“Our Little World “by Karen Winn

Genre: Adult Coming of AgeOur Little orld
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pub. Date: May 3, 2022

A sorrowful coming-of-age narrative about a twelve-year-old girl whose eleven-year-old sister dies. There was an age-appropriate competition between them.  The author has us reading in between the lines to understand that if the younger sister hadn’t died, they would have grown to be close adult siblings. The setting is a typical New Jersey suburban community in the 1980s, where nothing evil is supposed to happen. Winn captures the era perfectly, as well as the cul-de-sac where the kids play and live.

We learn on the first page that this isn’t the first time the older sister has witnessed death up close. Their five-year-old next-door neighbor is abducted and later found murdered. The novel is quite well written. Winn does an excellent job of capturing every parent’s worst nightmare. This is novel is also a murder mystery.  However, the story’s true strength lies in the sisters’ relationship, particularly the older girl’s heartbeaking inner world.

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

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Passed Thanksgivings (I wrote the below to help me heal).

My mom passed away last month. I am appreciative that she had the type of send-off that she requested, a celebration of life in the form of an Irish wake (not a drop of Irish blood was her. Not sure where she learned the expression). At her funeral, people were laughing, eating, and drinking as if it were an open house party. Okay, there were a few tears shed, but not until the very end at the actual service.

My first Thanksgiving without her will be a bittersweet one. Especially since when I was a kid, Thanksgiving used to be my mother’s holiday that we celebrated with her (Pecchio) side of my family. (Technically, there would be one Maselli, dad’s side, that’s because my dad’s sister married my mom’s brother). Mom would be cooking for weeks before Thanksgiving. When the day finally arrived, her siblings and their kids would arrive at 1 p.m. and depart around 8 p.m. in between these hours there was an almost unbelievable gluttonous feast.

Until my dad made an extension to the dining room table us kids would eat in the kitchen. We would start off with cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Though I do recall sometimes she also had a half grapefruit with sugar on top. The antipasto came next. If you’re familiar with the term “antipasto,” you’ll understand that is a lot of food. However, she kept it small because the first course would soon arrive, which was our usual Sunday meal. Homemade manicotti with homemade red sauce or what we called gravy. The pot was filled with meatballs, sausage and braciole. Until this day, I have a hard time eating Italian red sauce that comes in a jar.

The busy female bees would be scrubbing pots in the kitchen. The men usually watched football in the tiny room right off of the dining room that we called the den. When all returned to the table there was the turkey with all the trimmings; Italian stuffing, double-baked potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, a variety of vegetables, and stuffed mushrooms that rarely made it to the table because everyone would go into the kitchen and steal some. Plus, another mushroom dish that was referred to solely as “burnt mushrooms.” They were excellent despite the gross name.

The bees would go back to work, often to find a side dish that was forgotten to be brought out of the kitchen. Mom would next serve us roasted chestnuts, figs, and fruit. She would say, I kid you not, “to help you digest.” I believe that most other families would not be able to eat another morsel. Might even be feeling physically ill.

At this point, year after year, my cousins and I would take over the television and watch the
original version of “Willy Wonka.” But we would be back at the table, for my mom’s homemade pumpkin pie, Italian ricotta cheesecake, and the Italian pastries that the family members inevitably brought. Dessert would be served with regular coffee and espresso with Anisette. Would you believe me when I tell you, that not one of us at the table was overweight? I have absolutely no idea how we pulled that off.

Now the meal was finally over, and everyone’s pants buttons were open. Sometimes zippers were down too. My cousins and I would walk to the playground or go up to my bedroom to hide from the major cleanup. We played games. As we grew into teens, we would listen to records, and later escape with our spouses.

Then in the early evening, all went home. This was our typical Italian-American Thanksgiving. Looking back today as a senior citizen, I am not sure how we managed to eat that much. I have to ask my cousins if my memories are correct. These long-ago sweet holidays will stay we me until my own last days. Despite my sadness this year, I wish everybody a safe and Happy Thanksgiving 2021.

“The Ballerinas” by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Genre: Murder Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021The Ballerinas 

The story begins with a trio of 12-year-old students at the world-famous Paris Opera Ballet School. Although the timeline is not linear, we follow the girls into middle age. I think this debut novel’s message is to show how these women come to understand their true inner selves and find feminism. The story is filled with way too much female drama and way too little on the demanding physical and mental sacrifices that are part of a ballerina’s daily life. A murder is mentioned in the prologue and not written about again until the end of the novel.  There are the makings of “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty in “Ballerinas.” Despite not enjoying this novel, I would read another by the author to see how she has grown.

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

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The story begins with a trio of 12-year-old students at the world-famous Paris Opera Ballet School. Although the timeline is not linear, we follow the girls into middle age. I think this debut novel’s message is to show how these women come to understand their true inner selves and find feminism. The story is filled with way too much female drama and way too little on the demanding physical and mental sacrifices that are part of a ballerina’s daily life. A murder is mentioned in the prologue and not written about again until the end of the novel.  There are the makings of “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty in “Ballerinas.” Despite not enjoying this novel, I would read another by the author to see how she has grown.

