A Spark of Light

⇒A hostage negotiation gets extremely personal when a dad has to save his daughter from a madman bent on revenge.⇐

Author: Jodi Picoult

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

(3.68 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 2, 2018by Random House (Random House Audio)

Pages: 384 (Hardcover) ; Audio Discs (14:30)


Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.

I cannot tell a lie. I am attracted by what is bright and shiny and new – especially when it comes to books! Social media and advertising does such a good job of putting new releases and pretty covers in front of us. And they are soooo enticing!

I have told myself countless times to stop being swayed by books that ride happily along on the social media popularity wave, but somehow I keep letting myself get dragged along on the bandwagon of new-release hype. A Spark of Light is one of those books that pulled me in when I should have just let it pass me by.

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s the abbreviated synopsis: The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center – a women’s reproductive health services clinic… Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire…. Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Violence, from one angle, looked like mercy from another.

What pulled me in to this latest Picoult novel? Hostages! A great hostage story is usually a sure bet. Usually. Unfortunately for Spark, the tension that should naturally build and escalate during a hostage situation didn’t get that same opportunity because of the unique narrative setup of this book.

What do I mean by that? Remember Memento – the movie told in reverse? This was Picoult’s version. I say that and then I instantly feel disloyal to Memento because I really like that movie, but this book… not so much.

We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.

Ok, here is my bad-rating disclaimer for this book: Abortion is an important topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you should have the right to your own opinion. My dislike of this book is in no way directly related to my opinions about abortion.

More accurately, I wasn’t happy with the development of the story, it’s lack of true action, and the lackluster ending (beginning?) and epilogue. The feeling was more akin to sitting through a lengthy pro-life vs. pro-choice college debate with some sad backstories mixed in.

Die hard Picoult fans will rate this book highly, talk about how much they love her and all her work, and say how well she represented both sides of the argument. A Spark of Light will fare well despite my poor rating here. However, I will definitely be more wary of bandwagon book picks from now on.

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the author of 24 novels. She lives in New Hampshire.


Restoration Heights

⇒He was the last person to see her alive and he has to find out what happened to her, but why doesn’t anyone else seem to care? ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Hanover Squre Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Wil Medearis

(3.44 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Published January 22, 2019, by Harlequin Enterprises / Hanover Square Press

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)


Because Restoration Heights had a bottomless appetite… [it] craved, finally, a murder, if not hers then yours, anyone, a body to consecrate the ground.

I have visited New York as a tourist: wide-eyed, with a camera, trying to see everything, eat everything, and learn everything that a born-and-raised southerner should know about the Big Apple (including that it’s really lame to still call it the Big Apple). Although I left NY generally unimpressed and wondering what all the hype is about – we have great Italian restaurants in Atlanta too! – I do respect the energy of that city and of the people determined to survive there.

Main character, Reddick’s, mysterious run-in with a female stranger and how distinctly that one night changes his life and perception is one of those “New York minutes” that will drag you – willingly – into the depths of a city and lifestyle the travel agent wouldn’t dare include on the brochure.

Here’s the blurb (courtesy of Goodreads): Reddick, a young, white artist, lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically black Broooklyn neighborhood besieged by gentrification. He makes rent as an art handler hanging expensive works for Manhattan’s one percent, and spends his free time playing basketball at the local Y rather than putting energy into his stagnating career. He is also the last person to see Hannah before she disappears. When Hannah’s fiance, scion to an old-money Upper East Side family, refuses to call the police, Reddick sets out to learn for himself what happened to her. The search gives him a sense of purpose pulling him through a dramatic cross section of the city he never knew existed. The truth of Hannah’s fate is buried at the heart of a many-layered mystery that, in its unraveling, shakes Reddick’s convictions and lays bare the complicated machinations of money and power that connect the magisterial town houses of the Upper Eat Side to the unassuming brownstones of Bed-Stuy.

The truth exists, but your ability to perceive it depends upon the assumptions you begin with.

I am being totally honest when I say that this book surprised me. Frankly, I didn’t expect it to be good. That was just my first impression, “Ugh, another book about a missing girl in New York. Blah blah, blah.” Thank you for proving me wrong, Wil Medearis!

Instead of the same-old same-old, I was treated to an evenly-paced mystery that stealthily wraps commentary about gentrification, racial bias, and inexcusable economic gaps around a thrilling plot that is not a bit cookie-cutter.

