Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday
Flashback Friday

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Friday, September 20, 2019

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Darktown by Thomas Mullen- Feature and Review


Responding from pressure on high, the Atlanta police department is forced to hire its first black officers in 1948. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers and their authority is limited: They can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they can’t even use the police headquarters and must instead operate out of the basement of a gym.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up fatally beaten, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust the community has put in them, and even their own safety to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against an old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood like his own, and Dunlow’s young partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines




DarktownDarktown by Thomas Mullen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darktown by Thomas Mullen is a 2016 Atria publication.
This book came highly recommended to me due to my love of crime fiction. I had no idea, until I had finished the book, that a television program was made based on this story that starred Jamie Foxx. I’ll have to check that out sometime.

But, as for the novel, this is an outstanding historical crime novel that depicts the atmosphere in Atlanta just after the second world war and before the civil rights movement. Atlanta has just hired eight black men as police officers to work the ‘Darktown’ area of Atlanta, a groundbreaking move, but a political one, which was made under pressure.
Boggs and Smith are two of those black men hired as beat cops for Darktown. They only have so much power, though. If anything serious happens, they have to call in the ‘real’ cops. They work out of the YMCA, not the police station. They are resented by the white officers, of course, especially Dunlow, a rogue, racist cop that once patrolled the area.

But, when a white man plows into a pole on their beat, Boggs and Smith see a young, black woman in the passenger side with a black eye. Later, the woman is found dead, discarded like garbage. Dunlow, is not interested in solving the crime, but his new partner Rakestraw, is not as apathetic. Still, Boggs and Smith will have to risk their jobs and maybe their lives to solve the murder, on their own.

Wow, this was such an authentic depiction of this era and the attitudes about race at that time. The crime story is a real stunner, with several mind blowing twists along the way. The suspense, at times, is nearly unbearable, and I admit I had to wipe the sweat off my palms a few times.

The characters were well drawn, some clearly bad, corrupt, and evil, while others struggled with the complexities of race and prejudice and with doing the right thing, no matter what. Smith and Boggs were also complex in their own way, and of course I loved their partnership and their commitment to truth, despite the obvious danger they faced, but they did encounter some support from an unlikely source.
The pacing is quick, the dialogue is sharp, but very, very raw, so be prepared. This story is very gritty, very real, and not always easy to digest. But, the book is extremely well written, is riveting and maybe one of the best crime stories I’ve read this year. It’s definitely deserving of the attention and high praise it’s received!!
I highly recommend this to those who enjoy gritty crime thrillers, or historical mysteries.





Thomas Mullen is the author of "The Last Town on Earth," which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA Today and was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction, and "The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers." His books have been named Best of the Year by such publications as The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Onion, and Amazon.com.

His third novel, "The Revisionists," will be published in September 2011.

Mullen was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Oberlin College. He has lived in Boston; in Chapel Hill, NC; in Washington, DC; and he now makes his home in Atlanta with his wife and two sons.

When not reading or writing, his greatest interests are music, film, travel, and hiking. The best books he read in 2010 were "Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood, "The Book of Daniel" by E.L. Doctorow, "The Bridge of Sighs" and "The Tourist" by Olen Steinhauer, "Serena" by Ron Rash, "Caveman's Valentine" by George Dawes Green, "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" by David Mitchell, "Savages" by Don Winslow, "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, and "An Ordinary Spy" by Joseph Weisberg.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman- Feature and Review


"Abbi Waxman is both irreverent and thoughtful."--#1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin

The author of Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone's radar.

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own...shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all--or mostly all--excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.
1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.


The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman is a 2019 Berkley publication.

Sweet, witty, clever and whimsical- my kind of people- in my kind of book!

By some standards, Nina may seem a bit eccentric. But, truly, she just likes her job and her books and a solid routine. She may be a classic introvert, but she hangs out with her friends and competes in trivia competitions.

However, her quiet, ordered life turns topsy-turvy when she is informed that her father, a man she never knew, has passed away, and she has been named in his will. Suddenly there are lawyers, and a slew of relatives invading her life- none of which fit into her carefully constructed day-planner.

Nor, does dating, it would seem, although there is an interested party- except it’s Tom, her main competition on Trivia Nights. If this weren’t enough to rattle her, her job at the bookshop is in jeopardy because her boss can’t pay the rent.

