“The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle” by Matt Cain

This novel is… everything. It is the perfect way of telling the story of what it means to be human – the fear, the bravery, the pain, the healing, the heartbreak, the love… of yourself and of those around you.

I did not expect all of that, but maybe that’s because I’m a jaded human in need of some of the self-discovery journey that Albert Entwistle goes on in this novel.

And it isn’t a journey that chooses him. He chooses it.

That’s what makes Matt Cain’s story stand out from others like it. The only nudges Albert really receives to start his journey are the death of his beloved cat and a chance meeting with a young woman named Nicole who is also in search of herself. The rest is all what he decides to do. No one setting things in motion to ‘fix’ him, just Albert taking the incredibly daunting steps to right the wrongs of four decades ago… and finding himself along the way.

The friendship between sixty-four year old Albert and twenty-year-old Nicole is so pure and healing for both of them. And that she is given the minor story to his major (and the detail, nuance, and attention paid to it) is absolutely, to use the word again, perfect.

And while the novel is about love, it acknowledges the reality that there are many, many kinds of love and each of us deserve them all. And then, in what counts as the end, is the culmination of all that love into a final, yes, happily-ever-after that is far deeper than “we lived happily ever after.”

This novel is now one of the best I’ve ever read. I laughed. I cried, out of sadness and out of happiness. And I cannot wait to read it again!

(I received a copy of The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle through a Goodreads giveaway. My thanks to the publisher and Goodreads for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Reviewed: “The Ventriloquists” by E.R. Ramzipoor

I have a list of my top five favorite World War II novels, and E.R. Ramzipoor’s The Ventriloquists now counts among it.

The characters, some of whom were real people who dared to stand up to the Nazis and some who were created by the author, are deep, complex, and unique individuals who come together in a stunningly powerful way to make a statement when they know they are doomed no matter what.

Ramzipoor is able to use this sense of impending doom; the presence of the Nazis would be doom enough on it’s own, to give their characters a reason to speak up and act out. What else have they got to lose, really? And Aubrion, Noel, Lada, Gamin, Wellens, Spiegelman, and even the boys in the workhouses have nothing to lose. It’s clear they don’t really see themselves as having much to gain given, again, the fact that the Nazis are in Belgium.

So under the guise of their resistance movement, and as an ultimate act of resistance when they are conscripted to aid the Nazi propaganda movement, they create a newspaper that mocks the Nazis and their propaganda and pull off more than one ruse to manipulate the Nazis into helping them.

The Ventriloquists is in turn humorous and tragic. It is a story of hope in the face of certain defeat. It is the story of what humans can do for one another when it seems like the end is nigh.

(Thanks to NetGalley, Park Row, and E.R. Ramzipoor for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest & original review.)

Reviewed: “The Guncle” by Stephen Rowley

This book soothed me. It made me laugh and it made me cry, happy tears and sad. As a single, childless aunt to kids not that much different in age from the kids in this book… I think I even learned to just be myself with them even more reading this. They can be themselves and I can be me.

And we’ll be okay, no matter what.

Sure, I’m not a rich star with a pool and a bottomless bank account but… sometimes you just have to stop taking yourself so seriously and be silly.

I didn’t expect to find a lesson in this book, and sometimes ‘lessons’ in books can be preachy and pretentious, but this is a good lesson. A good reminder.

And a fantastic book!

(Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Reviewed: “Wunderland” by Jennifer Cody Epstein

I think there may have been too many timelines in Wunderland for it to reach it’s full potential as a World War II novel.

I give it credit for not trending toward outright romance in the shadow of war, as a lot of WWII novels do, or focusing on some aspect of the resistance to the Nazis, as many WWII novels do. The author attempted something different with Wunderland in that she focused on women in Nazi Germany and the effects that could have through the subsequent generations.

Unfortunately, it fell flat and a lot of that can be, I think, laid at the doorstep of too many timelines playing out at once and too much switching back and forth. It got confusing and clunky in places.

I wanted to read more about each of the women and every time the next page switched timelines, I couldn’t help but wish we were sticking with the one who’d just been speaking.

Really, the story of Isle and Renate, Ava and Sophie could have been a duology to a trilogy and it would have been good. The subject matter deserved something more given what the author was obviously trying to convey in an under 400 page book that spanned sixty years and four main characters.


(Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the chance to read this book in exchange for a honest review. I apologize for how long it took.)

