shearer tells you at the end that the story was in part built off her own families situation and their misgivings, which only adds another dimension to the novel.
The Empire of Dirt: A Novel
by Francesca Manfredi
Beliefs and superstitions (7/20/2022)
Three generation of women in the Italian countryside with varying beliefs and superstitions. The pressure put on a young girl when she reaches womanhood.

This book reads easily and is very well written. From the premise it sounds as if it could go either way - a good mystery and lesson on other cultures or hokey and just totally unbelievable. I was pleasantly surprised how well I liked this book.
Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Where is the justice... (9/28/2021)
4 stars Thank you to BookBrowse for the digital copy of this ARC. Publication is April 2022.

This story is fictional. But this story is inspired by a real life event. The year was 1973. The problem was not only racial but ethically despicable. This case ended up in federal court in Washington DC and luckily was rendered, by whom all considered to be a bias judge, unlawful. Immoral as it was, it still continues today.

Two young black girls aged eleven and thirteen were surgically sterilized by a federally funded program in Montgomery Alabama. Their father and grandmother did sign consent, but they were not fully informed of what was about to take place. A young nurse - working for that same agency - took it into her own hands to right this evil wrong. This case was the turning point in the rights of reproductive consent. This book is a fictional representation of that case.

However since that time and as current as 2013 it has been revealed that 150 women in California state prisons were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. There have been many instances of Nashville Tennessee prosecutors adding sterilization as part of plea deals. In 2020 there have been claims of women detained by ICE agencies - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - who have been forcible sterilized without their consent in US detainment centers. Actually still in effect is the US Supreme Court ruling - Buck vs Bell - it states that compulsory sterilization of 'unfit' inmates of public institutions is federally protected. That was the decision in 1927. It remains in effect today.

Who are we to know who is unfit for motherhood? Yet still to this day those in poverty, those Black and those disabled are inappropriately subjected to what 'others' deem acceptable.

I repeat, this book is fiction, but based off this truthful and real dilemma. It tells the story of this inequality very well. Definitely worth the read.
The Sunset Route: Freight Trains, Forgiveness, and Freedom on the Rails in the American West
by Carrot Quinn
Carrot Quinn was running... (8/24/2021)
3.5 stars Thank you to BookBrowse for giving me this book to read and review. Published on July 6, 2021.

Carrot Quinn was running. Maybe not running from, but trying to run to.

Carrot - born Jenni - had a miserable childhood. A schizophrenic mother, a brother raised apart from her, and grandparents who were cold and unloving. In her early teens Carrot had had enough. She took to the rails. She spent her next eight or so years mostly living on other peoples couches, eating from dumpsters, and hiding in tree lines waiting for the next train to take her to where she thought she needed to go. Carrot saw a lot of the US and felt the freedom of confinement, but she also felt loss. The loss of a mother, the loss of family, the loss of a home. She was always searching. Those losses stayed with her.

This is a raw exposure of a memoir, offset by the beauty of both nature and mankind, as seen by one young woman trying to outrun her troubles. The life of Carrot Quinn has been one of heartbreak wrapped in self discovery.
The Nickel Boys
by Colson Whitehead
There were only 5 ways out ... (10/9/2020)
Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday books for a chance to read and review this ARC. Published Jul 16, 2019.

Another winner by Whitehead. Having read Underground Railroad I was excited to see this book. Although feeling that this book was somewhat milder than Underground Railroad, I did enjoy the twists and turns that this book provided.

Whitehead based this fictional book on the true to life experiences of boys incarcerated at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna Florida. In his acknowledgements he gives a number of other books and articles he used as reference for this book.

In the early 60's just as Martin Luther King started to become a household name, a young black boy hitched a ride and found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, all the while just trying to get to college. Having done nothing wrong, and just for the fact that he was black, Elwood was arrested and ended up being sent to the juvenile reformatory Nickel Academy.

Nickel Academy, where young boys were sent, and some never returned. With the White House and Black Beauty hanging over them, they became slaves to "The Man', whether they were Caucasian or Negro. There were only 5 ways out - age out, have the court intervene, have family remove you, accumulate the needed amount of merits, or disappear. Often boys disappeared at the hands of the Academy - Elwood chose to run.

