The Lauras by Sara Taylor

It is never revealed in this book if the main character and narrator, Alex, is male or female.  For the ease of writing a review I will use feminine pronouns but bear in mind Alex could also be a male character.  When Alex is thirteen years old, Ma takes Alex and leaves home in the middle of an argument with Alex’s father.  She had been planning to leave for a long while because a backpack filled with birth certificates and passports lay by their front door so long that it was a familiar sight in their house.

Ma and Alex strike out on a road trip basically across the country.  Ma has a map that she marks with particular places she wants to stop.  Basically, Ma is taking herself and Alex on a road trip through her past.  It is on this road trip, through stories Ma tells, that Alex learns her mother is a person with thoughts, feelings, and a past that did not include her.  As sad as Alex’s upbringing is at times, Ma’s is even sadder.  Given her background, she proves to be a good mother to Alex all things considered.  Alex is a sensitive child and over the course of the road trip, which includes extended pitstops in places so that Ma can earn money to continue the trip, she grows up and matures a great deal.  Alex also experiences real instances of abuse.

The Lauras is a well written novel that will stay with readers long after they finish reading the last words.  It’s an unusual story but felt very real.  You’ll find yourself hoping that both Ma and Alex find better lives.  The title, The Lauras, is intriguing and the reason for it is interesting.  I will leave that part of the story up to readers to discover for themselves.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Four out of five stars.



The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman returns to the world of the Owens family who we first met in her novel Practical Magic.  However, you do not need to read Practical Magic to enjoy this book.  The Rules of Magic reveals the lives of Franny and Jett as teenagers and women before they came to raise Sally and Gillian.  Also included in The Rules of Magic is Franny and Jett’s brother, Vincent, grandfather to Sally and Gillian.

Teenage Franny, Jett, and Vincent are sheltered from their background and skills by their parents.  The parents seem to want to ignore the truth of what they are, yet still agree to allow the children visit their aunt, Isabelle, for the summer where they know they will learn about their history.  The first rule for Owens women is to never fall in love.  Falling in love will destroy the object of their affection in one way or another.

Despite the curse, all three Owens children do experience love over the course of their lives.  For some, it works out better than it does for others.  The other type of love explored in this book was equally as interesting as the romantic lives of Franny, Jett, and Vincent.  Their love for each other was powerful, enduring, and unconditional.  Family ties meant a lot to each character.

Hoffman’s writing flows easily and keeps you wanting to find out what will happen next.  She is talented at writing a diverse range of books and handled the construction of this prequel to a previous novel masterfully.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy.

Four out of five stars.

That Last Weekend by Laura DiSilverio

Before tragedy struck one of their own, five college friends gathered annually at a castle for a girls weekend.  Ten years later they all return to the castle which is being converted into a nursing home, only for a murder to occur. Everyone is a suspect but all must band together to figure out the mystery.

This novel is filled with atmosphere and suspense.  The writing is well crafted and done in such a way that you know one of the characters is the culprit but you like them and don’t want it to be any of them.  This is not a predictable whodunnit.  The twists and turns are unpredictable but take you to great places.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this mystery novel.

Four out of five stars.

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

Set during WW2, this historical fiction novel by Diane Chamberlain tells the story of a young woman, Tess, who at the beginning of the novel is in love and engaged to Vincent.  Vincent and his family have lived next door and been part of Tess’s life for as long as she can remember.  I won’t spoil the story by telling too many details but Tess ends up married to another man and moving from Baltimore to North Carolina.

Polio plays a large part in this novel and it is easy to tell that Chamberlain did extensive research on both the disease and the time period.  Tess is a nurse and Vincent is a doctor so that made them an easy match for being in the thick of fighting the horrible disease during the time before a vaccine had been created.  The book is well written, and while good from the beginning, really picks speed in the last third of the story.  By the end of the novel, all questions the reader has are answered in a satisfactory manner.

Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Four out of five stars

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

This debut novel kept me turning pages from very early in the book.  It seems that every mystery I read I say I did not figure out the mystery until the end.  The truth is I rarely try to figure them out at all.  I prefer to enjoy the ride the story takes me on.  Something about this book had me trying to figure it out though.  Twice I just knew I had it figured out.  I was wrong, bad wrong.

Quincy Carpenter is one of three ‘final girls’.  According to the novel, the term ‘final girls’ is taken from horror movies where at the end one girl is left alive to tell the tale and be haunted by the events of the movie.  When Quincy was in college, she and several friends were spending a weekend at a cottage in the woods when all of her friends were massacred.  Quincy was the only one left alive but has no memory of the details of what happened to her and her friends.

