Book Reviews

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer #Review @melodiewinawer @TouchstoneBooks

The Scribe of Sienna cover

Back in November, I received an email from Simon & Schuster offering a free ebook if I was willing to take part in a study to help them learn more about how readers engaged with their books. All I had to do was create a Jellybooks account, pick my freebie, and start reading. At the end of every chapter, I would click on a button that said ‘sync reading stream’… easy-peasy.  Of the five book choices, I had already read one of them, and had my request on Netgalley declined for another. Thinking I would choose the latter, I signed up. I had to read the blurbs for the other books—no self-respecting bibliophile would skip doing that, right?—and my mind was changed as soon as I read the blurb for The Scribe of Siena.

I’ll own up to the fact that it was the Outlander mention/comparison that made my choice an easy one. (If you know me, you know I am totally obsessed with love the story of Outlander, so you aren’t surprised in the least.) I think I would have chosen this book regardless, because the plot greatly appealed to me. I went into reading it a bit warily, though, because the last book I read that compared itself to Outlander—despite being a very good book—felt like false advertising, in that regard. After giving it some serious thought, I’ve come to decide that the The Scribe of Siena is worthy of the comparison. The stories, settings, and plots aren’t mirror images, of course. It is exactly like Outlander, however, in that it can’t be boxed into one single genre, but to a group of genres—specifically time travel, historical fiction, suspense, and romance. They are close enough in the ways that count to make it an acceptable comparison to me.

When books have historical settings, it’s important that everything fits the time and place;  dress, language, societal hierarchies… all of it has to be right, to feel right. Lovers of historical fiction are sophisticated enough to hone in on little details that don’t belong, and it can’t ruin the entire book for them when it happens. Thankfully, that didn’t happen with this book. Winawer clearly did the necessary historical research to bring this fourteenth-century medieval Italian setting to life, and it paid off beautifully in vivid characters, settings, and dialogue.

The conspiracy at the heart of the story was gripping, and my breath caught more than once as the conspirators set about committing their dastardly deeds. I enjoyed how it tied in to the research Beatrice’s brother did prior to his death, and why a particular person in the present day was so motivated to get his hands on that research.

As much as I loved the historical portions of the story, the present day story was equally enjoyable to read.  Most of the action understandably takes place in 14th century Siena, but Beatrice’s life in modern-day Siena had memorable moments, as well.

The love story between Beatrice and Gabriele was sweet. As is typical concerning lovers from different centuries, Beatrice ultimately has to decide whether to stay in his time, or go back to hers. The catalyst for this decision wasn’t something I’d foreseen, and that was a welcome surprise.

I absolutely adored this book, and I highly recommend it. I think fans of the Outlander series would really enjoy it, as well as readers who enjoy a good time travel story lush with historical detail, a healthy dose of romance, and a good batch of suspense added to the mix. The Scribe of Siena is a brilliant debut, and I’m fervently hoping to see more novels from this author in the future!

I received an advance reader copy of this book courtesy of Touchstone and Jellybooks.

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Author: Melodie Winawer

Title: The Scribe of Sienna

Genre: Historical Fiction, Time Travel, Romance

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 by Touchstone

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

Equal parts transporting love story and gripping historical conspiracy—think The Girl with a Pearl Earring meets Outlander—debut author Melodie Winawer takes readers deep into medieval Italy, where the past and present blur and a twenty-first century woman will discover a plot to destroy Siena.

Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.

After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.

Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.

The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.

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About the Author

Melodie Winawer
Melodie Winawer (Photo © Dana Maxon)

Melodie Winawer is a physician-scientist and Associate Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. A graduate of Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University with degrees in biological psychology, medicine, and epidemiology, she has published forty-seven nonfiction articles and book chapters. She is fluent in Spanish and French, literate in Latin, and has a passable knowledge of Italian. Dr. Winawer lives with her spouse and their three young children in Brooklyn, New York. The Scribe of Siena is her first novel.

Author photo and bio via Simon & Schuster.

Book Reviews

#Review: The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse @MrsAmandaProwse

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Lucy Carpenter and her husband, Jonah, are happily married and planning to have a baby. When she becomes pregnant, Lucy spends her evenings knitting baby clothes. She has a pregnancy book she reads to discover how her baby is developing week by week, and imagines how happy their lives will be once their baby is born.  Her heart is broken when she has an miscarriage, but they are determined to try again. Sorrow strikes a second time when she has another miscarriage. As Lucy struggles to deal with the pain of her losses, she must also adjust to the arrival of her teenaged step-daughter, Camille. Lucy hopes to build a relationship with her, but instead finds herself feeling like an outsider in her home. Envious of the relationship Jonah has with his daughter and fearful that she will never be able to have the baby she desperately longs for, Lucy begins to resent Camille’s presence. The rocky relationship she has with Camille causes a rift to form between Lucy and Jonah, and Lucy is less than thrilled when Camille announces she’s staying. A shocking turn of events brings about a situation that will either bring them together, finally, as a family… or tear them apart.