Although, Nina does her best to avoid the lawyers and new family members, and genuinely tries to pencil Tom in for a date night, she isn’t having much luck on either count. Will Nina ever be accepted by her new family? Will her day planner ever make time for poor Tom? Will the bookshop sink or swim?

I new I would love this book!! The characters are easier for me to relate to than the ‘loudest person in the room’, voted most gregarious types- and of course, who doesn’t love books about books?

I’ve never been to trivia night, but it certainly sounds like a lot of fun- although I’m not that knowledgeable or competitive. Everything about this book is executed perfectly- pace, dialogue, characterizations, and tone. It’s light, but has depth, is poignant, but mostly it’s a fun, feel good story anyone can enjoy. I loved Nina’s life so much, I felt a bit wistful, wishing I could find fit into the mix of work, family, and friends that make up her charmed life. The ending was the cherry on the cake and left me grinning from ear to ear!!

This is just an all-around great story about the truly important things in life and staying true to oneself while adapting to life’s inevitable changes. Of course, us bookworms and introverts will find this book highly relatable, maybe seeing a bit of ourselves in this story, which makes it even more charming and touching!!

All the stars for this one!! (Did you ever doubt it?) That's makes three for three for Ms. Abbi Waxman!!

View all my reviews






Abbi Waxman is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman, who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Make it up to You by Lucy Keeling- Feature and Review


What do mascara wands and gardening shears have in common?
Absolutely nothing! At least that’s what wannabe beauty influencer Sophie Timney thinks when her friend Polly suggests involving her brother Marcus in Sophie’s make-up tutorials. She needs more views, Marcus needs promotion for his gardening business – in Polly’s mind joining forces will help them both. Sophie isn’t so sure.
Because Marcus Bowman has a habit of getting under her skin in a way that no exfoliating face scrub ever could. But, as the views and comments on her videos begin creeping up, it becomes increasingly obvious that Sophie’s subscribers like Marcus, and what’s even worse is that Sophie might be starting to feel the same way



Make It Up To YouMake It Up To You by Lucy Keeling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Make It Up to You by Lucy Keeling is a 2019 Choc Lit publication.

A thoroughly modern romance!

Sophie takes her online make-up tutorials seriously. However, her viewer-ship numbers, hits and follows have hit a plateau. She needs to do something to freshen up her videos before her enterprise spirals downward.

When her friend, Pam, suggests she work with her brother, Marcus, to create a garden backdrop for her videos, Sophie is reluctant. But Marcus also needs a little exposure for his business, so it seems like a win-win situation. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, the two mix like oil and water. Despite that, they are deeply attracted to each other. Then Marcus inadvertently finds himself on camera making a big impression on Sophie’s audience, stealing a little bit of her thunder. This is NOT what Sophie had in mind to boost her numbers!!

As anyone who has tried their hand at making a little profit from YouTube videos or from blogging can attest to, it’s not all fun and games. Just like anything else, to make it profitable, one must put some work into it. Sophie has a hard time getting people to take her work seriously, though. Marcus is not aware of how much effort Sophie puts into her tutorials and how fragile her occupation can be.

After a bit of a rocky start, the two eventually wind up working well together… in more ways than one. However, Sophie isn’t sure if she wants Marcus to be a part of her personal life AND her professional life, as well.

This is a fun madcap romantic comedy with a timely premise. The author did a great job of capturing this time frame in a young adult’s life, the friendships they have, the parental expectations and pressures, as well the stress of carving out one’s own niche in a highly competitive and ever evolving climate. The chemistry between Sophie and Marcus is stormy, but hot and steamy. The story is hilarious at times and is definitely a mood enhancer!

Overall, this is a light, sexy romp fans of contemporary romance and Rom-Coms will love!