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

Find all my book reviews at:

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“Secrets of Our House” by Rea Frey

top revewier

Genre: Family Drama/Women’s Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s PressSecrets of our House
Pub. Date: February 8, 2022

Women’s fiction seems to be an umbrella term for books about women’s love-life experiences that publishers market to female readers. I have never understood the genre’s name. Women like me enjoy many genres. Novels that are classified as women’s fiction are often clumsily written and filled with silly romantic clichés. Yet, they are not labeled romance, beach books, or chick-lit novels, where you expect the tale to be sappy.  No one would ever call “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy women’s fiction although the story revolves around a woman’s extramarital affair. A more modern example is “We Were the Mulvaneys” by Joyce Carol Oates. A daughter’s reputation is damaged by a rape that tears the family apart. Oates never writes women’s fiction, although her novels often focus on a woman’s love-life experiences. Does anyone have an alternative name for the genre?

This women’s fiction novel revolves around a middle-aged married couple and their 17-year-old daughter. The wife secretly longs for a man who is not her husband. The husband secretly desires a divorce. And the daughter secretly desires not to go to college, but to marry the boy she loves. Get it? Lots of secrets. The repetitive marital angst is way over-the-top. The mother acts like a lovesick teenager no different than her daughter. The young lovers can also irritate with all their drama. At least their angst is age-appropriate, unlike the adults. Where Tolstoy or Oates might portray such a relationship in a believable, engaging way, Frey delivers all the trappings of a plot-driven commercial fiction.  It makes me wonder, do publishers believe women prefer to read books in which the writing only tells a story without stimulating their minds?  Is it just me who thinks this way? Nevertheless, the only part of the novel that I did appreciate is the beauty of nature that is described encompassing their house in the mountains of North Carolina. These sentences paint a colorful picture that shows us a talented author but not enough for me to be able to enjoy the rest of the book.

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 Whitby Murders” by J.R. Ellis

Genre: Gothic Murder MysteryThe Whitby Murders
Publishers: Amazon Publishing
Pub. May 27, 2021

Mini-Review

My 2021 Halloween read was a colossal blunder. I have never been a fan of murder mystery series books. I usually find them predictable.  But, I still had not read this year’s spooky story. As a result, I started this book on October 31st because the setting revolves around a Dracula escape room at a Goth festival near Halloween. I have enjoyed the suspense in other escape room novels. This isn’t one of them. The plot was fine, but the characters were one-dimensional, and the writing was flaccid and clumsy. Plus, it irritated me that the detective had to explain his thoughts throughout the novel as the murder did in the ending.

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

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“Apples Never Fall” by Liane Moriarty

Genre: Domestic Fiction/Mystery Apples Never Fall
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Pub. Date: September 14, 2021

The four gorgeous red fruits on the book’s cover represent the four children of Stan and Joy Delaney, who founded a sought-after tennis academy.  All their offspring, including themselves, are “almost” good enough to make it to Wimbledon. The family falls apart questioning each other when Joy disappears.

Moriarty stumbles throughout this story.  The family dynamics are interesting yet the plot is unbelievable. Especially at the end when all is boringly explained.   And, we learn what the title is all about: the importance of parental love and guidance. Corny.

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

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Personal and Book Thoughts by Martie

I have been off-the-grid for sad reasons.  My mom passed on Oct. 13th.  To escape the pain from before and after her passing, I have been reading but not reviewing.  So here is a snapshot of the novels that helped keep me sane.

The Magnifciant Lives

Very good historical fiction about C.W. Post’s daughter who was known as the Cereal heiress. As well as an educational biography of Post Foods and their rival the Kellogg’s family. Sounds stale but it is not. You will read about the depression, WWI. WWII, and meet many presidents and other famous people. Interesting fact, Marjorie Post built  Mar-a-Lago in 1924-27.

The best of friends

This psychological thriller follows 3 families and is narrated by each family matriarch. There is a tragic accident. Think of every mother’s worst nightmare. A good tearjerker with enough suspense to keep you turning pages. 

Good Neighbors

The story is set in the near future where sinkholes and heatwaves are popping up across the country due to climate change. which leads to neighbor turning on neighbor. All too real mob mentality. Though provoking black humor.

Malibu RisingEveryone in Malibu knows the four children of a pop singer of Frank Sinatra-level fame. In the early 1980s, the singer’s four surfer offspring throw a raging party that forces them to confront their pasts. This is a story of loving yet being able to break free from a tight-knit family unit, so the characters can discover who they are as individuals. Not always believable still, hard to put down.

Not a Happy Family

Our first meeting of the Merton family, in this psychological thriller, takes place on Easter Monday.  Fred and Sheila Merton are the patriarch and matriarch of their wealthy and well-established clan.  They also happen to have been murdered on Easter Sunday.  On that Sunday, they hosted a holiday dinner for their children at their home.  So which of their children (all unlikable and greedy) murdered them? Kept me guessing until the end.

The violin

A young black male musician discovers that his family’s old fiddle is a priceless Stradivarius. A bit farfetched but it works in this tale. He risks everything to win back the priceless instrument when it’s stolen on the eve of one of his and the world’s most prestigious classical music competitions. I found an underdog hero that I cared about and discovered a fascinating, cutthroat world I knew nothing about – in this case, classical music

 



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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