In the Middle of Hickory Lane by Heather Webber

Description

Emme Wynn has wanted nothing more her whole life than to feel like part of a family. Having grown up on the run with her con artist mother, she’s been shuffled from town to town, drawn into bad situations, and has learned some unsavory habits that she’s tried hard to overcome. When her estranged grandmother tracks her down out of the blue and extends a job offer—helping to run her booth at an open-air marketplace in small-town Sweetgrass, Alabama—Emme is hopeful that she’ll finally be able to plant the roots she’s always dreamed of. But some habits are hard to break, and she risks her newfound happiness by keeping one big truth to herself.

Cora Bee Hazelton has her hands full with volunteering, gardening, her job as a color consultant and designer, and just about anything she can do to keep her mind off her painful past, a past that has resulted in her holding most everyone at arm’s length. The last thing she wants is to form close relationships only to have her heart broken yet again. But when she’s injured, she has no choice other than to let people into her life and soon realizes it’s going to be impossible to keep her heart safe—or her secrets hidden.

In the magical neighborhood garden in the middle of Hickory Lane, Emme and Cora Bee learn some hard truths about the past and themselves, the value of friends, family, and community, and most importantly, that true growth starts from within.

My thoughts

Heather Webber is like my comfort blanket or a warm hug when I want to read a book that is full of love and friendships and caring, and In the Middle of Hickory Lane delivers all this in spades.

Emme is a lost soul. She doesn’t know who she is anymore or what to do with her life next, so when she receives an invitation from her grandmother to come and stay in the small Alabama town of Sweetgrass she sees it as a lifeline. When she arrives her cousin, Cora Bee, is recovering from a broken heart and a broken foot and Emme moves in to be her assistant and a tentative friendship blossoms. For the first time in her life Emme finds herself surrounded by family and friends who truly care about her.

This is a story about found family and friendships and is beautifully told. In all of the author’s books that I have read there is an element of magical realism but it’s done lightly but interestingly. She has a gentle, calm writing style and I can highly recommend this if you want a book that leaves you feeling happy, relaxed and uplifted.

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

The White Hare by Jane Johnson

Description

In a valley steeped in legend lies an abandoned house where Edens may be lost, found and remade…

The White Valley in the far west of Cornwall cuts deeply through bluebell woods down to the sea. The house above the beach has lain neglected since the war. It comes with a reputation, which is why Mila and her mother Magda acquire it so cheaply in the fateful summer of 1954.

Magda plans to restore the house to its former glory: the venue for glittering parties, where the rich and celebrated gathered for bracing walks by day and sumptuous cocktails by night. Mila’s ambitions, meanwhile, are much less grand; she dreams of creating a safe haven for herself, and a happy home for her little girl, Janey.

The White Valley comes with a long, eventful history, laced with tall tales. Locals say that a white hare may be seen running through the woods there; to some she’s an ill omen, to others a blessing. Feeling fragile and broken-hearted, Mila is in need of as many blessings as she can get. But will this place provide the fresh start she so desperately needs?

My thoughts

Mila and her overbearing mother, Magda, move to a neglected old house in a deep valley in Cornwall, along with Mila’s daughter, Janey. They plan to restore it and turn it into an exclusive holiday retreat but soon learn that the locals do not like the house because of its dark history, which they are reluctant to talk about, and many are hostile to the new occupants. This setting is very atmospheric and has a strong Gothic feel to it. The Cornish legend woven through the story is fantastic and I loved the supernatural touches, which were done with a light hand. Most of the characters are very strong and memorable, but the one who I felt had the least personality was the main character, Mila. This is partly explained by her recent back story and also having always felt unloved and overwhelmed by her very strong mother, but at the same time I struggled to see what her attraction was for the main male character. I really enjoyed the story though and Jane Johnson remains one of my favourite authors.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this book. My opinions are my own.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Description

From the best-selling author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, a stunning new novel—his first since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature—about the wondrous, mysterious nature of the human heart.

From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change forever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

In Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly changing modern world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

My thoughts

I loved Never Let You Go by Kazuo Ishiguro but I loved this book even more, and a lot of that is down to the unique and pure voice of Klara.

Klara is an artificial friend (AF) whose sole purpose is to provide positive role-modelling and non-judgemental companionship to children. She is purchased by the mother of a 12 year old girl, Josie, whose health is precarious. The story is told by Klara in an observational manner, and the reader is left to infer things through the context of the events and repeated conversations that Klara reports. Klara may not ‘feel’ emotion, but her intelligence means she can – to a certain extent – ‘understand’ some of what she observes.