When the novel begins, Lisa, another final girl is found dead.  At first thought to be suicide, but later determined a homicide.  When the other woman in the trio, Sam, arrives at Quincy’s apartment to touch base, Quincy does not think it is strange at all and invites Sam into her life and into her apartment to stay indefinitely.  Quincy has more than one issue that makes her an unreliable narrator.  For one, she has that memory loss of the most terrifying night of her life.  She also relies heavily on Xanax for her nerves and after meeting Sam becomes impulsive and sometimes dangerous to herself and others.

To tell much more would be to give away key plot points that would spoil it for those who plan to read this novel.  I will say that nothing is as it seems and the story twists and turns around on itself.  This was the first mystery by this author but I hope it is not the last.  This book had me neglecting everything else in an effort to get to the final reveal.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this mystery.

Four out of five stars.

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd

This historical fiction novel is based on the true life story of Eliza Lucas.   Lucas was only sixteen when her father left her in America to oversee and run his three plantations in South Carolina.  Lucas constantly battled against her mother who was left in her care and the outside world due to her age and most importantly her sex.  In the 1700’s most did not believe a young lady could manage one plantation much less three.  In history, Lucas is most famous for her growth and manufacture of indigo dye, a new crop for the new world.

This novel was well researched and I believe stayed close to the true actions of Lucas.  It held my interest wanting to find out what would happen next.  Even though I knew she would eventually succeed in her indigo efforts, I still found myself curious about each crop she tried to develop.

In an attempt to round out Lucas’s story, Boyd also covers the friendship she has with several of her slaves and also Charles Pinckney.  As history tells us, Lucas does eventually marry Pinkney but this novel expands to include the length and friendship nature the relationship held for many years before Pinkney’s first wife died.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read this advanced reader copy.

Five out of five stars.

Sleep Like A Baby by Charlaine Harris

Aurora Teagarden is back and in this installment in the series, she has just had a new baby, Sophie.  At the same time as Robin is going out of town to a mystery conference, Aurora develops the flu.  An assistant, Virginia, is called in to help Aurora take care of Sophie during the nights.  One night a very sick Aurora is awakened by Sophie’s cries.  This prompts her to investigate Virginia’s location.  She does not find Virginia but does find the body of Robin’s stalker dead in her back yard.

This book was well written.  I did not determine the guilty party until almost the end and there was a real twist on who the guilty party was.  I enjoy this series and look forward to seeing where Harris takes Aurora next.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this mystery.

Four out of five stars.

Snap Judgement by Marcia Clark

Clark is back in this third installment of the Samantha Brinkman series.  Though this is a series, you do not have to have read the previous two books to enjoy this one.  Samantha takes on the case of a fellow lawyer in this mystery.  His daughter has been killed and her ex-boyfriend appears to be a suicide case a few days later.  Sam’s client is worried that if it is decided the ex-boyfriend did not commit suicide he will be the prime suspect for killing him since he blames the ex-boyfriend for his daughter’s death.

Clark’s experience as a lawyer allows her to write nearly flawless mysteries.  This one, like others of hers that I have read, is plotted well and keeps you guessing and turning pages.  Samantha Brinkman is a very likable character.  She sometimes steps outside the law, but it is always for a good reason.  She comes across as down to earth and relatable.  The supporting characters such as her police officer father, Dale, and investigator, Alex are good additions to the novels.  My only criticism would be that some of the parts where Sam and Alex interview suspects became a bit repetitious.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this mystery.

Four out of five stars.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

As usual, Ward writes with a gritty eye that unflinching in its refusal to look away from the harder aspects in the lives of her characters.  She is very descriptive in her writing, painting a picture with her words of the place the characters inhabit.  Elements of the supernatural as well as realism can be found in this story.  Also, poverty and the effects of poverty, racism, and dysfunctional families.  This novel is character driven.  Several narrators contribute over the course of the novel but the main character throughout is JoJo.

JoJo is only thirteen years old but finds himself in that unique place between childhood and adulthood where he wants to be babied sometimes but also finds himself being the main parent character of his little sister Kayla.  Their mother, Leonie, is in and out of their lives.  She has a drug problem and only parents her children in a most basic way.  Their father, Micheal, is in prison as the novel opens, he is not much of a parent either.  Their grandparents, Pop and Mam, have done most of the parenting of JoJo and Kayla.  Mam is dying of cancer.

Memorable in this story is a road trip to Parchman Prison to pick up Micheal.  Also a story from Pop’s past that is incredibly sad.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

Four out of five stars.