Lucy Keeling is an author writing fun, sexy, stories with all of the happily ever afters. When she’s not typing at the kitchen table, she’s arranging and then re-arranging to see her friends for the occasional spot of day drinking. Lucy is currently writing the third book in a contemporary romance series, the first of which was runner-up in Choc Lit’s ‘Search for a Star’ competition which was sponsored by Your Cat magazine.
Lucy lives in Greater Manchester with her family.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Jessie's Little Bookshop by the Sea by Kirsty Ferry- Feature and Review


Another wonderful new story from Kirsty Ferry. Part of Kirsty's Tempest Sisters series but they can all be read on their own. This is Jessie's story.
Take a trip to the little bookshop by the sea
Jessie Tempest has two main interests: reading books and selling books. Her little bookshop in the seaside town of Staithes is a cosy hideaway from the chilly Yorkshire wind, but it’s also Jessie’s sanctuary from the outside world.
When writer Miles Fareham and his son Elijah arrive to stay in the holiday apartment above the shop, it’s a test for Jessie who has always felt clueless when it comes to kids. But as she learns the story of the single father and the inquisitive eight-year-old, Jessie realises that first impressions aren’t always the right ones – and, of course, you can never judge a book by its cover!



Jessie's Little Bookshop by the Sea (Tempest Sisters #3)Jessie's Little Bookshop by the Sea by Kirsty Ferry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jessie’s Little Bookshop by the Sea by Kirsty Ferry is a 2019 Choc Lit publication.

A darling story full of heart and hope!

Jessie's life is books- literally. She reads books and sells them in her little bookshop in Staithes, Yorkshire. But, Jessie is thrown for a loop when Miles Fareham and his son Elijah arrive to stay at the holiday apartment above the shop.

First, she had an awkward run in with the father and son before they arrived at the shop, and second, Jessie is not too keen on children. However, she and Michael attempt to make the best of the situation. Before long Jessie finds herself forming an attachment to the lonely, guilt -ridden single father, and utterly charmed by his adorable son. But can Michael let go of his painful past to make a fresh start for himself and Elijah.

This is another charming story in the Tempest Sisters series. (All the books in the series can easily be read as standalones.)

While there is an occasional melancholy tone to the story, the clouds slowly lift, and Jessie learns to relax around Elijah and takes great strides toward emotional maturity. Michael is carrying around a lot of heavy baggage and his story is a little bittersweet. Elijah seemed a step ahead of his father sometimes, able to see what the adults couldn’t. The encouragement Michael and Jessie give Elijah to enjoy reading is also a nice touch! The connection and chemistry between Jessie and Michael give them both a chance at a fuller, more rewarding life- if only they have the courage to grab it!

Kirsty Ferry has become a favorite author of mine over this past year, especially. Her stories are always right up my alley, whether they are time slip romances or stories like this one that warms the heart and nourishes the soul. This is another sweet and touching story full of hope, love, and…. Books!!






Kirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009. She has had articles and short stories published in various magazines, newspapers and anthologies and was also a judge in the Paws 'n' Claws 'Wild and Free' Children's Story competition in 2011 and in 2013. 'The Memory of Snow', her first novel, was commended in the Northern Writer's Awards, shortlisted to the top five of Wyvern's novel competition in 2011 and longlisted in the Red Telephone Novel Competition in 2012. You can find out more about Kirsty and her work at www.rosethornpress.co.uk

Monday, September 16, 2019

Quest of Dreams by Debra Dier- Feature and Review


To Devlin McCain she was a fool chasing moonbeams, a spoiled rich girl who fancied herself an archaeologist and believed her money could buy anything. But beneath her spinsterish fa├žade burned a blistering sensuality he was powerless to resist, and he would journey through hell to claim her.

To Kate Whitmore, he was an overbearing brute who treated women like chattel, an unscrupulous scoundrel who valued gold above all else. Yet try as she might, she couldn’t deny the irresistible allure of this dangerous man.

Hard-edged realist and passionate idealist, Devlin and Kate plunged into the Brazilian jungle, searching for the answer to an ancient mystery. Yet someone else sought that mystery, someone determined to possess it at any cost.



A Quest of Dreams (Destiny Devices, #1)A Quest of Dreams by Debra Dier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Quest of Dreams by Debra Dier is a 2019 publication. (Originally published in 1994)

High Adventure, Steamy Romance!

Kate Whitmore and her father are in search of the lost city of Atlantis. To help them navigate the dangerous Brazilian jungle, Kate attempts to hire Devlin McCain, who is highly skeptical about their quest. Still, the possible reward is hard to pass up. However, he is very unhappy that Kate is traveling into danger with her father. Kate, on the other hand, has centered her entire life around her work, and is determined to prove her mettle.

