Word by Word

Creating myself one word at a time.

I would have finished this book much quicker if life had not gotten in mybookreview_allthebreakingwaves_cover way! I really enjoyed Lonsdale’s story in this women’s fiction, magical realism crossover. While the setting was very west coast and of the ocean, the elements of her story reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen’s books.

There were many layers in this book, some surface level and fun and others that took you to a deeper place. I loved the lighthearted descriptions of the main character’s friend, Phoebe, and the older women who are friends with Nana.

It will be the deeper levels that snag you and keep you though. All the Breaking Waves introduces us to Molly, a woman who runs when things get hard and very damaged by a destructive relationship with her father. She finds herself in her early 30s and raising a daughter, Cassie, on her own. Things are getting difficult for this mother/daughter family because Cassie is starting to show the same family abilities that all the wo
men in this family have, psychic abilities.

The story truly begins when Cassie foresees the death of Molly, so Molly does what she’s good at and loads them both in the car and runs back to the home where she grew up and her grandmother. Not only does she have to face the horrible memories of life with her alcoholic father, but also the love of her life, Owen, whom she ran from years before.

As Lonsdale takes us through the week, leading to the imminent foreseen death of Molly, she peels back the layers of Molly, Nana and Owen. The three deal with their pasts and what the future may bring.

There are some fairly dark moments in this book, but Lonsdale masterfully balances these with light and beauty. If you’re looking for an engrossing and wonderful tale to read this winter, I highly recommend this tale.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

blogpost_bookreview_theroanokegirls_10-18-16_coverThere are many words I could use to describe this read from Amy Engel. Atmospheric. Claustrophobic. Creepy. Whether these were intentional on Engel’s part or not, the story of a family of women in rural, remote Kansas will elicit some strong emotion. I will be honest from the beginning, if you are sensitive to violence against women or difficult family situations, you should think twice about reading this book.

Here’s the short summary. The book is told from two points in one character’s timeline, Lane Roanoke. We meet Lane when she is just 15 years-old and left alone, upon the death of her mother, in New York City. The story jumps between this young Lane and an older, wiser Lane ten years later. At the center of both stories, though, is Roanoke; the family farm and home in the middle of nowhere Kansas. Throughout the tale, we are introduced to a cast of characters. At Roanoke, we meet Lane’s grandparents and manic depressive cousin, Allegra. There is also a farmhand and maid who, as we learn, have a long history with the family and the house. Then there are the townies from the nearby Osage Flats, KS, and include two boys who become wrapped up in Allegra and Lane’s tumultuous story. Finally, there are the past girls of the Roanoke family tree. They haunt the story and we meet each in a short chapter that reveals they side of the story.

Whew! That’s a lot. And I haven’t even gotten to the real plot of Lane’s two timelines. At the center of this whole novel is the disappearance of Allegra in the present story. Lane returns to Roanoke, and all of its secrets, to find her troubled cousin. There she faces all of the secrets she learned about the summer she arrived when she was 15, which are slowly revealed to us. Lane refuses to leave until she finds Allegra and ensures she takes care of her cousin, unlike the summer so long ago.

The real magic of this book is the slow build of tension as Engel peels back the layers of all the characters. While the jumping timeline can be a bit disorienting at first, it begins to make sense as the various timelines build on each other. The other thing that is building for the reader is dread. That’s a strong word, but I think appropriate for this book. Engel was able to elicit a slow sense of dread for me, even as I would walk away from the book for mundane things like sleep or work. That dread hung over me every time I sat down and opened up the book to continue reading.

While some of the characters seemed to be caricatures of themselves, the biggest example was a larger-than-life Allegra; others were well developed over the chapters. In the end, the biggest issue I had was understanding some of the motivations for some key figures, but I gave benefit of the doubt because I’m not sure how I would behave in some of the situations Engel created for them.

