THE WIDOW’S HOUSE
Written by Carol Goodman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
William Morrow Paperbacks
Smudged Lines Between Illusion and Reality
Seeking a fresh start, Jess and Clare Martin return to their former college town in the Hudson River Valley. Their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career all need a second chance and they hope to find it by returning to what was once a safe place to live.
They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate that belongs to their old college writing professor. It’s been years, now, since Jess’s successful literary debut, so the advance is gone. Although Clare hopes the Hudson Valley will help revive her own writing, their new life isn’t working out as planned. She hears babies crying at night and sees strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Is she losing her mind or is somebody playing with it?
Goodman’s creates a gothic atmosphere in which reality and illusion mix and the lines between them are smudged. Flawed characters that we grow to care about and empathize with and a longing for answers and understanding will hold you. The shimmering prose will grab you. Goodman is a first-class writer, who will draw you in, make you seek your talents, and maybe send you looking for Riven House, where the Martins work as caregivers.
If you loved Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca or Charlotte Parkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper,” this will hook you in. Nothing is as it seems here.
THE DAY I DIED
Written by Lori Rader-Day and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0062560292
Who Remembers The Day She Died?
What if you have a gift for reading personalities through handwriting, but no one can accept it? What if it makes you vulnerable to abuse? What if your life becomes too much to handle?
If you are Anna Winger, the heroine of Lori Rader-Day’s newest novel, The Day I Died, you disappear. You raise your boy without any knowledge of the family you came from, because they were the source of your problems. You work for companies wanting to land honest, reliable employees and by men and women seeking a partner they can trust. You live a low-key, very private life until you are called on to use your talents on a ransom note left at a murder scene in a small town you moved to, even though the sheriff says no.
The low-key life becomes all stirred up as Anna is forced to face past demons, current doubts, and her son’s increasing curiosity. He wants answers and he’s too old to be put off. In the end . . . But why give that away? The ending satisfies. Read the book to find out how.
Award-winning author Lori Rader-Day knows what to reveal and what to withhold in this compelling story. She draws us in with solid issues and high stakes and builds the tension in all the right places. She weaves past and present together into a solid story with prose that will grip and hold you. If you are a fan of families, suspense, psychological thrillers and determined women, be sure to pick up a copy of this one.
Written by Christine Lennon and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0062457578
William Morrow Paperbacks
The Pecking Order Meets Horrific Acts
In the 1990s in Gainsville, Florida, college senior Betsy and her two closest friends, Caroline and Ginny, spend the end of their senior year binge watching Oprah, flirting for freebies from Taco Bell, and breaking hearts along the way. They bicker about choices, rules, status, and the effects of bad behavior. Then a series of horrific acts ravage the campus.
Two decades later Betsy has moved to Manhattan and works in an art gallery. She now uses her full name, Elizabeth, but it doesn’t help her escape the fact that she’s lost two best friends when she was Betsy. She could have saved one if… She can’t even say it. She can’t live with the truth and she can’t live without all the facts, as her other former friend finally explains.
Even though the book took place in Florida, I pictured my college campus, in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the last days of August and the early days of May. Regardless of who you were in college, you are going to find some truths about the way the pecking order makes us all feel. Lennon even has a playlist on Spotify to take you back to the era.
The Drifter shows readers the complexities of friendships and the secrets that can ultimately destroy us. Christine Lennon is a skilled writer, sharing exactly what we need to know and keeping us turning pages. Her descriptions of Betsy’s industry, restlessness, resentment, and reaching out all stayed with me long after I closed the book.
SURPRISE ME: A Novel
Written by Deena Goldstone and Reviewed by Laurelann Easton
ISBN #: 978-0385541237
Nan A. Talese
Deena Goldstone dives into the complex relationship between writer and mentor, and brings it to a new level in her debut novel, Surprise Me. She presents a story that many writers can identify with: writing is difficult no matter how good you are at your craft, and only certain people can get you through the roughest part.
Isabelle Rothman is Daniel Jablonski’s student during her final undergraduate year, which sparks a friendship that continues for two decades and many struggles. Goldstone’s skillful plot brings us from Isabelle’s senior year in 1995 to her adult years. She keeps up with her mentor even though they live in different states, often on other sides of the country. The relationship they form is intimate in a way that is unusual but compelling, and they ultimately become each other’s mentors in both life and in writing.
In many ways it is difficult to span two decades and still keep the reader interested, but Goldstone’s strong plot keeps the story moving along easily. She’s equally successful at keeping her characters from developing an expected relationship, and she stays true to her apt title because this is a surprising read.