This is a quick read but covers some complex ethical and moral dilemmas, none of which I can’t really enlarge on without risking spoilers. It is poignant and thought-provoking and will stay with me.

Ma and Me by Putsata Reang

Description

When Putsata Reang was eleven months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending twenty-three days on an overcrowded navy vessel before finding sanctuary at an American naval base in the Philippines. Holding what appeared to be a lifeless baby in her arms, Ma resisted the captain’s orders to throw her bundle overboard. Instead, on landing, Ma rushed her baby into the arms of American military nurses and doctors, who saved the child’s life. “I had hope, just a little, you were still alive,” Ma would tell Put in an oft-repeated story that became family legend.

Over the years, Put lived to please Ma and make her proud, hustling to repay her life debt by becoming the consummate good Cambodian daughter, working steadfastly by Ma’s side in the berry fields each summer and eventually building a successful career as an award-winning journalist. But Put’s adoration and efforts are no match for Ma’s expectations. When she comes out to Ma in her twenties, it’s just a phase. When she fails to bring home a Khmer boyfriend, it’s because she’s not trying hard enough. When, at the age of forty, Put tells Ma she is finally getting married—to a woman—it breaks their bond in two.

In her startling memoir, Reang explores the long legacy of inherited trauma and the crushing weight of cultural and filial duty. With rare clarity and lyric wisdom, Ma and Me is a stunning, deeply moving memoir about love, debt, and duty.

Quote

‘Failure to thrive’ is what the doctors said, three words flicked like sand into my mother’s ears. Taking shape inside her, docking on her deepest insecurities. If her baby fails to thrive, she will take it to mean only one thing, that she has failed, too. Three words are enough to make a story. A story I will spend my life trying to override.

My thoughts

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this initially as I felt the first few chapters jumped around between different places and people and eras before I’d had a chance to familiarise myself with them, so I kept having to stop and figure out whether I was reading about Ma or Ma’s mother. But once I’d got past those first chapters I couldn’t put this beautiful memoir down.

I knew the bare bones of Cambodian history and nothing about Cambodian Khmer culture. This was all explained so well that I felt immersed in Put’s story and family. The relationship between Put and Ma was one grounded in Ma’s history. Female Khmer children were expected to marry and bring a dowry to her parents, and then be subservient and devoted to her husband and family. Added to this expectation of Put was the fact that her mother had fought so hard to keep her alive and Ma expected unequivocal loyalty in return. Put’s refusal to settle down and marry young, followed by her insistence on being independant and successful in her career was difficult for Ma to understand, let alone accept. Put’s revelation that she was gay drove a further huge wedge in their previously close bond.

Put is honest about her feelings of guilt and failure to be the daughter her mother expected her to be. Ma is a force to be reckoned with and Put’s decision to at last forge her own way in life was extremely brave, knowing that the relationship with Ma might never be healed.

This is a beautiful account of what it means to be Cambodian in America, to be viewed as a foreign Cambodian in Cambodia, and what it means to not follow the traditional paths set out in Khmer culture. I loved the contrast in demeanours in the wedding photos at the back. I stayed up very late to finish this memoir because I couldn’t put it down.

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby

Description

A black father and a white father join forces on a crusade for revenge against the people who murdered their gay sons, by S.A. Crosby, the award-winning author of Blacktop Wasteland.

Ike Randolph has been out of jail for 15 years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.

The last thing he expects to hear is that his son, Isiah, has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Isiah was a gay black man in the American South; Ike couldn’t bring himself to attend his son’s wedding. Isiah was a man Ike never understood. A boy he was never there for the way he should have been.

Derek’s father, Buddy Lee, is also suffering. He’d barely spoken to his son in five years; he was as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.

Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, alpha-males Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices, about each other and their sons, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

Provocative and fast-paced, Razorblade Tears is a story of bloody retribution, heartfelt change – and maybe even redemption.

My thoughts

This is a story that goes from zero to a hundred in just a chapter or two and then doesn’t take the foot off the gas right until it’s finished!

Gritty and unflinchingly deals with issues such as hate, racism, bigotry and grief. There is a lot of violence. Grief driven revenge and atonement is the motivation behind it and I’m not sure what it says about me but I like it when an author isn’t afraid to let his characters loose and get no-holds-barred revenge. I was rooting for these two unlikely vigilantes all the way!

There are some truly raw moments along with absolute poignancy but the relentless action stops the reader from wallowing in it. I loved Ike and especially Buddy Lee. And I loved this book from beginning to satisfying end!

The Frog Hunter: A Story About the Vietnam War, an Inkblot Test and a Girl

by T. B. Stamper

Description

The Frog Hunter: A Story about the Vietnam War, an Inkblot Test and a Girl, is a memoir that reads stranger than fiction.

