Book Reviews

#Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel @aengelwrites @CrownPublishing

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“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

The Roanoke Girls

I’ve put off writing my review for well over a month because I truly didn’t know how to approach reviewing this book. So I’m just going to let my thoughts flow and see what happens.

When Lane Roanoke was fifteen, her mother committed suicide, and she was sent to live in her grandparents Kansas home. Lane knew nothing about them, because her mother left home before she was born, never went back, and refused to talk about her parents. She arrives at the crazily constructed home where she meets her cousin Allegra, who also lives there. She’s happy there that summer, until she discovers a dark family secret… and runs, vowing never to return. When she gets word years later that Allegra is missing, she returns, finding both happiness and heartbreak.

There’s very little I can say without spoiling the story, but what I can say is The Roanoke Girls is a deeply disturbing novel with a family secret that is dark and shockingly twisted. This is definitely not a book everyone will feel comfortable reading, but despite that,  it’s a compelling read that’s difficult to put down. Engel’s writing is excellent throughout and her choice of breaking up the narrative into THEN (teenaged Lane’s perspective) and NOW (present day Lane’s perspective) segments, interspersed with chapters that look back on the earlier Roanoke girls, sustained the air of mystery throughout the story.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. The only thing I’m sure of is this is a story I’m unlikely to ever forget.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Crown Publishing.

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Author: Amy Engel

Title: The Roanoke Girls

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Published: March 7th, 2017 by Crown Publishing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

Vowing to discover the fate of her missing cousin, a woman returns to her family’s Kansas estate where she spent one haunting summer as a teen, and where she discovered the dark heart of the Roanoke clan that left her no choice but to run.

Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her maternal grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, at the Roanoke family estate in rural Osage Flats, Kansas, following the suicide of her mother. Lane knows little of her mother’s family, other than the fact that her mother ran away years before and cut off all contact with her parents. Allegra, abandoned by her own mother at birth and raised by her grandparents, introduces Lane to small-town life and the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But there is darkness at the heart of the Roanoke family, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull she has no choice but to run, as far and as fast as she can.

Eleven years later, Lane is scraping by in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls with the news that Allegra has gone missing. “Come home,” he beckons. Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to Osage Flats, determined to find her cousin and assuage her own guilt at having left Allegra behind all those years ago. Her return might mean a second chance with Cooper, the boyfriend whom she loved and destroyed that fateful summer. But it also means facing the terrible secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between the summer of Lane’s first arrival and the summer of her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

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About the Author

Author Amy Engel
Author Amy Engel

Amy Engel is the author of THE BOOK OF IVY young adult series. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. THE ROANOKE GIRLS (March 7, 2017), is her first novel for adults.

Book Reviews

#Review: Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz @gracewuertz @randomhouse

Everything Belongs to Us cover

At the start of the year, I mentioned that one of my blogging goals was to read more diverse books. Set in South Korea in 1978, Everything Belongs to Us is the first diverse book I’ve read this year.

I went into this book knowing very little about South Korea’s history and culture, so I had no preconceived ideas about the location or how the characters might be portrayed in the story. I think this made the book more interesting to me, because I wasn’t just reading a story; I was learning about a place I knew practically nothing about.

The story centers mainly around Jisun, Namin, and Sunam, three Seoul National University students who come from vastly different backgrounds.

  • Jisun is the rebellious daughter of a wealthy and powerful man. Rejecting the wealth she was born into,  Jisun is a political activist who regularly takes part in protests. She’s often frustrated in her efforts, however, because of who she is.
  • Namin—Jisun’s childhood friend— is the smart, ambitious daughter of poor parents who make their meager earnings by operating a food cart. She dreams of becoming a doctor to help her disabled younger brother, and lift her family out of poverty… but her older sister Kyungmin  makes that goal difficult in more ways than one.
  • Sunam is the son of middle class parents. He desperately wants to become part of an elite group known as the Circle, via his connection to Juno—Jisun’s older brother. When he’s invited to attend a Circle gathering for prospective members, he meets Namin (who is also yearning for acceptance into the group) and Jisun… setting into motion a chain of events that will affect all of their lives.

Of the three, the story of Namin and her family was the most captivating for me. I’ve always been fond of characters who must overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in order to achieve their dreams, and Namin certainly had a tough row to hoe in that regard. Kyungmin resents that she must work long hours, and deal with unenviable household tasks while Namin is expected only to study. Kyungmin resentment of her life of toil reaches the boiling point, and she makes choices that have a devastating affect on Namin’s dreams.

There were times my attention would wander a bit as I was reading. Sunam’s story, in particular, evoked that reaction from me. He was easily the least interesting character of them all, in my opinion. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I read it. Solid three star rating for this one.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Random House.

