All’s Fair and Other California Stories

by Linda Feyder

Genre: Literary Short StoriesAll's Fair
Publisher: She Writes Press
Pub Date: Sep. 28, 2021 

Mini-Review

After finishing this short story collection, I was not surprised to learn that it is a finalist for the 2021American Fictional Awards. However, I almost did not accept this book because I did not recognize the publisher, She Writes Press.  I assumed the book was self-published or a vanity press. I discovered that it is neither.  Rather a hybrid model, for women writers, published these shorts. The most notable difference from self-publishing is that this model has traditional distribution and manuscript vetting. After reading a few pages of the first short, I knew off the bat that I was reading a literary, well-written and, interesting collection.

In these slice-of-life stories, a varied cast of characters in modern-day Southern California seeks the fulfillment of a better life that The Golden State has always promised. Some of the characters move to the state for a change of mindset that comes with sunshine, or for health reasons that the dry, mild West Coast weather provides. Many stories are only a few pages. Yet the author’s concise writing of the sounds, feels and descriptions make these brief yet telling stories feel longer. I have learned that Feyder received an MA in creative writing and literature.  In addition to writing, she is a practicing psychotherapist, which explains why her characters all seem to be on an inner journey throughout each short. I like some better than others, but overall I am impressed with the collection.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Last House on the Street” by Diane Chamberlain

Genre: Domestic FictionThe Last House on the Street
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: January 11, 2022

The past crimes of a community become known as two women, separated by a generation, are brought together by tragedy and a decades-old mystery.

Chamberlain does a good job of mixing up the civil rights movement and a suspenseful plot around the past and a more recent decade. The suspense story is good.  The author shines when writing on the evils of the KKK, which can be difficult to read, nevertheless, enlightening and well written.

There are two timelines in the novel: Southern, white, twenty-year-old Ellie is resolved to get active in the Civil Rights struggle by assisting African Americans in registering to vote in 1965 in the real-life project— The Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE), which was peopled by kids in college called on by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2010, architects, Kayla, and her husband build their dream home in North Carolina, which is where Kayla’s father and Ellie both grew up. Before they move in the husband dies. After much deliberation, Kayla decides that she and their young daughter should move into the house. However, once they are in someone is trying to scare them out.  The twists were decent.

In the powerful and moving earlier timeline, Chamberlain reminds her readers that the KKK was everywhere not just in the Deep South. This part of the story was heartbreaking to read and I real eye-opener to those of us who only know about cross-burning and lynching through old newspaper stories. In this reviewer’s opinion, the 1965 timeline is more than enough to keep the reader’s interest.  The 2010 timeline was not needed other than to attract readers who enjoy suspense.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Last Thing He Told Me” by Laura Dave

Genre: Suspense & ThrillerThe Last Thing He Told Me
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: May 4, 2021

Mini-Review

The premise of the story is about a loving husband and father who unexpectedly goes missing. His wife and daughter set out to track him down. The story jumps back and forth in time, chronicling the wife’s early days with her spouse as well as her current search for him. Her life now revolves around the FBI, US Marshalls, and her husband’s dangerous family that she never knew he had. The tale is rather farfetched. But, the changing nature of the relationship between the both stunned wife and stepdaughter is what drives the story.  At least, that is what caught this reviewer’s interest.

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“Her Perfect Life” by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Genre” Mystery & ThrillersHer Perfect Life
Publishers: Forge Books
Pub. Date: September 14, 2021

Mini-Review

Lily Atwood has a successful career as a TV reporter.  She is a loving single parent to an adorable little daughter. She has a fan base that has dubbed her #PerfectLily. The author makes sure the reader understands the pressure Lily endures by her fame of being “perfect.” However, Lily has a secret besides who is the father of her child.  She was 7 years old when her older sister, Cassie, disappeared as a college freshman. Even as a journalist, with sources, Lily hasn’t been able to find her. The chapters alternate between Cassie, Lily, and Greer who is Lily’s producer/assistant. The novel has potential but didn’t pull it off. The story was simply too far fetched. There are many twists and I did not believe one of them. Maybe for you but, not my idea of a good thriller.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“I Couldn’t Love You More” by Esther Freud

Mini-Review

I couldn't Love you more

Genre: Family Saga
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub. Date: June 25, 2021

First off, I accidentally bought this book. I thought I clicked, try a sample, I am glad that I made that mistake because this is a very good story. I was afraid that I bought myself a romance novel, which is a genre I do not care for. Instead, I bought a novel that examines illegitimacy in Ireland in the 1960s.  The reader follows the Kelly family from pre–World War II years to more recent times. The story is about mothers, daughters, and secrets, and it tells the narrative of three generations of women, their loves, and their decisions. The novel is narrated by three generations of women: Rosaleen’s mother, Aoife; Rosaleen herself; and Kate, Rosaleen’s daughter who was put up for adoption 10 days after she was born. Freud’s gifts for female empathy and fluid storytelling are fully evident in “I Couldn’t Love You More.” I will be reading more by this author.