The story is headlined by a likable, imperfect, and complex protagonist whose ping-ponging grit and naivete equally made me cheer and cringe throughout. And this, dear “other authors”, is how you make a character who, in general, has absolutely nothing in common with me personally, relatable in a more personal way. Take notes.

…if I didn’t think this was important that a life was at stake, I wouldn’t be here right now.

I also noticed that Wil Medearis can really write! OK, see this as a blatant generalization, but often male authors’ prose lacks poetry! There is no true rhythm to it – no ebb and flow. They state facts and describe action, but there’s often no scenery, no scene-setting, and no reference to the “emotions” of the space around the characters’ actions.

Not so with Mr. Medearis. And who would actually expect poetry in a novel based in Bed-Stuy? But check out this short excerpt – this is exactly how an artist would view his city:

He put his coat on and left. The afternoon was already darkening, the day spent before he could use it. The sky and the hardened snow were an identical humming lavender, the townhouse windows seeped orange like cracks in the shell of winter.

Just that one sentence makes my little reader’s heart all kinds of happy!

There was meaning in the contours, the outlines a unity of shape and intent, facts that could be shimmied into being by proximity, by the tug of two-dimensional gravity. If he could just get the shapes right he could find her.

Thank you, Wil Medearis, for writing this book, for making it a captivating read, for not being preachy while you taught me about gentrification, and for naming your main character Reddick (enough Jacks and Maxs and Duncans, thank you). And for giving me a story that I can both rate and recommend highly to all of my reader friends and family.

Preview this book here: Restoration Heights (courtesy of Google Books)

Wil Medearis

Wil Medearis holds an MFA in painting from the University of Pennsylvania. His artwork has been featured in galleries in Richmond, Philadelphia and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He has worked as an adjunct professor, tended bar at a country club, refinished furniture for an antiques dealer and hung art inside the homes of some of the wealthiest art collectors in Manhattan. Restoration Heights is his first novel. –Bio from Google Books


Blog Tour | The Girls at 17 Swann Street

⇒I am so excited to join the blog tour for The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. What a great way to mark the very first blog tour for That New Book Smell! ⇐

Author: Yara Zgheib

(4.08 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Publish Date: February 5, 2019

Pages: 384

#TheGirlsat17SwannStreet #Girlsat17SwannStreet #17SwannStreet

They look androgynous, their skin hanging in loose pockets around fragile frames. Not women; women have bodies, sex, lives, dinner, families. The patients in this room are girls with eyes that are too big.

In middle school, the health teacher crowded us into a room, pulled down the well-worn screen at the front, cut the lights off and turned on the projector (yes, the projector!). The class was giggling with nervousness – expecting more gross-out pics of genital warts or scabies; health class gave us conversation fodder for weeks!

Instead, what we saw was an educational film on the types of eating disorders, their symptoms, and treatments. Almost from the first pictures the room was silent. No giggling. No whispering. No side-comments of any kind. The pictures were arresting. And horrifying. And sad. I remember that health class and its impact on me. I was skinny back then and could eat anything I wanted without repercussions (oh, the days!). It never occurred to me that there were people who saw themselves as overweight even when they were far from it, and that eating disorders were about so much more than eating.

I am not undernourished. I am starved for a meal I would not have to eat alone. For someone to love me and tell me that I am more than enough, as I am.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a diligent and careful representation of one young woman’s struggle through anorexia nervosa. Anna Roux moves to the United States from Paris with her husband, Matthias, and faces a new life in a new place without the familiarity of family, friends, and her budding career as a ballerina. As Anna attempts to find a place for herself in this new life, anorexia beckons her into what will eventually become a fight for any life at all.

Here’s the book cover blurb: The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound. Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears– imperfection, failure, loneliness– she spirals down into anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach-pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, who is always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

I was ambitious once. I was a dancer, a dreamer. I was loved. I was in love, I loved life. I once had books to read and places to see, babies I wanted to make. I want to want those again.

I have never struggled with an eating disorder. I do love bread and eat far too many sweets. My BMI is no where near where it should be, but the doctor says I’m average for my age just as long as I watch my cholesterol (always something). Often, I read this book while I was chomping on cheesy slices of pizza, morning fritters, or afternoon chips n’ dip – trust me, the irony was never lost on me.