There were some twists in this story that surprised me. Although a fictional story I believe for the most part Whitehead tried to tell the story of the Dozier School for Boys, then as is so like him, he added his own touch in the way of these twists and turns. Proving that is one of the reasons that Whitehead books are so worth the read.
Evvie Drake Starts Over: A Novel
by Linda Holmes
The Widow and the Man with the Widow Maker Arm! (10/9/2020)
3.5 stars Thank you to Linda Holmes and Ballantine Books for sending me this ARC and allowing me to read and review it. Published June 25, 2019.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I usually hold these books for a point that I need a palette cleanser, something easy going after a very deep or hefty book. However, with the publication date already past and someone else waiting to read this book I went ahead and started it. And not sorry that I did.

Nice easy plot about a new widow and a stranger she rents to, who is running away from a sports career that has fallen off track. Then we suffer the ups and downs of Evvie and Dean and everything life throws at them. We learn about their past - which they have mostly repressed - and about their plans for the future.

Delightful story of boy meets girl - while in their thirties - him a New York City native and her from a small town fishing village in Maine. Evvie and Dean, both sweet characters trying their best to make it work.
The Whisper Man
by Alex North
see this story unfold from a number of perspectives... (10/9/2020)
5 stars Thank you to Edelweiss and Celadon Books for allowing me to read and review this book. Published on August 20, 2019.

I don't often give a book over 4 stars - at the most. It takes an exceptional book to get more than that out of me. This was that book!

I have never read Alex North before - as far as I know. I know he publishes under another name - but not what that name is and all my research says that he wants to keep it that way!! Shoot!!

This book grabbed me early on. I came to understand that it is narrated by a multitude of people - Tom, Jake, Amanda, Pete, the villain. All major characters in the book. I usually don't like that, however it worked well in this book. North was able to guide me to the correct narrator within a few sentences and that allowed me to see this story unfold from a number of perspectives.

This book is a thriller. And as I expect in thrillers, it covers some unsavory issues. It delved just deep enough in it's subject matter, yet not overwhelmingly enough, to prevent me from turning pages. Not everything turned out as I would have liked by the ending. But the journey to get here was suburb!
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
by Olga Tokarczuk
take my review with a grain of salt... (10/9/2020)
3 stars Thanks to Edelweiss and Riverhead Books Publishing for the chance to read this ARC. Published August 13, 2019. This is a translated book. Originally written in Polish.
This book was so confusing for me. There were parts that I really liked and parts that frankly bored me. There were times I was happy with this book, and times I was unhappy with it. I often wonder what, if anything, gets lost in a translated book. There were no big gaps or quick turn-arounds in this book, as would be expected if the translation was not going well, so I guess it was just the varying ideas that the author put together. This book is billed as a ‘thriller cum fairy tale’. To me, that statement is confusing enough!

Another thing that I noticed early on in the book was that just from out of nowhere a word mid-sentence would be capitalized. At first that bothered me, then I just accepted it as bad editing (or poor translating) and ignored it. Sometime thereafter that practice stopped.

Janine loved astrology. (this is one place that I thought the author delved too deeply). It was obvious that Janine was a much bigger lover of animals than she was of humans. She also was the caretaker for some summer houses just outside Warsaw Poland. (‘summer houses’ being very kind – they sounded like shacks). She did however have a few permanent neighbors, who stayed year-round, that she renamed – Oddball, Dizzy and Big Foot – to match their appearances. Soon her neighbors start turning up dead and this strange little woman, who mostly keeps to herself, has a problem with getting anyone to listen to her. So, she becomes her own investigator, judge, jury and prosecutor.

I have never read this author before and am uncertain about reading another of her books. This story just seemed to come across as a poor monologue. Like it was being presented without inflection just a monotone, no change in pitch or tone. She struck one note and carried it throughout the whole book. Again, maybe a translation issue? This author is a highly regarded author in Poland and has been awarded for her translated books, so take my review with a grain of salt.
In West Mills
by De'Shawn Charles Winslow
how things are carried down thru generations... (10/9/2020)
3.75 stars Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for a chance to read and review this book. Published June 4, 2019.

This was a first time read of anything by Winslow and I am not sure exactly what is was about this book, but I loved it. I think it was a mixture of things.

I am always amazed by a man that can write a woman's part so well. Even if it was a character like 'Knot' - rough and tumble, mouthy and more often with a drink in her hand than not. I liked the southern aspect of this story and also the authentic speech. It was a good story about family relationships, how bad they can get, and how things are carried down thru generations.
Today We Go Home: A Novel
by Kelli Estes
the effects of war on a female soldier - past and present... (10/9/2020)
4 stars Thanks to BookBrowse and Sourcebooks Landmark for a chance to read this book. Published September 3, 2019

I really enjoyed this book. I had not read Estes before, but I know she had a prior book, that I will now secure and read.