I congratulate Engel for creating a book of such deeply flawed characters that still manage to gain my empathy. Lane is not easy to love, but when you see the trauma of her life, all you really want for her is to find some peace and, if not happiness, contentment in life.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read an ARC of this book for a fair and honest review.

blogpost_bookreview_aterriblebeauty_9-26-16_coverFor any reader of a book series, the ultimate payoff is evolving with the characters of the books. Watching events and situations unfold over a number of tales, so that by the time you get to the eleventh book the characters, and thus the reader, are in a very different place.

In Tasha Alexander’s eleventh full-length Lady Emily novel, she brings Lady Emily and her husband Colin Hargreaves full circle. We, the reader, revisit the events that brought Lady Emily to the widowed state she was in when we first met her in the very first book, A Poisoned Season.

Note: A Poisoned Season was spectacular, so I highly recommend that you read this book before you read A Terrible Beauty.

In short, after the unfortunate events in The Adventuress, Lady Emily plans a trip to Greece for her, Colin, her friend Margaret and Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge. Jeremy is nursing a broken heart, but it’s Emily who is soon haunted by her past relationship. Reminders of her late husband, Phillip, begin to pop-up. Soon, the four travelers reach their destination in Santorini, the home Phillip left Emily upon his death. They are also met with a huge surprise. Lacy Emily and Colin, faced with the possibility of losing all they’ve built together, face a dangerous mystery that takes the reader from the civilized streets of London to the plains of Africa and the dusty archeology sites of Turkey and Greece.

Through the ups and downs of Lady Emily’s journey, I’ve come to appreciate her steady head and compassionate heart. While she seems to find her way into some harrowing situations, there is always a logical reason for her having landed there. Some of her previous adventures have been very physical affairs; A Terrible Beauty focused more on the internal struggles Emily faces as she tries to process the twists and turns. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action and adventure in this book, but the highlight for this reader was the internal action.

Lady Emily and Colin often mirrored my own incredulity at some of the plot points, which only helped to reel me in because if they could find a way to test the theory and find it made sense, then who am I to disagree? Alexander brings you to the edge of belief and then turns the tale upside down near the end.

For those avid readers of the Lady Emily series, you can plan to enjoy Jeremy’s descent into extreme lack of usefulness, Margaret’s continued support of Emily in all things except for Greek superiority and Colin’s unwavering love for Emily. The usual cast of characters are all here, plus a real journey back into the series for those of us who have read each and every tale along the way.

*I was given an ARC of this book for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Netgalley and Minotaur Books.

blogpost_bookreview_asecretlifeofbees_9-12-16_coverI’m late to the fan base for A Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve had this book on my “to be read” list for many years, along with others that I will get to soon! Recently, my high school senior shared that this is her favorite book, so much so that her copy is falling apart and her current read count is up to five. I was a bit shocked at this discovery and decided that now was the time to remedy the fact that it still sat on that TBR list.

I can only say that I was sorely disappointed in myself for having ignored this book so long. It was a book that guts you, rips emotion from you and then fills you back up with hope and knowledge. I found that I both gasped in shock, laughed and cried. Can we be honest here? I declare this a safe space. I sobbed, not just cried. It wasn’t just during one or two parts of the book, but I found that it was throughout the beginning, middle and end.

The story that Kidd tells in A Secret Life of Bees is both ephemeral and dense. It is no wonder that my daughter has read it multiple times. There are few books that I would put on a re-read list because I tend to read, digest and move on. However, I’m already feeling the need to re-read this tale. Meaning I will buy my own copy and it will quickly be highlighted and annotated.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” –A Secret Life of Bees

We’ll begin with the setting of this tale. It is the summer of 1964, which means we enter a tale naturally filled with palpable conflict. Not only has the Civil Rights Act just been signed by LBJ, but it is South Carolina. The tension quivers throughout the narrative, rearing its head at crucial moments. It is never gone though. Kidd uses this time and location as a foundation for her story and then layers further conflict through the personal stories of each character.