But what Yara Zgheib has done with this book is made anorexia less like those scary pictures in the health film from middle school. She gave the disease a human name, and a face, and a heart. Anna is “anywoman”, with circumstances that lead to a life event that she feels she has no control over. And that could happen to anyone.

Sure, there are several reasons behind Anna’s descent into the disease; Zgheib comments on them (pressures from ballet and a bad boyfriend, loneliness), but she doesn’t turn them into excuses for Anna’s condition. She highlights, instead, Anna’s inner demons dealing with anorexia and how it affects every part of her life, and the lives of those she loves.

This is a very personal story, and you see that even through the writing style and format of the book. The dialogue is written in italics– the way inner thoughts are treated in other books. This is Anna’s story; this is Anna processing her own journey, and we are silent spectators whispering, “Keep walking, Anna. Keep walking.”

The world around me is obese, half of it. The other half is emaciated… Standards come in doubles, so do portions. The world is overcrowded but lonely. My anorexia keeps me company, comforts me. I can control it, so I choose it.

If I had had the time during my busy days to read this all in one sitting, I would have done so. It is an instantly absorbing read with thoughtful introspection into a disorder that is so easily misunderstood.

Readers will appreciate that Zgheib doesn’t make Anna into a hero or a martyr. She is so realistic in her triumphs and failures, and that makes her not pitiable, but identifiable.

How sad, the power of a piece of cream cheese.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is about more than eating disorders. It is about making positive decisions to change and about the value of the people who support us in those decisions. It is about choosing to live your best life and celebrating all the tiny little reasons that it’s important to do so.

This is my first 5-star read of 2019, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t feel good while you’re reading it, but with each pound lost and gained, I felt that I learned more about myself and my own journey in life.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street will be released on February 5th, 2019! I am just one stop on the blog tour, which runs February 1st – 10th.

Buy it here:

Yara Zgheib

Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D’études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea


Of Blood and Bone

⇒The One trains in the woods and teaches everyone what an alicorn is. Plus, there’s lots of talking.⇐

Author: Nora Roberts

A Generous Rating

(4.39 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published December 4, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press (Brilliance Audio)

Pages: 453 (Hardcover) ; 11 Audio Discs (13:46)


Love has no end, no borders, no limits. The more you give, the more there is.

OK, this is going to be one of my shorter reviews. The only reason being that I really don’t have much to say about this book.

I felt obligated to read it because: 1. I read Year One last year, in January (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and 2. I wanted to see if the sequel managed to be any better than the original. Nope.

Of Blood and Bone centers mainly around the emergence of The One, Fallon Swift, and the process this young girl goes through to become a magical, mystical, warring powerhouse.

This sequel to Year One follows pretty much in its predecessor’s footsteps. There is a lot of farming, walking, and training for battles that are promised, but not prevalent. And there is talking. Lots and lots of talking. About what makes a dad, and what makes a family. About who to love, how to love, and when to love. About forgiveness and feelings, and yadda, yadda, yadda. Blah, blah, blah! LOTS of talking.

One tip Nora Roberts could pick up from true fantasy writers: Action! Fantasy and Sci-Fi demand motion and drama and kinetic energy! And while learning about husbandry and the intricacies of constructing a home for honeybees has its place, should that place really take up a whole chapter? My vote is no. I do care about the process, but it’s like reading about someone teaching someone else how to do something fantastic, and then waiting around for 32 chapters until you get to actually experience them doing something fantastic! A lot of patience for a little reward.

The rare action scenes felt like fresh air, but I cannot honestly say that they were “worth the wait”. So, I sigh knowing that this is a trilogy and one more book, The Rise of Magicks, is waiting in the wings. *sigh*

Sidenote: You may have heard about the squabble between this author and Tomi Adeyemi over the title of this book. If not, don’t worry, it’s petty and childish. But I have to mention that although each side has a host of supporters, I have to agree that the title issue is awfully suspect, especially since the phrase “of blood and bone” was hardly key to this particular story at all. JUST AN OBSERVATION. My last thought on it for those who figure that T.A.’s rep will suffer because of the rift, I’ll only say that she is a true fantasy author with a different, dedicated audience and at least her book was hella good (and that’s coming from an avid Roberts reader)!

Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 200 novels.