Reviewed: “The Nine” by Gwen Strauss

the cover of The Nine

I have a hard time review non-fiction books sometimes, because it always seems like a disservice to the people the book is about. This is especially true with the story of Helene, Nicole, Jacky, Zaza, Lon, Guigui, Zinka, Mena, and Josee.

These nine women formed a friendship in a Nazi concentration camp of all places. They’d all worked if different arms of the French Resistance, and they’d all been caught and sent to Ravensbruck. And then they found each other.

It’s almost like a female version of Stephen Ambrose’s story of the 101st Airborne’s famed “Band of Brothers” only this ‘band of sisters’ were not soldiers and they could not rely on weapons to get out of danger.

They relied on their minds, their guile, their cunning, their femininity, and perhaps most importantly – the bonds of female friendship.

Though some were sick with typhoid, diphtheria, pneumonia, badly blistered feet, injured hips, starvation… they decided early on that where one went, all would go. If all could not go, none would go.

It’s a stunning story to read, especially in light of how the modern world would have us believe that women, while devoted and strong and brave, are plagued by toxic friendships that always threaten to drag us done.

I don’t want to say that we all need to face the things these French, Dutch, and Spanish women faced but… we can do better than we do. If they could do what they did, we can do anything.

They did. They did the most important thing of all.

(Thanks to BookishFirst, St. Martin’s Press, and Gwen Strauss for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest & original review.)

Reviewed: “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

I have done it. I have read THE SECRET HISTORY. Been meaning to do that for awhile, glad it’s one box ticked on my list of reading things to do.

Will I read it again? Maybe?

Here’s the thing… it’s fine. It’s got mystery and suspense and drama and angst. All good things.

But the characters are so… they’re such awful people in general that it takes some of the shine off those four things that I like in my novels. You need someone to root for, you know? And I wasn’t rooting any of this crowd of pretentious adult children.

And I know that’s the point of the book, that awful people do awful things and awful people are drawn to each other like moths to a flame.

At least I think that’s the point of the book. I’m really confused by chunks of the plot. Although… I feel like Donna Tartt might’ve meant it that way? I really don’t know, obviously.

Here’s what I do know – it was fine. Not a bad way to start off my year in reading and I read a book I was very much intimidated to read, because of the hype after THE GOLDFINCH came out and renewed interest in THE SECRET HISTORY.

I’m not currently planning to read THE GOLDFINCH, because this Tartt novel has left me… exhausted of awful people, but I’m open to changing my mind if you’ve read it and loved it, or want to tell me it’s a whole lot different.

In the end, the clutch of self-absorbed twenty-somethings who studied Greek with a slightly stereotype liberal arts professor in rural Vermont all got what was coming to them. So the ending wasn’t bad at all.

I’d actually rate the book 3 1/2 stars but since Goodreads doesn’t operate in halves, it’s a 3 from me because, randomly, Tartt made up an entire ‘terrorist’ country for the loopy professor to have worked in, and been an honored guest in and that was just… it threw the whole thing off for awhile there.

tw: drug use (so much drug use), alcoholism (so so much alcohol), suicide, murder, mentions of rape, mental and physical abuse

Reviewed: “Furbidden Fatality” by Deborah Blake

This book is essentially perfect.

The cutest little cozy mystery, featuring a strong group of good girlfriends, hints of romance to come later in the series, super cute animals, heartwarming animal rescue stories, small town gossip & drama, and a murder!

Really, as a mystery, I don’t want to say too much because if you like cozy mysteries, you really should read this book rather than read my spoilers. So I’ll say this… practically perfect in every way and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

(Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the chance to read this book before it’s publication date.)

Reviewed: “Crossing the River” by Carol Smith

“Crossing the River: Seven Stories That Saved My Life” is a sort of memoir in the form of a collection of essays. If you are looking for something hopeful and uplifting, this is not the memoir for you. If you are looking for something heavy and oppressive, this is the memoir for you. And is that because, in a way, it’s almost like a survival guide. Carol Smith lays out the tools she discovered amidst all the pain and grief, the tools that helped her get from one day to the next.

Because, and I agree with this thinking, sometimes it is all you can do.

Ms. Smith immersed herself, as a newspaper journalist, in struggle and tragedy after the personal struggle and tragedy she had endured, and would never really not be enduring, that came with the severe illness and eventual death of her small son. Some people can’t do that, some people can’t read that. Some people need to put their grief There and move to Other Things. In a way, it seems like Ms. Smith needed her grief to be always right Here while she lost herself in stories cut through with undercurrents of grief and struggle, because in seeing others survive, shew as able to remind herself that she could do it too.