The cast of characters is also an interesting aspect of this story. While the tale evolves through the eyes of Lily Owens, a young white girl whose past is broken to put it simply, you’re never sure how much time has passed between the story she’s telling and when she’s telling it. Does the image of Rosaleen, her black caretaker, evolve as Lily’s living it or looking back on the events at a later date? It’s hard to tell. It made me question how I process life events and the people in my life.

Other characters in the book are revealed and then re-revealed as secrets tumble from them through a summer that is tense to say the least. Lily, her mother, T-Ray, Rosaleen, the Boatwright Sisters, the Black Madonna herself, the heat of the South, racism; they are all characters in this novel. They cannot exist without each other and they shape the others around them.

The aspect of this book that had the deepest impact on me, during my first read, was the role of the female and the interaction between females. The importance of the mother, sister, daughter relationships shine brightly here, even when they aren’t exactly what we would call traditional mother/daughter or sisters. Kidd offers up an array of female relationships, some horribly broken and painful, while others are beautiful in their own way. None of them are ever perfect, but then life is never perfect.

“Nobody around here had ever seen a lady beekeeper till her. She liked to tell everybody that women made the best beekeepers, ’cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. It comes from years of loving children and husbands.” –A Secret Life of Bees

In the end, I felt empowered as a female, as a mother, a daughter and a sister. There was a cathartic release of always reaching for perfection in those relationships. They are chaotic. They are up and down. They are each beautiful messes.

There are so many other aspects to this book; views of life and death, the power of love in the face of imperfection, the beauty of our natural world, the pain of growing into ourselves. I could go on, but for now I will revel in the beauty of the female. I’m sure my future reads will uncover even more for me in a book full of secrets.

BlogPost_BookReview_DaughterofDestinyLayers. We all have them, but often others don’t see them and they are forgotten as the years fall off the calendar. As I read Nicole Evelina’s Daughter of Destiny, I kept thinking about the number of layers a girl in Guinevere’s position would need and how many of them she would have to hide.

The beauty of this fabulous book is Evelina’s skill in peeling back the layers of a character shrouded in centuries of myth and legend. With this book being the first in a trilogy, Daughter of Destiny begins with a girl just entering adolescence, a time in life when girls during this era were preparing to marry, often not because they were in love, but because of their political value.

In this case, Evelina gives us the opportunity to get to know Guinevere and her early upbringing, which is so important to understanding the role she will play in Britain. We all know the major plot points, but Evelina is able to deliver plenty of drama and nuance all the while setting the stage for her ability to step into the view of the history books.

As one who enjoys history, the world Guinevere lives in is one that is at an interesting crossroads of Roman, Christian and ancient. Like Guinevere, we become so immersed in the Druidic practices of Avalon, it’s like a splash of cold water moving back into a world trying to balance between Christianity and the old traditions. I’m sure the future books will bring more of that tension and I can’t wait.

Throughout the book, Guinevere struggles with the role her mother, a warrior in her own right, taught her to play with combat and learning, her role as a priestess of Avalon in an increasingly Christian world and a woman in a time when women are valued as a bargaining chip. She’s walking a tightrope.

Along Guinevere’s journey, we get to meet a who’s who of historical figures. Isolde of Irish fame. Lancelot makes a small preview appearance. Merlin, Owain, Pellinor, Tristan and the list goes on. Evelina does a wonderful job of helping the reader keep all the names and locations straight. While Guinevere is one of my favorites, Isolde is a fabulous character that is both fierce and tragic. And Aggrivaine, oh how I crush on thee.

Just like the strategic game of stones demonstrated in Daughter of Destiny, Evelina masterfully moves her characters over a chess board of intrigue and political maneuvering. I’ll be picking up Camelot’s Queen soon!


Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is how it sheds light and reality on our ancestors—that’s if it’s done the right way. We spend so much time thinking about the “good old days.” People have always been nuanced, imperfect and life has never been white and black.


In the novel Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham, she explores the relationships and historical confluences that led to one of the darkest days in American history—the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.* It’s got all of the things American kids learned in history class, John Wilkes Booth and Ford Theater. This novel is so much more though.