In alternating chapters this book bounced back and forth between a current day, just discharged, female combat soldier having served in Afghanistan, and a young woman from the 1850's who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Civil War. The current veteran, Larkin, found the diary of the Civil War veteran, Emily, and read of all the horrific events that Emily went through, while still trying to maintain her own life, riddled with PTSD. Both women suffered devastating losses but yet took different routes to tame the elusive monster in their head.

Great story detailing the effects of war on a female soldier - past and present. How the female soldier is treated and her expected role, from both her surrounding military personnel and the general public's perception. Including what the female soldier expects from herself, while enlisted, in time of war and after discharge. Differences were acknowledged between the two women - 1850 to current day - however many similarities also remained.
Kopp Sisters on the March: A Kopp Sisters Novel #5
by Amy Stewart
plenty of story line for another book... (10/9/2020)
This is book #5 in the Kopp Sisters series. I enjoy this series because it is solidly based on the real lives of the Kopp sisters. Even in this book the author gave 7 pages to the historical facts - chapter by chapter - of the non fictional portion of the book.

However I did not care for this book as well as I have the past four in the series. I believe it may have been because so much of the book was dedicated to a new character - also a true to life character - but not a major character in the previous books. To me it appeared that too much time and story line was spent on this new character which took away from the Kopp sisters.

I believe that the story ended on a good note and left plenty of story line for another book - hopefully more dedicated to the Kopp sisters. This is a fun read with a lot of humor and entertainment, but still well grounded in the historical facts of the time and the lives of the sisters.
Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim
Will the real person come to light? (10/9/2020)
I realize that I am among those in the bottom quarter of overall ratings of this book. I did like the book - so gave it 3 stars = I liked it. However it just did not blow me away like it did so many others.

The story of a Miracle Submarine - aka a hyperbaric chamber - used for autism, infertility and a few other medical conditions. During one "dive" two people are killed due to a fire. In trying to solve how the fire started a number of people are looked at. There are protesters involved trying to shut the process down. There is a mother who for the first time did not accompany her son during the dive. There is the wife, of the only adult male in the chamber, who believes her husband is cheating on her. There are the owners of the operation who would stand to make a fortune in insurance money. One of these is put on trial - but is it the right person? Will the real person come to light? And if they do, will they admit to their wrong doing?

This was a debut novel. A good story for a debut and well thought out and written. For as many characters, and the way they each lead chapters, the author did a good job in their development. They all had a part to play in this novel. As I said, I liked the book, I just did not find it amazing. But I liked it well enough to pick up Kim's next book.
How to Walk Away
by Katherine Center
family, love and relationships... (10/9/2020)
First, I must admit that I am not much of a romance reader. I do enjoy a cozy or fluff book from time to time, but prefer they are mystery related, not romance related. However, I will admit that I did enjoy Katherine Center's style - even though there was more romance in this book than I enjoy. I think she developed her characters well and had a sufficient story line.

My reason for reading this book was that I plan to read her next book Things You Save in a Fire for a group. Not having read Things You Save in a Fire yet, I assume that some of the same characters will carry over. I came across a 'bridging' short story between the two books and decided reading How To Walk Away was probably advantageous.

This novel says a lot about family, love and relationships. It centers on Maggie, who has lost the use of her legs in an accident - which leads to the loss of everything important in her life. As she spends a month in the hospital she renews her relationship with her sister, finds out scathing news about her mother, and suffers through a scowling, barely talking physical therapist. By the time she is ready to leave the hospital, Maggie is looking at life differently. Things appear brighter, but is it enough to build a life on?
Call Your Daughter Home
by Deb Spera
The lives of three southern women... (10/9/2020)
3.5 stars Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for allowing me to read and review this book.

The lives of three southern women in the early 1920's. Unalike in class and standings, but with so many similar hardships. There was Anne, a wealthy aristocrat, blessed with all that money could buy. There was Rhetta, a black maid, a first generation free slave, still working for a white family. Then there was Gertrude, poor, white and beaten by her husband. This story is about how all three came to be connected, friends and in the end caregivers to each other.

Spera, a well known television producer, has now published her first, her debut novel. She admits to using many family stories and basing some of her characters off her own family members and also using some real life places and instances. This novel was developed from a short story that she wrote called 'Alligator'. We can only hope that she takes the rest of those short stories and make novels of each and every one.

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