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“The Hidden Child” by Louise Fein

The Hidden Child

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pub. Date: Oct. 19, 2021

Mini-Review

This historical fiction looks at the eugenics movement, which promoted selective breeding by removing unwanted genetic features from human beings. In 1929, “Eleanor Hamilton is happily married and mother to a beautiful four-year-old girl, Mabel. Her wealthy husband, Edward, a celebrated war hero, is a leading light in the burgeoning eugenics movement—the very ideas that will soon be embraced by Hitler—and is increasingly important in designing education policy for Great Britain.” (From book blurb). There four year old daughter begins to have seizures and is diagnosed with epilepsy. The novel puts a personal spin on the horrors of selective breeding.  This is a heart-wrenching tale with an unbelievable ending. This reviewer’s side note:  Eugenics was popular in America during much of the first half of the twentieth century, yet it earned its negative association mainly from Adolf Hilter’s obsessive attempts to create a superior Aryan race. America discredited the movement until following the horrors of Nazi Germany.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover

Genre: Domestic ViolenceIt Ends with us
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: Aug. 2, 2021

This is a romance novel attempting to be a story about domestic violence.  Yes, we read about abusive men, in between reading about how gorgeous and sexy they are—Point made. The story doesn’t even educate the reader on why women stay in such relationships other than that the couples were in love. To give the author some praise, in the “about the author” she shares about growing up in a home with a physically abusive father and she does give a domestic hotline number. But, no references on research that was done to write this tale. She also gives the hotline for the homeless since the other man in the protagonist’s life was once homeless.  The ending is unbelievable and undeniable in the genre of romance.  Maybe for you but, not for me. I will not be reading this author again.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Oh William!” by Elizabeth Strout

Genre: Literary FictionOh William
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: October 19, 2021

In “Oh William!,” Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of friendship, marriage, loneliness, and betrayal in her unique, portrait-like style. This is the third book in her Amgash book series where all the novels take place in fictional Amgash, Illinois and the narrator is always a woman named Lucy Barton.  The author writes Lucy in a natural voice who is sharing her memories with us. For those who are familiar with the previous two novels, “Oh William!,” will feel like you are catching up with your old friend Lucy.

The third book picks up after the death of Lucy’s second husband.  She is now 63 and reflecting on her marriage to William who is the father of her two grown daughters. Even though he was unfaithful during the marriage, they remain close friends. This didn’t strike me as strange, though maybe that’s because I am a 65-year-old woman who remains friendly with my ex-husband. Still, I think the effectiveness of these characters is more rooted in the author’s ability to capture human behaviors, and our common imperfections.

Most of the plot takes place when William’s hardly-mentioned third wife leaves him. As in the other Amgash books, family secrets emerge. But the dots are connected slowly. William learns that before his mother, Katherine, married his father, she was married to another man and had a baby girl.  Katherine deserted them both. This changes all of William’s perceptions of his mother. Through a DNA match, he finds his half-sister lives in Maine. He wants to see her and he wants Lucy to accompany him to Maine. Why Lucy? because his first wife is his only wife who would be as shocked as he is with this new knowledge regarding his mom.  Young Lucy knew and loved Katherine too. She had a close relationship with her mother-in-law.  Lucy agrees to join William and together they travel to Maine.

This trip is the meat of the story.  It is bittersweet. You’ll be drawn in when reading about Lucy’s memories with William before and after their divorce.  During the trip, William says, “I’m sorry.” Without any explanation of what he is referring to, Lucy replies, “I know.”  Lucy and William’s life together feels very real. Stout manages this accomplishment while writing in sparse sentences, and poetry-like prose. If you are not accustomed to the author’s style, it might take some time to appreciate this novel, but it is so worth the effort.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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