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Author: Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Title: Everything Belongs to Us

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Published: February 28th 2017 by Random House

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

Two young women of vastly different means each struggle to find her own way during the darkest hours of South Korea s economic miracle in a striking debut novel for readers of Anthony Marra and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

Seoul, 1978. At South Korea s top university, the nation s best and brightest compete to join the professional elite of an authoritarian regime. Success could lead to a life of rarefied privilege and wealth; failure means being left irrevocably behind.

For childhood friends Jisun and Namin, the stakes couldn t be more different. Jisun, the daughter of a powerful business mogul, grew up on a mountainside estate with lush gardens and a dedicated chauffeur. Namin s parents run a tented food cart from dawn to curfew; her sister works in a shoe factory. Now Jisun wants as little to do with her father s world as possible, abandoning her schoolwork in favor of the underground activist movement, while Namin studies tirelessly in the service of one goal: to launch herself and her family out of poverty.

But everything changes when Jisun and Namin meet an ambitious, charming student named Sunam, whose need to please his family has led him to a prestigious club: the Circle. Under the influence of his mentor, Juno, a manipulative social climber, Sunam becomes entangled with both women, as they all make choices that will change their lives forever.

In this sweeping yet intimate debut, Yoojin Grace Wuertz details four intertwining lives that are rife with turmoil and desire, private anxieties and public betrayals, dashed hopes and broken dreams while a nation moves toward prosperity at any cost.

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About the Author

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Author Yoojin Grace Wuertz (Photo credit: Nina Subin)

Yoojin Grace Wuertz was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son.

Author photo and bio viaof author’s website.

Book Reviews

#Review: The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron @annaklebaron @TyndaleHouse

The Polygamist's Daughter cover

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Tynedale House.

I’m not quite sure how my fascination with polygamy began. It may have been a news report that sparked my curiosity, or perhaps it was an article in a magazine, or an interview on a talk show. However it started, I’m usually unable to pass up the chance to read the memoir of someone who chose to share their personal experiences of such a life.

The Polygamist’s Daughter is the memoir of Anna LeBaron, daughter of the notorious Ervil LeBaron. Ervil was the self-proclaimed “prophet” of the Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God. As leader of this polygamous Mormon fundamentalist group, LeBaron ordered the murders of 25+ people, citing the doctrine of blood atonement as justification for killing rival leaders, members of his family, and followers. It began with the murder of brother Joel LeBaron in 1972, and finally ended seven years after his death with the “4 O’Clock Murders” in 1988—carried out by seven members of his family, who killed their targets at exactly 4pm.

Anna’s childhood was spent being moved from one location to another, often in the dead of night, in an effort to prevent the authorities from tracking down her father. Often separated from her mother and siblings, her childhood years were marked with uncertainty and fear, living in poverty and having very little contact with her father. When she was 13, Anna made the decision to leave the cult, and it changed her life forever—but it was not without long-term consequences.

LeBaron’s writing style is engaging, drawing you in without over-dramatizing even the most shocking events of her life. She tells her story in a straightforward manner that reflects not only the wisdom she’s gained over the years, but also the strength that came out of enduring hardship and devastation… culminating in a spiritual peace that was lacking when she was a child.

Definitely worth reading if this is a subject you’re curious about.

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Author: Anna LeBaron

Title: The Polygamist’s Daughter

Genre: Memoir

Published: March 21st, 2017 by Tyndale House

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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“My father had more than fifty children.”

So begins the haunting memoir of Anna LeBaron, daughter of the notorious polygamist and murderer Ervil LeBaron. With her father wanted by the FBI for killing anyone who tried to leave his cult—a radical branch of Mormonism—Anna and her siblings were constantly on the run with the other sister-wives. Often starving and always desperate, the children lived in terror. Even though there were dozens of them together, Anna always felt alone.

She escaped when she was thirteen . . . but the nightmare was far from over.

A shocking true story of murder, fear, and betrayal, The Polygamist’s Daughter is also the heart-cry of a fatherless girl and her search for love, faith, and a safe place to call home.

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About the Author

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Author Anne LeBaron

One of more than fifty children of infamous, polygamist cult leader, Ervil LeBaron, Anna LeBaron endured abandonment, horrific living conditions, child labor, and sexual grooming. At age thirteen, she escaped the violent cult, gave her life to Christ, and sought healing. A gifted communicator and personal growth activist, she’s passionate about helping others walk in freedom. Anna lives in the DFW Metroplex and loves being Mom to her five grown children.

Author photo and bio via Goodreads.