The author takes his readers on a fascinating, often humorous, and emotionally moving journey from deadly Ranger missions in Vietnam, to betrayal by his superior officers at Fort Ord, to the inside of an Army psychiatric ward.

With a chaotic mind, trying to make sense of the war, Stamper is in a desperate search for truth.

He turns to the hippie culture, attracted by their message of love and enlightenment. Unexpectedly, he meets a beautiful girl; the love of his life. The happiness that life now offers him is threatened by the war that consumes his mind and heart. He wants the girl and he wants a future. But how can he find his way back to normal?

Written in powerful prose, the story reveals how war wounds the soul, but then hope emerges, kindled within the tangled aftermath of trauma and loss.

My thoughts

This is a memoir written in the style of a fiction novel told in the first person point of view (the author’s) and this is very effective. The author tells his story in a very cohesive and easy style and does not shy away from talking about his emotions but doesn’t descend into sappiness. His descriptions are brilliant as I was able to clearly visualise what was happening and where.

It’s a book that will be memorable to me. I’ve always had empathy for the Vietnam veterans because of the lack of recognition and support that they received compared with veterans of other wars. To have survived the war in Vietnam and then to feel alienated and unable to talk about it because it was the war no one wanted to hear about, and wouldn’t understand anyway, must have been hell in itself. I’m glad the author was able to find the right people to help him on his journey to healing.

I highly recommend this book, even if it’s a subject you have no interest in. I think you will become quite invested in the story.

Lost World and Mythological Kingdoms

by Tobias S. Buckell; James L. Cambias; Becky Chambers; Kate Elliott; C.C. Finlay; Jeffrey Ford; Theodora Goss; Darcie Little Badger; Jonathan Maberry; Seanan McGuire; An Owomoyela; Dexter Palmer; Cadwell Turnbull; Genevieve Valentine; Carrie Vaughn; Charles Yu; E. Lily Yu

Description

“Here be dragons . . . and a lot of stories that would make a dragon blink. A fascinating kaleidoscope of people and places and Things That Might Have Been—or Might Be.”
—Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author

From Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to Journey to the Center of the Earth, from the fabled island of Avalon to the lost oasis of Zerzura, from The Land That Time Forgot to the golden city of El Dorado, storytellers have long imagined what exists beyond the edges of the map.

The need to seek and discover the unknown is embedded in who we are, no matter the culture or era. To celebrate this sense of wonder, award-winning editor John Joseph Adams has gathered together some of the best SF&F writers working today, collecting adventure and mystery in this spectacular anthology. With original contributions from Kate Elliott, Tobias S. Buckell, Dexter Palmer, E. Lily Yu, Jonathan Maberry, and a dozen more, there are short stories sure to enthrall every reader.

Explore the rich tradition begun centuries ago with this all-new compilation full of imagination and delights. What lies beyond the edge of the unknown? Only you, brave reader, can find out.

The line-up includes new stories by:

Tobias S. Buckell
James L. Cambias
Becky Chambers
Kate Elliott
C.C. Finlay
Jeffrey Ford
Theodora Goss
Darcie Little Badger
Jonathan Maberry
Seanan McGuire
An Owomoyela
Dexter Palmer
Cadwell Turnbull
Genevieve Valentine
Carrie Vaughn
Charles Yu
E. Lily Yu

My thoughts

I have enjoyed dipping in and out of this book over the past week. There are stories from some authors who were familiar to me and several who were not. Each story brought something new to the table and were very different from each other. A couple were unfathomable to me and felt as though they were excerpts lifted from a larger story because they seemed to not have a clear beginning or end. Most I really enjoyed and found them thought provoking, and some I wanted to continue on with the story.

The title is a slightly misleading one as it would indicate (to me, at any rate) stories about kingdoms half-known, perhaps in legend or folklore, but they are actually about new worlds and discoveries and realities.

A very enjoyable read.

Longing and Be-Longing

Poems, Prayers, & Reflections

by Paulette Rochelle-Levy

Description

An adventurous psychotherapist, Paulette Rochelle-Levy invites the reader to “Take off your shoes, take off your shoes and dare to cross into the not too deep, not too cold rushing water of the springtime river. A whole wilderness is coming out to meet you.”

Through poems prayers and reflections Paulette takes you on a journey. Longing, Saying Goodbye, On Time, Healing, Being in Love and Be-Longing are some of the chapters that invite you to muse on your own aliveness and the soul’s longing to return.

 There is whimsey and humor sprinkled throughout the poetry.