None of the seven stories are easy to read, easy to digest and appreciate. But there is a raw beauty in the pain in them, and that’s what makes tomorrow possible… the painful beauty that living can be.

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

(Thanks to NetGalley and Abrams Press for the chance to read an early copy of this book. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “Valhalla” by Alan Robert Clark

Maybe it’s me, but historical fiction gets tricky when it’s about someone well-known and well-documented. Given that historical fiction is my go-to, comfort genre in reading and that history is the place where I get sucked into the most rabbit holes and want to read all the things… this complicates my Reading Life in rather creative ways. As relates to VALHALLA by Alan Robert Clark, the British royal family is something I’ve read a lot about and still want to read more. And so I requested the chance to read this story of Princess Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary.

Queen Mary was someone I knew from reading history as the grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II, mother to the Duke of Windsor, fiancee of the prince who might have (but was not) Jack the Ripper, and a bit of a kleptomaniac. Simple facts and a public image that was carefully crafted, but not much more. And yet she has fascinated me since I first found her as a steadfast queen whose husband led England during World War I and buried her son, the next king, after World War II.

And I’ve wanted to know more.

I could have read a biography, I’m sure, but that’s always a bit intimidating.

So VALHALLA fit the thing I wanted.

Three things matter most in historical fiction:

1) Sticking to historical fact and detail, not changing history to fit the story.
2) Making the conversations and interactions feel… possible in the part of history they are set in.
3) ~if about a real, well-known person~ Staying true to what is known and how the people are known to have behaved and carried on.

VALHALLA ticks each of those boxes.

As someone prone to falling down rabbit holes of research for fun, the events described in the novel follow with known history and no one has some sort of technology that they shouldn’t.

Though there are not too many first-person written accounts of the lives of royalty in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there is much contemporary fiction and the interactions between Mary (or May, as she was known to family and friends) and her family and staff feel very real and possible.

Queen Mary is known for putting duty first and above all else, and that carries through in the novel.

What Alan Robert Clark adds to the story is that May is and was a young girl and a young woman, with all the thoughts and feelings and desires that young women have. Born into a family that prized titles and prestige, her path was laid out early on and the way Clark describes how she might have struggled to adjust and adapt and even to abandon that which her heart desired is stunning.

And, perhaps most important of all, VALHALLA made me want to learn more… and I will.

(Thank you to Fairlight Books and NetGalley for the chance read this advance copy of VALHALLA. All thoughts expressed in this review are my own, and not influenced by anyone associated with the book.)

Reviewed: “The Roxy Letters” by Mary Pauline Lowry

(I received a copy of THE ROXY LETTERS through NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.)

In this anxious time of social distancing and self-quarantine…

Do you need a book to make you laugh out loud?

Do you need a story that will make you smile at someone’s goofy but absolutely legit antics?

Do you need to read about someone who has been kicked rather a lot by life but picks herself up and carries on through it all with an absolutely infectious (in a good way, not a COVID-19 sort of way) attitude?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I highly suggest you acquire a copy of THE ROXY LETTERS as soon as humanly possible.

I did not know I need this book in my life, but I did. And I’m keeping it to re-read later because I just know that Roxy will make me laugh and feel a little bit lighter all over again.

THE ROXY LETTERS is, in fact, an entire novel of letters written by Roxy to her ex, Everett. There is no record of what Everett might have thought of the letters, and Roxy doesn’t even give them all to him, but there is something inherently compelling about the way she is able to say everything to him.

I think a book about Roxy’s trials and tribulations written in a more standard format, whether first or third person, would not have been nearly as personal and interesting. I mean… in her letters, she talks about her ‘period underwear’ drawer and I can’t see that sort of thing working very well in a third-person narrative.

Roxy is not perfect, and she knows it. She’s hard on herself but she uses the letters as a way to be hard on herself before she talks herself out of the impending funk with wit, humor, and even grace.

Maybe that’s part of the reason this book is so damn good… because she uses writing and letters as therapy, in a way, and I do that too. And since Mary Pauline Lowry wrote the book the way she did, I got to read it as therapy and feel better for it.

So I offer my sincerest thanks to Mary Pauline Lowry for writing this fantastic, funny, free-spirited book.

Now go get yourselves a copy!