Before I go any further, here’s the synopsis:

1864, Washington City. One has to be careful with talk of secession, of Confederate whispers falling on Northern ears. Better to speak only when in the company of the trustworthy. Like Mrs. Surratt.

A widow who runs a small boardinghouse on H Street, Mary Surratt isn’t half as committed to the cause as her son, Johnny. If he’s not delivering messages or escorting veiled spies, he’s invited home men like John Wilkes Booth, the actor who is even more charming in person than he is on the stage.

But when President Lincoln is killed, the question of what Mary knew becomes more important than anything else. Was she a cold-blooded accomplice? Just how far would she go to help her son?

Based on the true case of Mary Surratt, Hanging Mary reveals the untold story of those on the other side of the assassin’s gun.



The hanging of Mary Surratt and three men involved in the death of Abraham Lincoln.

You’ve probably seen the picture. Three men and a woman hanging from the gallows. I know I did. I briefly wondered about that woman, whose skirts were tied down. How did she come to be there? What was her role in the whole thing?


Higginbotham helps bring to life this woman and explains what might have brought her to that point. In a book told from two women’s points-of-view, Higginbotham depicts a Washington D.C. that isn’t nearly as Union as you might believe. The view points are nuanced and just because the people might be living blocks from the White House doesn’t mean they aren’t taking subversive actions against the North and their attempt to keep the United States as one nation. Those who are pro-Union may not be on that side for the reason, slavery; we’ve all come to believe. (Watch Mercy Street to get an even deeper look at these political nuances in a really good TV show.)

The Mary Surratt who tells her story in Hanging Mary is first and foremost a mother, a mother who is trying to desperately hold her family together during the waning days of the Civil War. With a son who is fighting for the Confederacy and another who is running the blockade and evading Union bullets, she is sympathetic to the South’s cause. She’s also a pragmatic woman whose dead husband left her holding debt. Add in a daughter who will soon need to marry, and Mary’s life is full of unknowns and fear.

The other point-of-view is Nora Fitzpatrick, a young woman with no mother, who comes to know the Surratt’s because she boards in their home. Her story intrigued me because I wasn’t sure why she was included in the book. Then it became clear. She provided the view of a young lady living in the house, unaware of the conspiracy, and who sees the Mary Surratt history may have forgotten—the compassionate mother.


John Wilkes Booth

Once Higginbotham has all of the central players living under one roof, John Wilkes Booth enters from stage right. Did you know that he was like today’s Leonardo DiCaprio? I sure didn’t. Every young woman probably had a picture of him in her album. People flocked to theaters to see him perform. John quickly charms his way into the hearts of Mary, her daughter and Nora.


As the story unfolds, Higginbotham creates a sense of urgency, especially in the final chapters. You know how the story ends. It’s well-documented. Yet, I was flipping the final pages hoping for a different ending and feeling the panic that Mary felt.

Higginbotham has delivered a great read, while weaving historical facts and colorful characters. Highly recommend!

Literary pairings:

  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Love is Eternal: A Novel of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln by Irving Stone
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Because it’s fun!)

Visual pairings:

  • Mercy Street on PBS
  • Gone with the Wind


*The publisher made this book available for a full, honest review.


The feeling I have this week must be the same feeling kids in my junior high had when they were chosen first for [insert any group sport].

I joined NetGalley and will now be reviewing books for publishers as they are published.
Professional Reader


The special feels. They are so great.

Those of you who already do this know they really take anyone, but I will still feel special about this. Then, I got my first email from them saying I’d been accepted as a reviewer for my first book…it publishes March 1. So, I better get busy!

Haunted Library book

I don’t remember what I was reading in first grade…or second…not even third. I begin to have vague recollections around fourth with Roald Dahl’s The BFG and The Babysitter’s Club books.

There is nightly tradition in my house. My son and I curl up in my bed with the book we’re currently reading together. We read for at least 15 minutes and usually more like 30.