The journey will be a long one, filled with physical dangers, and more than a little intrigue, but Kate’s heart is also in jeopardy as she fights off her unexpected and undeniable attraction to the mulish Devlin McCain.

But, with others on the trail of the lost city and the promised treasures hidden there, Devlin and Kate will have to work together to see their dreams realized, whether they like or trust one another or not!

This is one of those books that takes me back to a time when historical romance was imaginative and creative and not always stuck in Regency England. (Plus, maybe we weren't so hung up on extreme realism, either.) This book has a bit of everything in it. Suspense, adventure, action, intrigue, mystery, paranormal elements and of course, a sizzling romance. The cast was a little larger than I’m comfortable with, but I was able to follow along with only a minor amount of confusion.

The story moves fast and there is a lot going on, but the unusual plot challenged me and kept me fully engaged.

I’d squeeze more historical romance novels into my reading schedule if they had this much imagination.

*Note: Full disclosure: This book was written back in 1994. The author has reissued this book and a handful of her other books in digital format, and updated the cover art. I was delighted to discover I had three of Debra’s older paperbacks in my paperback collection and they are in near mint condition. How fun!!

On occasion one could tell this book was not written recently, but overall this story stands the test of time. In fact, Kate's character and the attitude of her father fits right in with today's modern messages of empowered women and the men who support their efforts. So maybe the author was a little ahead of her time. If you enjoy historical romance, I hope you will give this author a try.




Debra Dier is the bestselling author of sixteen critically acclaimed romance novels and short stories. Her work has earned her a place in the Writer's Hall of Fame.

Friday, September 13, 2019

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- Feature and Review



The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is a 1985 publication.

This year I’ve been trying to add books into my reading schedule that 'the entire world has read but me.' This book falls into that category, I think. As it happens, I had downloaded this book from the Kindle Unlimited library a long while back but kept putting it off.

To be honest Dystopian literature is not my favorite. I have dabbled in the genre, but usually, I give it a pass. Not only that, something about all the comparisons to current events made the book feel intimidating and it made me nervous. I’m already in a constant state of anxiety and didn’t know if I wanted to read something that was going to add to it.

Sure enough, right off the bat, I was on edge. I see where the comparisons are coming from now. But I don’t think Margaret Atwood had a crystal ball back in 1985 when this book was first published. That is why I felt this book was so unsettling.

Society, not just in America, but everywhere, has seen periods of progress, followed by enormous setbacks in human rights of all types. Obviously, this novel addresses the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Religious extremes have prompted some serious conversations about this book, but the set up here, in my opinion, is a means to an end.

Now that I’ve skated past that land -mine-

What I took away from this story was a that it was an important cautionary tale. It’s a strong lesson in complacency which is the most prominent theme, and the one I feel has the most urgency. Today we toss around phrases like ‘new normal’ or ‘normalizing’, which sends chills down my spine.

While this is a fictional story, it does have a basis in real history, revealing cycles of progression and regression.

Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantly: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

Overall, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book. It gave me the willies, but it has also given me a lot to chew on. It pretty much sums up my feelings about resting on the laurels of those who have made sacrifices and did the grunt work for the privileges enjoyed by women today.

This book should be a lesson to us all. Complacency comes with consequences. Let’s make sure we never take our rights for granted, and that we continue to fight the good fight for ourselves and future generations.








More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

"Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in."
--Margaret Atwood






Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow- Feature and Review


"Every person wrongfully convicted of a crime at some point dreams of getting revenge against the system. In Confessions of an Innocent Man, the dream comes true and in a spectacular way."--John Grisham, New York Times bestselling author of The Reckoning

A thrillingly suspenseful debut novel, and a fierce howl of rage that questions the true meaning of justice.

Rafael Zhettah relishes the simplicity and freedom of his life. He is the owner and head chef of a promising Houston restaurant. A pilot with open access to the boundless Texas horizon. A bachelor, content with having few personal or material attachments that ground him. Then, lightning strikes. When he finds Tieresse--billionaire, philanthropist, sophisticate, bombshell--sitting at one of his tables, he also finds his soul mate and his life starts again. And just as fast, when she is brutally murdered in their home, when he is convicted of the crime, when he is sentenced to die, it is all ripped away. But for Rafael Zhettah, death row is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now, with his recaptured freedom, he will stop at nothing to deliver justice to those who stole everything from him.