Goldstone’s newness to writing longer works such as this is evident in the mechanics and style of the piece, and the ending is rushed into the future in a jarring way. All the same, her creativity and insight about integrating writing into real life is intriguing, and the relationships she presents leave a lasting impression.
SEVENTH PLAGUE: A SIGMA FORCE NOVEL
Written by James Rollins and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0062381682
Is it possible that a centuries old plague could come back and wipe out human life on this planet? When I heard that James Rollins’ The Seventh Plague: A Sigma Force Novel suggested that a Biblical story about blood in the Nile was not mythology, I wanted to learn more. Historical mystery meets high-tech science in this high intrigue novel.
The story moves between the Arctic North and Egypt as agents try to determine what happened to an archaeologist who vanished into the Egyptian desert along with his survey team, and later came stumbling out and died. He was partially mummified and his body was carrying a plague organism that could be traced back to a story in Exodus, the second book of the Bible.
The archaeologist left behind a missing son and a devoted daughter. Both were scientists, as eager as anyone to discover what had killed their father and how it might affect the health of the world. Could this discovery, whatever it was, have implications for controlling the Zika virus? Could the Bible story about blood in the Nile be literally true and could the bacteria return all these years later to destroy us?
If you like action-adventures stories, you should read this carefully plotted and intriguing tale. Whether you want to learn Donald Trump’s connection to Nicholas Tesla, are curious about the powers of mummification, or are simply drawn to stories of heroes fighting foes with every tool available, you don’t want to miss this story. There is a lot we don’t know about the world we live in, and Rollins gives us new ideas to help us imagine our way out of many things beyond our control.
Learn more about author James Rollins at jamesrollins.com.
FOR YOUNGER READERS AS WELL AS ADULTS:
Written by J.C. Sassen and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Magic in a Crumbling Old House
Does family history matter? Maybe not, but it sure can solve mysteries and diminish obsessive thoughts, at least in J.C. Sasser’s beautifully written YA, Gradle Bird. Of course a bit of magic doesn’t hurt.
Sixteen-year-old Gradle Bird has lived with her Grandpa, Leonard, all of her life. The are at a seedy motel off Georgia’s I-16 when Leonard receives a notice that the county is about to tear down a crumbling old house that is part of his past, he moves there, taking Gradle with him. Though they are not affectionate, they are each other’s only family.
The house is haunted by the ghost of a woman named Annalee Spivey, and she is the first woman Leonard ever loved. As soon as he climbs the ladder to the attic, he can see her and dances with her in a long-awaited reunion. When Gradle looks in the attic, though, she sees her grandpa dancing with air.
In her new home town Gradle meets two teen boys, Ceif Walker, a crippled, Bible-thumping hobo and Sonny Joe Stitch, who saved Ceif once despite his usual self-interest. She also meets the “only true friend” she will ever know, a schizophrenic genius, D-5 Delvis Miles. As Gradle falls deeper into Delvis’s imaginary and fantastical world, unsettling dangers rise up, waiting to pull her in.
Gradle Bird is a tale of self-discovery and redemption set in a bizarre world. It explores jealousy, fatherly love, the complexities of human cruelty, and the consequences of guilt. Joy and tears mix in this coming of age tale, which is beautifully rendered in Sasser’s evocative prose. She’s an author to watch.
This review originally appeared on the Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org.
PRESSURE COOKER CHRISTMAS
Written by Ann McCauley and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN for paper back is: 978-0-9993415-0-6
ISBN for e-book is: 978-0-9993415-1-3
When the Family Hits the Fan
Is your Christmas an adventure in chaos or a pressure cooker? In either case, whether you see the glass as half empty or half full, you will enjoy Ann McCauley’s seasonal novel, Pressure Cooker Christmas. You’ll find some scenarios that you identify with and others that make you grateful for your own line. This book runs through a gamut of contemporary issues that the narrator must deal with as she looks at her adult children’s lives and needs. What they all have in common though is love and respect, and it goes a long way to make this holiday work.
Poor Mom. She works too hard keeping her family traditions going while Dad hides in the basement. But why is she hiding? And why is Mom clinging to the past? We learn a great deal in the Christmas letter she will never send and even more as we meet her son living over the garage, and her daughter estranged from her husband. We all know that life is complex, and sometimes the holidays amplify that. And other times there are miracles. What happens here? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
In well-crafted prose, author Ann McCauley creates a life-like story filled with surprises, help, and faith that things can improve. The writing flows and I found myself reading the whole book in two days. If you are inundated with holiday expectations and family problems that don’t quit, take a break and read how someone else handles it all. McCauley, who has several other books out, including Runaway Grandma, will give you a romp through pressure and chaos that belong to someone else. Women who celebrate Christmas with family should not miss this book.