Something strange is happening to me. I’ve gone from reading the books he’s chosen out of simple necessity to outright enjoyment. I’ve actually, you know, started thinking of these books as reading material worthy of logging them on Goodreads. I know, what took me so long? How could I be such a book snob?

You’d think a reader of 30-something years would know by now to never say never. I take a while to learn lessons though, just ask my mom.

Here are my favorites so far. I assure you I’ll be back with more as I continue my walk down kid lit lane.


Haunted Library book

The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler

The Haunted Library series by Dori Hillestad Butler

A Barnes and Noble bookseller was on overdrive during a visit to the bookstore one day with my kid. I asked for one book. One book. They didn’t have it. But, she wondered, did I know about The Haunted Library series? No, well she took care of that. I walked out without the book I came for and five books I’d never heard of prior to entering. Cha-ching!

All that said, I’m very glad I did. My son and I both love The Haunted Library books. He begs to read them and I am eager to agree.

The series centers on a young ghost boy separated from his ghost family, whisked by the wind to a library and meets a young girl who just happens to see and speak to ghosts. Thus, Kaz and Claire begin the journey of reuniting Kaz with his ghostly family. There are colorful characters and funny antics. If you can get past the lack of explanation about the rules of Butler’s ghost world, then you’ll enjoy this series. I’ve suspended belief for this one because they are just that fun.


My Weird School

My favorite My Weird book so far.

My Weird School by Dan Gutman

I wasn’t sure about this one. My mom, a reading specialist, assured me it was a good choice. How much could I love a book about a boy named A.J. who hates school and all things learning? The answer: a lot.

This series is hilarious. There are chapters where I bust a gut louder and longer than my son. I’ll admit, the first couple of books had me a little unsure, but by three I was in. If they weren’t fun to read, the fact that my son begs me to read “just one more chapter” would sell me.

Each book features a new teacher from Ella Mentry School and some scheme or mystery to solve for A.J. and his buddies. While the boys say they aren’t fans of the girls, Andrea and Emily always feature in these antics. I’ll go ahead and admit that I totally identify with Andrea. I, too, was a nerd who looked up words in the dictionary for fun, took classes in everything and thought I was the smartest kid in class. You can see why people loved me.

The good news: there are 21 books to read while A.J. and friends are in second grade. Then you get to move on to third grade with them.


book cover

One of our favorites in this series.

I Survived series by Lauren Tarshish

These books are still a bit…advanced for my second grader. They are certainly a “read to him” book and nothing he can consume on his own yet. However, we’ve read several and we love them. Each installment features a story about a young boy who survives some sort of disaster.

The beauty of these is they are true events with a fictional story built around them. We’ve read the ones about the eruption of Pompeii, the shark attacks of 1916 and the Japanese tsunami.

Reading these does something so important for my son. They transport him to a time and place he has never been and teach him to empathize with the narrator. They expand his mind beyond our four walls, the block and neighborhood where we live. All things, as a parent, I’m very grateful to have in books that he enjoys.



I’ll keep you posted as we explore other series in children’s literature. And, yes, I’m counting all of these books toward my Goodreads book challenge! I’m reading every word! It totally counts. And if you don’t think so, in the words of A.J., you’re a dumbhead.

Book cover
Book cover

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray.

How do you know what is evil and what is good? Are there such distinctions? “Lair of Dreams” by Libba Bray explored some very deep issues and it made for an absorbing read. The flat out evil presented in “The Diviners” was terrifying and made for creepy late night moments, but “Lair of Dreams” presented a more nuanced story. And it was an engaging, enjoyable read.