The Clockmaker’s Daughter

⇒A story spoken with multiple voices across the centuries that simultaneously warms your heart and freezes your bones. ⇐

Author: Kate Morton

(3.80 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery

Format: Audiobook

Published October 9, 2018, by Atria Books (Bolinda Audio)

Pages: 485 (Hardcover) ; Audio: 14 discs (17:03 hrs)

#TheClockmakersDaughter #ClockmakersDaughter

Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favoured memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that pleases. 

I have other hobbies besides reading. GASP! What?! No, I really do. One of them just happens to be putting puzzles together. I like the challenge, the repetitive motions, the feeling of satisfied accomplishment once it’s completed. A challenging puzzle soothes my anxiety and clears my headspace.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is like a 485-page puzzle. It has characters coming at you from the left and right – from different centuries, in fact – and more than one mystery needs to made clear before the book can successfully end. It is a challenge. But if you’re up for it, Kate Morton rewards you with a rich story and a heady feeling of accomplishment once you’re done. Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing, and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

…the truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story.

There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the timeline jumps around from the 19th century to the 21st. Plus, it is told from multiple perspectives and in first and third person depending on whose side of the story you’re exploring in each chapter. That’s a lot to keep track of.

Reading a book that has a large cast and an equally large timeline can be a daunting task. An author can either do it successfully or botch it up miserably. Botching it isn’t hard to do, but getting it right is infinitely harder. Morton got it right. It is a puzzle, make no mistake, but in the end, the pieces fit so well together that you have to just sit back and appreciate the symmetry.

I think it would be a mistake (and terribly confusing) to discuss all the characters and their motivations here – plus, it would take up too much of your time because there are a lot of them. A lot. But the main protagonists are worth a mention: Elodie, who is an archivist in London, discovers the sketch of Birchwood Manor – the house that becomes a character all unto itself – and goes in search of the answers to why that house seems so familiar to her. Elodie, besides having an annoying name, is like a dog with a bone – she just won’t let it go, and that type of personality always makes for a good mystery-seeker.

Edward Radcliffe also deserves a mention because he’s definitely a linchpin to all the happenings. He’s passionate and headstrong, a character to be envied and pitied all at the same time. It is because of Edward that the story has as many players as it does, and because of him, too, that it is equally tragic and beautiful.

And now we come to Birdie Bell, the actual Clockmaker’s Daughter for whom the book is named. It is her part of the story that Morton chooses to relay in first person. It is her point of view that looms over several of the other characters’ tales. She is the one who knows the most because she has seen the most, but she still does not know everything – there are mysteries waiting to be revealed to her as well.

One generation passes to the next a suitcase filled with jumbled jigsaw pieces from countless puzzles collected over time and says, “See what you can make out of these.

So I’ve told you that this book is long, it has a huge cast of characters, and that it jumps around in time. So, why should you read it? Read it because it’s a love story. The deepest kind of love. The kind that takes over your whole life and ends up affecting everyone around you. Without Edward’s falling in love, there would have been no story.

You should also read it because it’s not just a love story. It’s a story of war and loss. Survival and fortitude. Music and artistry. Abuse and neglect that is conquered by strong wills and lively spirits. Good and evil. Plus, there are ghosts and fairies, magic, demons, treasure-hunters and princesses. No, really. I’m not kidding. It’s all in there!

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a well-written book, with rich imagery and masterfully fleshed-out characters that will each draw you into their stories as easily as picking up one more piece to place into a puzzle.

Did I have questions at the end? Yes. Did I have to go back and re-read (replay) some parts? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. This wasn’t my first Kate Morton book, but so far it is her most memorable.

Kate Morton

Kate Morton is the author of five novels, all of which have been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers, and #1 bestsellers around the world. Kate’s books are published in 42 countries, in 34 languages. – Bio adapted from katemorton.com


An Anonymous Girl

⇒Knowing whom you can trust is a valuable life skill – because “uncertainty is an excruciating state in which to exist.” ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the authors for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Authors: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

(4.15 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Published January 8, 2019, by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 375 (Hardcover)


Every lifetime contains pivot points — sometimes flukes of destiny, sometimes seemingly preordained — that shape and eventually cement one’s path.

You’ve probably heard of the philosophy of eating your dessert first. The premise behind that is that life is unpredictable, so make sure you’re enjoying as much of it as you can, while you can. And while I certainly agree with that idea, I have never really put it into practice with my dinner.