This is a heart-stoppingly suspenseful, devastating, page-turning debut novel. A thriller with a relentless grip that wants you to read it in one sitting. David R. Dow has dedicated his life to the fight against capital punishment--to righting the horrific injustices of the death penalty regime in Texas. He delivers the perfect modern parable for exploring our complex, uneasy relationships with punishment and reparation in a terribly unjust world. 



Confessions of an Innocent ManConfessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow is a 2019 Dutton publication.

A thought provoking, atypical and emotional crime story!

Rafael Zhettah is a private aircraft pilot, and the head chef at a Houston restaurant, happily married, content with his life, and looking forward to what the future may bring. But, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. His beloved wife is murdered and despite having an alibi, he is convicted and sent to death row.

However, a stunning turn of events garners Rafael his freedom, just in the nick of time. However, his outrage towards the system that robbed him of years he will never get back, and very nearly cost him his life, has left him entertaining ideas about how to get even. Perhaps the Old Testament method of ‘an eye for an eye’ would be the most fitting form of revenge…

Well, I must admit, If I had been in Rafael’s shoes, I would probably entertain a few revenge fantasies and it would be hard not to feel bitter. So, from this angle, Rafael’s feelings are quite understandable. But as righteous as his feelings may be, when he begins to plot his revenge, and then follow through with it, he begins to see things are not as black and white as he thought.

Issues arise that he didn’t anticipate, causing more than one crisis of conscience. But the suspense builds to an unbearable pitch as small mistakes could land him right back into some very hot water, and forces beyond his control may unravel all his carefully constructed plans.

I hate using those old cliches like 'compulsively readable' but the phrase fits this book perfectly.

Once I started reading it, I could not put it down!!

In the first segment of the story, the author begins by building an emotional relationship between the reader and Rafael. He is honest, almost to a fault, admitting his foibles up front, which goes a long way towards establishing trust.

We know for a fact that he did not kill his wife. But he’s sent to die anyway, a problem that is becoming an epidemic in real life.

In the second segment of the book, the author examines Raphael's time in prison, the relationships he builds, the attorneys who champion his cause and work tirelessly to overturn his conviction.

This segment is harrowing, heartbreaking and made me squirm in my seat, as Raphael nearly meets his end. This is also the part of the story where the reader truly invests themselves in Raphael’s outrage. The court system, the judges, and the entire flawed process, very nearly executed an innocent man.

The third segment is also a tough one. This is where the reader must decide if Raphael is doing the right thing. One might be tempted to urge him on, but we also watch him struggle with his conscience.

However, the ability to empathize with those who nearly committed murder waxes and wanes, not only for Raphael, but for me, as well. Watching all this play out is very engrossing, but it is also quite thought provoking.

However, the conclusion packs the hardest punch of all. I was nearly a hot mess by the end of this book. It is emotional, and tears at the heart in a variety of ways.

The story has some flaws, but despite how well thought out and easily executed Raphael’s plans went, it may require a bit too much suspension of belief for some readers.

I was more than willing to play along though, because the core of the story is outstanding, and the unmistakable moral carries a powerful and important message.

David R. Dow writes what he knows, bringing along an insider’s perspective on the judicial system and the perils of capital punishment.






David R. Dow is the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, where he teaches constitutional law and theory, contract law, the death penalty, and law-and-literature. A graduate of Rice and Yale, Dow is also the founder of the Texas Innocence Network (TIN), Texas' oldest innocence project, and the co-founder (with his wife, Katya) of the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project (JCAP). Working through his death penalty clinic, Dow and his team of lawyers, clinical professors, students, and interns, have represented more than one hundred death row inmates during their state and federal appeals.

Dow is the author of both scholarly papers and texts, as well as books for a general audience. His first memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution (published by Twelve), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover award for nonfiction. His second memoir, Things I've Learned From Dying (also published by Twelve), was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2014. Confessions of an Innocent Man, Dow's first novel, was published by Dutton in 2019.

Dow and his wife Katya have one son, Lincoln. They live in Houston and Durango, Colorado, along with their dogs Delano and Soul.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey- Feature and Review


Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's rights.

Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen goes through the papers, she notices something strange: all three have signed over their inheritance to a charity. What will they live on if they forefeit what their husband left them? Perveen is suspicious.