Quick summary:

“Lair of Dreams” picks up a short time after “The Diviners.” The cast of characters we’ve come to love are at odds, still recovering from the John Hobbes case. Evie O’Neill is now in the national spotlight as the Sweetheart Seer and the country has gone Diviner crazy. But for all her success on the radio, her personal life is complicated. She and Uncle Will are on the outs. She’s running from Jericho and the complications of their attraction. Sam Lloyd is still there, trying to get her help to find out about Project Buffalo and the whereabouts of his mother. She and Theta aren’t as close in this story due to Theta’s blossoming relationship with Memphis and Evie’s drowning her fears in gin. Mabel doesn’t know how to be friends with this partying, flapper Evie. And poor Henry is searching for his lost love, Louis, in nightly walks within dreams.

 Then people begin to fall asleep and never wake up. The sleeping sickness is centered in Chinatown and suddenly the Chinese immigrant, and really any “foreign” populations, become the target of fear and hate. But, why are people falling asleep for days and then finally dying? We meet a new Diviner who lives in the center of Chinatown; the brusque, intelligent Ling Chan, who also walks in dreams.

 Will this group of talented Diviners come together to save the city from the sleeping sickness? And what greater darkness and power is on the horizon?

There is so much to this book and I think my brain will continue to pick apart the plot for a few days. Always the sign of a great book! There are a couple of thoughts floating to the surface 12 hours after I finished the read.

Bray really amps up the “lost generation” aspects of the characters in “Lair of Dreams.” As I was reading, I had flashes of “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Great Gatsby.” At moments, you felt like you were spinning out of control with the characters, each of them searching for something and yet very afraid of finding it. Henry and Sam were literally searching for someone they loved and clarity into their pasts. The yearning and hope that if they could just find this key their futures would be secure was painful at moments. Evie, poor fearful Evie, is running as fast as she can from those she loves because to love is to lose. She is the epitome of the flapper drowning her life in gin. At moments it made me crazy, and then we were reminded what she faced in John Hobbes. Memphis and Henry, like Evie, hoped that society’s acknowledgement of their talents would lead to success and fame. And that is the crux of it all, isn’t it? Where do you find the meaning of life?         

What is evil and what is good? “The Diviners” felt very clear on the existence of an evil big bad. John Hobbes was terrifying. “Lair of Dreams” wasn’t as clear about where the lines of good and evil exist. Each of the Diviners deals with this to some extent, although Theta may have it the worst. And the “big bad” in this story is complicated. At the root of the supernatural element in this story is the evil of everyday humans (I won’t tell anymore because I don’t want to give too much away). There are others on the periphery of the story who, I’m sure will take a bigger role in the next book, we don’t know much about and their ethical and moral choices shift on the reader.

 The shining American standard espoused in the early 20th century hid a darkness that is truly terrifying. Bray is not about to whitewash the darkness that existed in the 1920s. The genius is how she uses the supernatural to uncover the racism and fear trembling just below the surface of society. The moments we experienced with Ling as Chinatown was placed in the crosshairs with the sleeping sickness were terrifying. In many ways, the dream world Henry and Ling entered each night mirrored this. On the surface all seemed so wonderful and, yet, there was darkness there. You could hide your eyes to it, but it was still there. Jake Marlowe, a secondary character, presents an interesting glimpse of the PR machine that pumped out the “mighty America” marketing—as long as you were white. He is a mysterious character who we learn has a history with Uncle Will and the Diviners. And Jericho owes his life to him. Jake espouses the power of science and a hope for the next great evolution of humankind, again, if you’re white.

In the end, the power and beauty of diversity will save us all. As you read, you are faced with the hate and racism society has to offer. Bray crafts a beautiful tapestry of characters. Male and female. Studious and those who take action. Various ethnicities. Various Diviner powers and no Diviner powers. The strengths of each come together to make a stronger team. It’s highlighted by the powerlessness of the quarantines, closures and hate marches. Only through the cooperation of a disparate group of people can the sleeping sickness be defeated.


All of this to say: GO READ THIS SERIES. Libba Bray has created two solid stories with a powerful overarching story with more to come. I look forward to reading more about each of these complicated characters and how Bray will weave their stories together (novellas about these characters wouldn’t be disappointing! Hint, hint). Oh, and I’m totally Team Jericho.

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