However, as a younger person, I did employ that philosophy in my reading. If I was reading a book that was particularly suspenseful or scary, I would skip to the end of the chapter or to the end of the book to make sure that my beloved characters survived whatever current crisis the author was subjecting them to. I had no qualms with “skipping ahead” in my books or even skipping entire chapters if the writing started to drag. It never came back to haunt me and I never felt like I missed out.

So why is it that, as an adult, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if I even consider not finishing a book or skipping ahead in it if it starts to become dull or disengaging? I’m not sure why I imagine the book police coming for me if I don’t force myself to slog through even the worst plots and excruciatingly banal writing styles in order to say that I, in fact, did read the whole book.

I should take advice from my younger self and erase the guilt because this was a book that I think I could have enjoyed more if I had skipped ahead.

Sometimes an impulsive decision can change the course of your life.

I was convinced that An Anonymous Girl was going to be a great book because of this line in the summary: “Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.” You know what that means to me? Secrets!!! And who doesn’t love a good mystery book involving a secret psychological study? It guarantees that somebody is going to be crazy – usually, the one hosting the study – and that some young innocent is going to find themselves in danger pretty quickly. True and true.

Here’s the Goodreads summary to get you acquainted with the story:
“When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Sometimes a test is so small and quiet you don’t even notice it’s a test.

So I was set up to love this book, I was all set to love it, but after I got about 40% into it, I knew that it wouldn’t be a 5-star read for me. That was disappointing for me – especially after seeing so many 5-star reviews for it. And although I never let other readers’ reviews sway my own opinions, I wonder what the 5-star raters interpreted in this book that was the exact opposite from what I experienced while reading it.

Let’s look at the good first: The book is engaging. The premise immediately draws you in, and almost from the first chapter you’re off and running with Jess, the main character, headlong into uncertainty and sketchy adventures. Readers who enjoy this book will appreciate the underlying current of danger at every turn, and the authors did a good job with that sense of impending danger.

Another good: At first the character of Dr. Lydia Shields is masterfully creepy and commanding. Readers get the sense that she is powerful and manipulative – both of which are valid assumptions made stronger by the authors’ use of dual perspectives (Jess’s and Dr. Shields’) to control the tone of the story and build it to its ultimate denouement.

Sometimes a therapist who coaxes out all of your secrets is holding the biggest one in the room.

OK, now on to the bad – or should I say instead, what could have made the book better for me. I didn’t feel connected to any of the main characters. Jess seems too gullible and moon-eyed over the specter of Dr. Shields, without sufficient evidence as to why she should be so enamored.

Plus, maybe it’s just part of my innately distrustful personality, but almost immediately my hackles were raised at how much information Jess gives away so freely within the study. Hasn’t she ever heard of holding something back?! I blame her friends because it seems like she just needs someone to talk to other than Leo, her dog.

Another that felt like it was missing was that I needed the book to be a little more layered. We were exposed only to the basic information about each character and then only given additional information that related only to the action at hand.Was Jess really isolated? Other than her family did she only have 1 or 2 other friends? Did she not socialize with any of her coworkers? Neighbors? Former classmates? We’ll never know because none of those relationships was ever explored. And the second-tier characters that are included are treated more like pawns instead of people with personalities and backstories.

A secret is only a secret if one person holds it.

But the main point that could have made this book a bit more thrilling for me is that Dr. Shields should have remained more of a mystery for a longer period of time. The authors did a great job initially of setting her up to be enigmatic and influential. However, once we “see” who she is, her mystery-quotient is diminished significantly and she just appears more desperate instead of cunning. Dr. Shields as “The Great and Powerful Oz”.

Although I do like how readers are not sure about whether or not to trust Thomas – without spoiling anything – I can say that the authors could have used his character to much better advantage, especially at the end.

Self-preservation is a powerful motivator, more reliably so than money or empathy or love.

The best parts of An Anonymous Girl are the opening and closing chapters. And although the middle is necessary for the plot and all the pertinent details, I felt best served by the first and last.

I have The Wife Between Us by these same authors as a TBR waiting on my bookshelf, but after reading An Anonymous Girl, that book can wait a while longer.

Greer & Sarah

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are the co-authors of the blockbuster New York Times bestseller, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, as well as just-released, AN ANONYMOUS GIRL.