The Idea of You is a beautifully written novel you won’t soon be able to forget. Intensely emotional and painfully realistic, this is a book guaranteed to wring every ounce of empathy from you, and then some. Lucy’s dream of motherhood are especially poignant when she writes of what she imagines it would be like to have a child… dreaming of the possibilities, of the things she would do with her child at different ages. You’ll definitely want to have a box (or two) of tissues handy when you read this book, because I don’t think it’s possible to read this one all the way through with dry eyes!

Simply put, this is a book worth reading.

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

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Author: Amanda Prowse

Title: The Idea of You

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: March 21st, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…

This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

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About the Author

Author Amanda Prowse
Author Amanda Prowse

Amanda Prowse was a management consultant for ten years before realising that she was born to write. Amanda lives in the West Country with her husband and their two teenage sons.

Author photo and bio via Goodreads.

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Book Reviews

#Review: No Apparent Distress by Rachel Pearson, MD @HumanitiesMD @wwnorton

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If you are deeply concerned about the plight of the poor in America—and, in particular, the roadblocks they face in getting even the smallest health care need met—then this is going to be an extremely difficult book for you to read.

As I write this review,the date is currently January 23, 2017. Three days ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. The House of Representatives and the Senate is in Republican control and it’s just a matter of time before a new Supreme Court Justice is appointed—who will most certainly be a Conservative—which means all three branches of the Federal government will be under Republican control. By the time this review is published in late April, it is very likely that under this Republican majority, the Affordable Care Act will have been repealed, which will be particularly devastating to the most vulnerable in our society who gained coverage through the medicaid expansion (if they were fortunate enough to live in a state that expanded medicaid).

Which makes this a most timely read, indeed.

No Apparent Distress recounts the author’s days as a medical student in Galveston, Texas, detailing some of her experiences working in St. Vincent’s Student-Run Free Clinic. Staffed by volunteer students and physicians from University of Texas Medical Branch, St. Vincent’s offered health services for the uninsured poor. Financial limitations restricted the care patients received, sometimes with deadly results.

Pearson doesn’t shy away from admitting her own mistakes and shortcomings as a medical student; she shares those stories with regret and the 20/20 hindsight that wisdom brings. Nor does she hide her frustration about the disparity of care available to the insured vs. the uninsured, given examples of the inequalities she noticed while working/learning at the office of another doctor whose patients were insured and had considerable financial means, as well.

The Haves… and the Have-Nots.

If ever there was a book that inspired compassion for those less fortunate, it’s this one. If you’re seeking understanding about what it’s like to be poor and uninsured in America, I urge you to read this book. It’s definitely an eye-opener.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and W. W. Norton & Company.

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Author: Rachel Pearson, MD

Title: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Publication Date: May 9th, 2017 by W. W. Norton & Company

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

W. W. Norton & Company | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

In medical charts, the term “N.A.D.” (No Apparent Distress) is used for patients who appear stable. The phrase also aptly describes America’s medical system when it comes to treating the underprivileged. Medical students learn on the bodies of the poor—and the poor suffer from their mistakes.

Rachel Pearson confronted these harsh realities when she started medical school in Galveston, Texas. Pearson, herself from a working-class background, remains haunted by the suicide of a close friend, experiences firsthand the heartbreak of her own errors in a patient’s care, and witnesses the ruinous effects of a hurricane on a Texas town’s medical system. In a free clinic where the motto is “All Are Welcome Here,” she learns how to practice medicine with love and tenacity amidst the raging injustices of a system that favors the rich and the white. No Apparent Distress is at once an indictment of American health care and a deeply moving tale of one doctor’s coming-of-age.

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About the Author

Author Rachel Pearson
Author Rachel Pearson (Photo © Danielle Barnum)

Rachel Pearson, MD PhD, is a resident physician who also holds a PhD from the Institute for the Medical Humanities. Her writing has appeared in Scientific American, the Guardian, and the Texas Observer. She is a fifth-generation Texan, currently training as a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Author photo and bio via publisher’s website.

 

Book Reviews

Review: Phantom Limb by Lucinda Berry

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I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Emily and Elizabeth Rooth have deep psychological scars due the horrific abuse they suffered as very young children. What could have been a tragedy becomes a rescue, allowing the girls to escape their hellish existence in their mother’s home and be adopted by a loving couple. Some wounds never fully heal, however, and the girls are unable to let themselves trust their new parents—or anyone else—with their secrets and fears, depending only on each other and dealing with their emotional pain as best they can. At 18, Elizabeth is a college student sharing an apartment with a severely depressed, self-harming Emily, and spending most of her free time alone with her sister and keeping her in the dark about her boyfriend. When the truth is revealed, it kicks off a chain of events leading to Emily’s death and Elizabeth’s stay in a psychiatric hospital. In order to heal, she has to face the unbearable truths of her repressed memories, and learn how to finally let Emily go… if she can.