 The reflections form a memoir of longing and heartache through a transformation into joy and peace into a sense of belonging to greater consciousness. A celebration of Dance as Prayer and prayer-poems in the Jewish tradition gives the reader tools to enhance the experience of wonder and awe.

Throughout the prose, poetry and prayers are the mystic’s universal expression:

 Holding the cup of joy and sorrow together in gratitude there is a continual return to the Oneness that connects us all.

My thoughts

I would like to have read this in paper form as the uncorrected kindle proof I had messed with the formatting somewhat so there were places where I had to mentally rearrange the words to figure out whether that bit was prose or poetry. I’m sure this will be sorted in the final drafts. On the whole I enjoyed reading this. As with any book of poetry there were some poems that resonated strongly and others that didn’t at all.

Other reviewers refer to this being a book of Jewish poetry, but as someone who doesn’t define my faith according to any one religion I personally think it can be non-denominational. My favourite parts were these excerpts from the chapter “On Time”:


What if I could pause
from rushing through Time
And cease viewing
Time as an avaricious competitor
Mocking my every attempt
To do it all, to get it all done
All at once

and

What if time is not an adversary
But rather a generous gift
A lavish offering
That asks only
That I say,
“Thanks
I’ll use it well.”





Only For My Daughter by Emma Robinson

Description

It is a day that starts like any other day. But when Samantha is called by the hospital to say her fifteen-year-old daughter Keira has been hurt and is in a coma, and Julia’s daughter Grace comes home covered in blood, refusing to speak, two mothers’ lives come crashing down.

More than ten years ago – when their daughters first started at pre-school and formed an instant bond – sweet-natured single mum Julia and PTA queen bee Samantha had become unlikely friends.

For years, the two families’ lives were intertwined. Barbecues, dinner parties, sleepovers for the children. But then the girls drifted apart, with Keira falling in with the popular crowd, and Grace becoming quieter, more introverted, pursuing her dream of being an artist; and their mothers’ lives drifted apart too.

But now their lives have collided again. And Grace won’t tell Julia anything about what happened. But as Samantha’s daughter fights for her life– Julia is forced to ask herself: what is her own child hiding?

She can’t believe her gentle-natured girl could have done something terrible. But Grace is keeping a secret. And if it’s what Julia fears it might be, she could lose her daughter forever. Could she lie to protect the child she loves with her whole heart?

My thoughts

It’s no secret that Emma Robinson is one of my favourite authors. I know when I pick up one of her books that I am going to have my heartstrings tugged and her latest book is no exception. The thing is that when there is a dilemma between two characters, Emma has a way of making sure that we, the readers, are caught up in that dilemma with the characters and it feels impossible to choose a side. In this book it is Samantha and Julia who are on opposite sides. Samantha’s daughter is fighting for her life having been seriously injured and Julia’s daughter seems to be involved – but to what extent and why?

I went back and forth between the two mothers, feeling Samantha’s panic and fear as she sat next to her unconscious daughter, not knowing if she would wake up. And feeling Julia’s growing panic and fear as she fought an inner battle between her sense of what needed to be done and her instinct to protect her emotionally fragile daughter. Even when Julia made some poor decisions I could feel the desperation behind her choices.

I really liked the family dynamics – Samantha’s close family unit, and divorced single mum Julia but with a supportive ex husband. The characters and the way they relate to each other all feels natural and unforced. And I really loved the strong themes of friendship and how it can change.

I had one quibble which I strongly doubt anyone outside the medical profession would pick up on so I won’t elaborate on that and risk spoilers, and it didn’t affect or detract from the story itself anyway. The book does have some sensitive subjects but they are dealt with compassion and empathy.

Another winner that makes me wonder what I would do if I was a Samantha or Julia🤔

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Description

The Kaiju Preservation Society is John Scalzi’s first standalone adventure since the conclusion of his New York Times bestselling Interdependency trilogy.

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.

What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm, human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.

It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society who have found their way to the alternate world. Others have, too. And their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.

My thoughts

I like books about kaiju so I was chuffed to be approved for an ARC via NetGalley. Describing kaiju as giant pandas in the blurb caused a few misgivings until I encountered the first kaiju in the book and realised they were not being passed off as panda-looking. I’m still baffled by the description in the blurb.

I really enjoyed this book. It had plenty of action without resorting to the somewhat stereotypical trope of kaijus on the rampage. There were shades of Jurassic Park in the story at times, which isn’t a bad thing in my view since I love the Jurassic Park books. This story deals more with the ethics around keeping the endangered kaiju from becoming extinct and/or going out with a bang due to their built in nuclear reactor systems. I enjoyed the science and liked the scientists and the setting. All in all this was a very fun read with the potential for it to be developed into a series.