-Bio adapted from Goodreads


Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)

⇒NEW RELEASE REVIEW: What happens when a hunt for living relatives turns into a deadly manhunt.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Delacorte Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Lee Child


(4.31 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: November 5, 2018, by Delacorte Press

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 382 pages (Hardcover)

#PastTense  #NetGalley

Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)What kind of bad things could happen at a motel with a roadblock?

If you follow me on Goodreads, or Instagram, or if we are irl friends, you may already know about the not-so-secret love affair I have with the character Jack Reacher. And if this is the first you’re hearing about it, don’t worry. It’s not a mushy, annoying type of love where I am crushing on him and desperately hoping to meet a flesh and bone replica and make him my future Mr. PSquared. Although…

Ok, ok, back to reality. I just really do love Jack Reacher. He is so imperturbable, even in the middle of insurmountable odds and danger that would crumple a lesser man. He is an everyday hero (like Batman sans utility belt), and those are the kinds of dudes I love to see heading up my mystery/thrillers.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

If you have never read any of Lee Child’s Reacher series where have you been? , here’s what you can expect: an unencumbered man hitchhiking through the country (often just trying to get somewhere warm), he mainly minds his own business, but trouble always finds him. He’s big, he’s not handsome in any movie star or romance novel kind of way, and he’s strong – like hella strong. He’s smart. He’s a strategist. He fights for the underdog and he hates to see injustice in any form. He’s the working man’s hero.

So, in Past Tense, Reacher has hitched as far as New Hampshire from Maine and finds himself near the little town where his father grew up. The pull of family ties leads him to visit and try to learn more about his dad and search for any possible relatives still in the area. But we’ve all heard that old adage about being careful what you ask for and, in this case, it couldn’t be more true.

The Goodreads blurb:

Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour.
At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is.

The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place?

As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.

Surprise was always a good thing. A wise man never counted all the way to three.

You probably have a favorite series. Even if you love it beyond what’s socially acceptable (for non-readers), you’re aware that there are certain books in that series that are substantially better than others. It’s unavoidable – especially for the number of books that Lee Child has racked up with Jack Reacher. I mean 23 books! There’s bound to be some duds in there (not really, but I felt obligated to say it). But Past Tense is not that dud.

Child’s latest release is easily one of my favorite Reacher books to date. It has everything I love about this character inside a taut, mystery-cloaked thriller. It also has excellent pacing, nail-biting tension, equally likable and despicable characters, and Jack Reacher as his usual unflappable, unintentionally heroic self in the midst of it all.

And Patty and Shorty being unwilling co-stars in this sadistic drama don’t come off too badly themselves. I rooted for them and waited with bated breath for their first encounter with our intrepid traveler. And when they did, it was well worth the wait!

If I’ve got you on the hook and you really want to experience this book (because it is an experience!), but you’re wondering if you’d have to read 22 books before you could enjoy this one, let me ease your mind. There are some Reacher books that do have a certain flow as he journeys back and forth across the country getting into and out of different life-threatening situations on his way to a specific destination. However, each one is its own adventure and you will not miss anything by reading Past Tense as a standalone. My bet is, that when you do, you will want to pick up Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1) to see how all this started. And then, my friend, you are hooked!

She looked back at him. There was a man right behind him. A giant.

I’ve said this before – on Goodreads and Instagram – but it bears repeating: If you have watched tiny Tom Cruise on the big screen starring as Jack Reacher in those two films, just know that book fans abhor that casting. (Insert all the frowny face, angry face, squoosh face emojis here).

Tom Cruise is 5’7″ tall and is less than 150 pounds. Some people would say he is handsome (not me, personally), and he has a small, college-kid-turned-older-man frame.

Let’s see how Lee Child describes Jack Reacher: “He was a tall man, more than six feet five in his shoes, heavily built, all bone and muscle, not particularly good looking, never very well dressed, usually a little unkempt.”

Does that sound like great casting to you? Nope. It’s like casting Linda Hunt as Olympe Maxime. But I digress…

So, please do not picture little, wimpy T.C. while you’re reading this action-packed thriller. Think of that massive, ruggedly-dressed dude that sat in the corner of your high school classroom facing the door. He didn’t say much, but he was respected. Not mean, not aggressive, but just edging on this side of threatening. Not one to be messed with. Definitely, the one you want on your side. Cast your own Reacher as you read because I have my own, and I absolutely am enamored with him!