We’ve all read books at one time or another that don’t  live up to the hype, but this book is most definitely NOT one of them. Phantom Limb is absolutely phenomenal, and I highly recommend it to fans of psychological thrillers.  Finely crafted characters and an intricately woven plot culminated in an ending so unexpected, it took my breath away. This book was a pleasure to read, and earned Lucinda Berry a spot on my Author Radar.

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Author: Lucinda Berry

Title: Phantom Limb

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Published: January 17th, 2017 by Rise Press

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Emily and Elizabeth spend their childhood locked in a bedroom and terrorized by a mother who drinks too much and disappears for days. The identical twins are rescued by a family determined to be their saviors.

But there’s some horrors love can’t erase…

Elizabeth wakes in a hospital, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak. The last thing she remembers is finding Emily’s body in their bathroom. Days before, she was falling in love and starting college. Now, she’s surrounded by men who talk to themselves and women who pull out their eyebrows.

As she delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Emily’s death, she discovers shocking secrets and holes in her memory that force her to remember what she’s worked so hard to forget-the beatings, the blood, the special friends. Her life spins out of control at a terrifying speed as she desperately tries to unravel the psychological puzzle of her past before it’s too late.

Phantom Limb is a character-driven mystery that begs to be read in a single setting. The shocking and shattering conclusion will make you go back and read it again.

Perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train, Behind Closed Doors, and The Girl With No Past.

“Dark suspense at its finest”…Thriller Beats 

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About the Author

lucinda-berry
Lucinda Berry

Dr. Lucinda Berry’s background is as unique as her stories. She has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, specializing in trauma and children. She is the Assistant Director of Evidence-based Practice at UCLA’s National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. She uses her clinical experience to create compelling tales that blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. If you want to be notified of upcoming new releases, please visit: https://about.me/Lucindaberry

Author photo and Bio via Goodreads.

Book Reviews

Review: The Gift by Louise Jensen

The Gift by Louise Jensen

The perfect daughter. The perfect girlfriend. The perfect murder?

Jenna is seriously ill. She’s lost all hope of getting the heart transplant she needs to live. But just as her life is ebbing away, she receives a donor heart from a girl called Callie.

Who was Callie and how did she die? Jenna is determined to find out.

The closer Jenna gets to those who loved Callie, the more questions arise about her untimely death. Someone knows what happened to Callie. Why won’t they talk?

Jenna is about to uncover the truth, but it could cost her everything; her loved ones, her sanity, even her life.

A compelling, gripping psychological thriller with a killer twist from the author of the Number One bestseller The Sister.

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Author: Louise Jensen

Title: The Gift

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Published: December 16th, 2016 by Bookouture

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Have you ever read a book that so incredibly good, you wanted to tell everyone you meet that they MUST read it? Well, allow me to introduce you to The Gift, because this is an experience you don’t want to miss! Gripping, riveting, spellbinding, engrossing—whip out your thesaurus and pick any synonym you like—this fascinating psychological thriller will have you staying up way past your bedtime. But don’t worry… it’s well worth the book hangover.

Jenna is nearing six months of recovery from a heart transplant. She’s been having dreams and flashbacks of memories that are not her own, not to mention behaving in ways that are not like herself. In her quest to understand, she researches cellular memory—the theory that the cells in your body can store memories which can then be transferred to another person after receiving an organ transplant—and becomes convinced this is the cause of it all.

Breaking the rules and going against the advice of everyone she knows, she contacts the family of the young woman whose heart now beats in her chest. The more she learns about Callie, and what happened the night of the accident that took her life, the more convinced she is that there is more to it than anyone knows. Determined to find out what really happened, she insinuates herself into the lives of the people who knew Callie best, and uncovers unsettling information that makes her believe Callie’s “accident” was, in fact, murder.

Risking her fragile health and, indeed, her own life, Jenna is willing to do whatever it takes to learn what really happened to Callie that night. But when the answer comes, it’s far more insidious (and heartbreaking) than Jenna could ever have imagined.

Jensen’s writing throughout is superb. The attention to detail regarding Jenna’s recovery, and the sensitivity in showing the emotions of Callie’s family was excellent. The ominous sense of eminent danger had me on the edge of my seat from page one. Simply put, it’s everything you could hope for in a psychological thriller, and then some.

About the Author

Louise Jensen
Louise Jensen

Louise Jensen always wanted to be Enid Blyton when she grew up, and when that didn’t happen she got a ‘proper’ job instead.

Several years ago an accident left Louise with a disability and she began writing once again, to distract her from her pain and compromised mobility. But writing turned out to be more than just a good distraction. Louise loves creating exciting worlds, dark characters, and twisted plots.

Louise lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, sons, a madcap spaniel and a rather naughty cat, and also teaches mindfulness.

Author photo and bio via Bookouture.