Book Reviews

Review: Abby’s Journey by Steena Holmes @steenaholmes @AmazonPub

Abby's Journey cover

Twenty-year-old Abigail Turner has only known her mother, Claire—who died shortly after she was born—through letters, videos, postcards, and journals. Abby’s father, Josh, has raised his precious daughter himself, but his over-protectiveness has become stifling. Abby longs to forge out on her own and see the world after a childhood trapped indoors: she suffers from bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which means a case of the sniffles can rapidly escalate into life-threatening pneumonia.

But when Abby’s doctor declares her healthy—for now—her grandmother Millie whisks her away to Europe to visit the Christmas markets that her mother cherished and chronicled in her travel journals. Despite her father’s objections, Abby and Millie embark on a journey of discovery in which Abby will learn secrets that force her to reevaluate her image of her mother and come to a more mature understanding of a parent-child bond that transcends death.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes offers a tender and heartfelt exploration of parental love and a daughter’s longing for connection in the poignant next chapter following Saving Abby.

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Author: Steena Holmes

Title: Abby’s Journey (Sequel to Saving Abby)

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: February 14th, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing.

When I’m reading a good novel, I become attached to the characters. I’m always sad to reach the end because I always want to know what happened next. When I read Saving Abby last year, I wasn’t ready to let go of the Turner family. I wanted—no, I needed—to know how Josh managed to go on without Claire at his side… how he coped with raising their daughter alone… and wondering if he would ever be able to find love again. I wanted to know what came next in Josh’s life.

Those questions do get answered in Abby’s Journey, but this sequel isn’t focused on what came next for Josh. The spotlight falls on Abby this time around, concentrating on her European vacation with grandmother Millie, visiting Christmas markets.

I enjoyed reading about Abby, but… taking a winter vacation despite her medical condition? I had trouble accepting that Millie would be willing to risk it, after losing Claire.

Abby’s Journey wasn’t quite the sequel I’d hoped to read, but it was nice to be able to read about these characters again, and find out what came next in their lives. While I didn’t love the winter setting, I did understand why visiting the Christmas markets was so important to Abby, and why she longed to do other “normal” winter activities.

The way the book ends made me smile… I can’t say why in this review, but it was something I dreaded seeing the resolution of, but I need not have worried. That particular issue resolved itself in the most wonderful way, and is probably my favorite part of the book.

About the Author

Author Steena Holmes
Author Steena Holmes

Steena Holmes is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the novels Saving Abby, The Word Game, Stillwater RisingThe Memory Child, Emma’s Secret, and Finding Emma, among others. She won the National Indie Excellence Award in 2012 for Finding Emma as well as the USA Book News Award for The Word Game. Steena lives in Calgary, Alberta, and continues to write stories that touch every parent’s heart. To find out more about her books and her love of traveling, you can visit her website or follow her journeys on Instagram.

Author photo via Goodreads. Author bio via publisher.

Book Reviews

Review: Separate Lives by Kathryn Flett

Separate Lives by Kathryn Flett

Your partner of ten years, and the father of your children (though not your husband, because the two of you agreed that marriage seems so…old-fashioned), receives a text message. A text message you happen to see when you’re getting ready for work one day:

Start living a different kind of life… P 🙂 xxx

You don’t even know anyone with the initial P, but even if you did, the smiley face and kisses would send a shiver of fear down your spine that everything you and your partner have built and which seemed so strong, might be in danger of collapse. How could you miss that?

Narrated by Susie, her partner Alex, and the mysterious P, this is an achingly funny, moving and honest portrayal of modern romance, parenthood, and adultery.

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Author: Kathryn Flett

Title: Separate Lives

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: December 6th, 2016 by Quercus

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Quercus.

One text message. That’s all it took to set in motion a chain of events that changed the lives of three people directly, which in turn rippled out to affect the lives of those closest to them. Doubt, mistrust, and misunderstandings take hold and choices are made that changes everything, for all of them… and it’s all due to that brief text.

What happened before the text was sent, and its aftermath, is gradually revealed in alternating chapters narrated by Susie, Alex, and “P”. It doesn’t take long to realize that there is a great deal more going on with each of them than you think at first glance. There are several surprising twists throughout the story. Two of them, in particular, shocked me—one more than the other—because I never saw them coming. The final reveal explained a lot of things.

The thing I liked most about this book is real it felt. Life is messy, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine such a thing actually happening to someone. Anyone who has been in a relationship for many years knows how unpredictable life as a couple can be sometimes, often in ways that seem crazy when you look back on it.  Separate Lives illustrates that unpredictability in ways that are sometimes funny, often poignant, and never boring. Fans of women’s fiction would likely find this a very enjoyable read.