The Farid widows live in purdah: strict seclusion, never leaving the women's quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate and realizes her instincts about the will were correct when tensions escalate to murder. It's her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that nobody is in further danger.



The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry, #1)The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey is a 2018 Soho Press publication.

Set in 1920s Bombay, Perveen Mistry, is one of the first female lawyers in India. Although she works in her father’s law firm, as a woman she isn’t allowed to argue a case in court.

But, when a wealthy mill owner dies, his three widows, who are practitioners of Purdah, express a desire to donate their inheritance to charity. As the executor of his will, this development raises Perveen’s suspicions. She decides a visit to the widows is in order so that they fully understand their rights. However, she quickly finds herself embroiled in a genuine murder mystery when the estate trustee is found murdered.

The story moves back and forth between ‘present day’ 1920s and 1916, revealing Perveen's shocking and painful history.

Like most avid readers I have books that languished on my TBR list for ages before I finally got around to reading them. I’ve had my eye on this one for at least a year. I knew it was a book I’d been excited to try, but at this point I can’t remember how the book was marketed. I’m thinking I probably added it because of the cultural and historical aspects, but of course I’m never one to turn down a good mystery.

I have since learned that Perveen’s character was based on two real life trailblazers, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam, which is most interesting and inspiring.

As with any attempt to combine two genres, a skilled balancing act is required. While the story flips back and forth between the 1920s and 1916, the author chose not to alternate the chapters, as is standard with many dual timeline stories. I think there was a reason why the author inserted the flashbacks to 1916 in this manner, but for those who are tuning in strictly for the mystery, the momentum and pacing might feel a bit jarring.

However, as a huge fan of historical fiction, I was very invested in Perveen’s backstory, and didn’t mind taking a break from the mystery in order to understand her personally, to discover the drive behind her passion, her devotion to women’s rights, and her sensitivities to the widows and why she fought to protect them and discover the truth behind the murder.

I love developing an emotional attachment to my crime solvers, whether it be a seasoned detective or an amateur sleuth. As this looks to be the first book in a planned series, the author has laid out a solid foundation to build not only good mysteries, but cultural history and character growth. I'm pretty sure Perveen could become one of my favorite characters!

I found every part of this story fascinating. The cultural landscape and the historical details were incredible. I found myself doing a few Google searches and I will certainly look at the suggested reading the author provided.

The murder mystery is one of the best I’ve read a long while. Recently, it has occurred to me that pure mysteries are not as common as they once were. Unless one turns to the cozy mystery genre for a genuine whodunit, most books falling into the mystery category are more focused on the psychological, action, or suspense elements, than on guessing who the culprit is. So, I’m buoyed by the popularity of this book, and hope it jump starts authentic mysteries back into mainstream popularity again.

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. I have the second book on hold at the library right now.

Can’t wait to see our courageous protagonist back in action!






Sujata Massey is an award-winning author of historical and mystery fiction set in Asia.
However, her personal story begins in England, where she was born to parents from India and Germany who began reading to her shortly after her birth. Sujata kept on reading as she grew up mostly in the United States (California, Pennsylvania and Minnesota) and earned her BA from the Johns Hopkins University's Writing Seminars program. Her first job was as a reporter at the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper, where she wrote stories about fashion, food and culture. Although she loved her work, she left when she got married to a young naval officer posted to Japan.

Sujata and her husband lived in the Tokyo-Yokohama area which forms most of the settings of her Rei Shimura mysteries. The eleven novel series has collected many mystery award nominations, including the Edgar, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark awards, and even won a few: the Agatha and Macavity prizes for traditional mystery fiction. The Rei Shimura mysteries are published in 18 countries. The first book in the series is THE SALARYMAN'S WIFE, and the eleventh is THE KIZUNA COAST which was listed as the most-borrowed ebook is the Self-E Library reads borrowing program for 2016. Rei Shimura mystery short stories are in MURDER MOST CRAFTY, MALICE DOMESTIC 10, AND MURDER MOST CRAFTY.

In 2013, Sujata began writing about India. THE SLEEPING DICTiONARY is a historic espionage novel set in 1930s-40s Calcutta told from a young Bengali woman's point of view. It's also out as a Dreamworks audiobook, and is published in India, Italy and Turkey under different titles. This was followed by INDIA GRAY HISTORIC FICTION, an ebook and paperback collection of stories and novellas featuring strong Asian women heroines throughout history. Included is a story featuring Kamala from THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY and a prequel novelette featuring Perveen Mistry. A Perveen story is included in THE USUAL SANTAS, a story anthology to be published in October 2017.

Sujata's next book is THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL, a historical mystery set in 1920s Bombay that comes out in January 2018 from Soho Press in the US. It also releases as THE MALABAR HILL MYSTERY in February 2018 from Penguin/Random India. The first in the new Perveen Mistry series, it's an exciting story about Bombay's first woman lawyer. Perveen, the 23-year-old daughter of a distinguished Parsi family, is convinced her clients--three widows and four children--are in danger. Can she use the law to save them, or will it take more action?

You can sign up for an early look at the book, giveaways and more perks by joining AsiaFile, Sujata's free reader newsletter. Visit sujatamassey.com for details.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

All the Water in the World by Karen Raney- Feature and Review


A stunning debut novel about a teenage girl and her mother as they grapple with first love, family secrets, and tragedy.

Maddy is sixteen. Smart, funny, and profound, she has loyal friends, a mother with whom she’s unusually close, a father she’s never met, devoted grandparents, and a crush on a boy named Jack. Maddy also has cancer. Living in the shadow of uncertainty, she is forced to grow up fast.

All the Water in the World is the story of a family doing its best when faced with the worst. Told in the alternating voices of Maddy and her mother, Eve, the narrative moves between the family’s lake house in Pennsylvania; their home in Washington, DC; and London, where Maddy’s father, Antonio, lives. Hungry for experience, Maddy seeks out her first romantic relationship, finds solace in music and art, and tracks down Antonio. She continually tests the depths and limits of her closeness with her mother, while Eve has to come to terms with the daughter she only partly knows, in a world she can’t control.

With unforgettable voices that range from tender to funny, despairing to defiant, this novel illuminates the transformative power of love, humor, and hope.



All the Water in the WorldAll the Water in the World by Karen Raney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the Water in the World by Karen Raney is a 2019 Scribner publication.

Heart-rending, but eloquent, study of mother/daughter relationships

Maddie, only sixteen years old has been diagnosed with cancer. Her mother, Eve, raised her alone after her father announced he didn’t want children…. Well, not with Eve, at any rate. At her grandfather’s suggestion, Maddie decides to reach out to her father, Antonio, earlier than she had intended, and the two begin a secretive email correspondence. Meanwhile, Maddie does what most sixteen -year old girls do- gossip with her friends, fall in love, and test and probe the mysterious depths of her relationship with Eve.

Meanwhile, Eve relates her struggles with Maddie’s illness, as we glimpse the circle of support the two receive from Eve’s parents, her partner, Robin, Maddie’s friends and her boyfriend, Jack. Yet, Maddie’s contact with Antonio will have an impact she never could have anticipated- not necessarily for her, but for Eve.

The story uses the alternate narrative format, giving Maddie and Eve a chance to tell their story from their own unique perspectives. Maddie’s voice is clear, her courage unshakable, as she takes as much control over her life as she is able.

Her cancer diagnosis is at the center of the choices she makes, some of which are questionable, but understandable. The same can be said of Eve, who also makes choices she might not have if circumstances were different. I didn’t agree with Maddie or Eve when it came to their decision making skills sometimes, but while it is so very easy to judge, or to get on one’s preachy little soapbox, one never knows how they might respond if they were living within this set of circumstances.

The story is full of tender, but potent moments, often laced with humor, and is more than a little bittersweet. Life throws us unfair curve balls and as Maddie and Eve discover, the only thing we can do is give it our best effort, grab the moments we have and make the best of them.

This story embodies all the various parts of life and living- family and friends, love, pain, mistakes, grief, and forgiveness. This a beautifully written, thought provoking story that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Overall, this is an impressive debut novel by Karen Raney!






Karen Raney recently gained an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, with a distinction and was awarded the 2017 Pat Kavanagh Prize for All the Water in the World when the novel was still a work in progress. Born in Schenectady, New York, Raney attended Oberlin College, graduated from Duke University, and worked as a nurse before moving to London to study art. She lives in London with her husband and daughter, and teaches at the University of East London.