Read the first chapter of Past Tense (courtesy of LeeChild.com) HERE.

About the Author





Lee Child is the author of twenty-two New York Times bestselling Jack Reacher thrillers, with thirteen having reached the #1 position, and the #1 bestselling complete Jack Reacher story collection, No Middle Name. All of his novels have been optioned for major motion pictures – including Jack Reacher (based on One Shot) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Foreign rights have sold in one hundred territories. A native of England and a former television director, Child lives in New York City.

(Bio courtesy of Delacorte Press)



New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 5th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥



The Witch Elm

⇒Secrets and lies color a life on the verge of incalculable change. This is the Butterfly Effect on Xanax.⇐

Author: Tana French

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Mystery

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 9, 2018, by Viking

Pages: 509 ; 18 Audio Discs (22 hours)


What if I never got another day in my life when I was normal again?


In middle school, my friends and I (how I wish I could put it all on them, but I can’t) decided to prank our classmates. Just a certain few of them who we thought were a bit too big for their britches. We did the usual obnoxious phone calls – which worked back then because no one had caller ID yet (I’m dating myself) and everyone still used landlines. It was the perfect way for some bored pre-teens to spend Friday nights while also watching network TV and being housebound (no internet or social media back then).

One such prank went just a little further than the rest. We called one of our classmates and threatened to fight her (insert dramatic music and loads of judgment right here). She was a “mean girl” and totally deserved a good thrashing (Not really, but I’m trying to justify my 12-year-old mind). We told her to meet us by the water fountain on the red hall after lunch the next day – if she wasn’t scared. It was maddening to wait all those hours to see if she would actually show up!

So what in the world does this have to do with The Witch Elm? Spoiler Alert: this book is about questionable life choices. Well, it’s about a lot of things, but making bad life choices is key among them – bad choices that get justified along the way and then accepted as harmless or inconsequential. But let me let you read the Goodreads blurb to see what else it’s about:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

…one gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.

I’ve managed to get this far into the review without saying that I really didn’t like this book. Why? Well, I didn’t want to start out my fresh new year of reading with a dud. OK, let me be fair, it wasn’t a “dud”, but it wasn’t for me.

This book was a long, slow march to the death of everything I thought I loved about long reads and audiobooks. I started feeling like I was being punished around disc 5 and from there (all the way to disc 18) I was sure I had angered the literary gods somewhere along the way for them to steer me towards this dark, vice-riddled study in depravity. Then I started criticizing myself for being too critical! Maybe I just needed to get past Toby’s seemingly endless inner monologue and focus on the deeper meaning of the story: self-discovery, balancing perceptions with reality, etc. And I honestly tried to do that. But I still felt like getting through the whole thing wasn’t enjoyable – it was just drudgery.

There are plenty of people who 5-starred this book. It has been well-recognized and earnestly reviewed. And I should have left them to it.

To be fair, Tana French is a good author. Her prose is classically descriptive, and at some points reads like poetry. But… did there have to be so MUCH of it?! Half of the book takes place in Toby’s head (not a comfortable place to be, btw) and the best action only happens when he looks outside into the world for a change. What’s most troublesome about that is that he is not a likable character. You want to like him, but he doesn’t allow it. He’s unreliable for many reasons, not the least of which is that he’s wishy-washy. First, the answer is A, but then it could be B. Nope, back to A, I’m sure of it. Wait… but now C is looking interesting… But I can’t discount B again because remember that time back in high school… Arrrrgggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

…it was me, wronged innocent, white knight, cunning investigator, killer, selfish oblivious dick, petty provocateur, take your pick, what does it matter? it’ll all change again.


High praise to Paul Nugent, the audiobook narrator, however, whose lilting Irish brogue was my only salvation as we both slogged through this 18-disc, 22-hour behemoth of a book. Twenty-two hours! That’s almost a full day of tainted introspection, Xanax-influenced rants, and the tiniest bits of truth tossed in here and there about guarded explorations into the weight of our perceptions of the world around us.

So by now you may be wondering whatever happened with the water fountain fight threat. Can you believe that she actually showed up? And with a group of her “mean girl” friends too! My friends and I stood just close enough in the midst of the gathering crowd to hear their heated conversation about what they would do if “whoever” showed up. We didn’t want any of what they were promising! Plus, we had no real intentions of fighting anyone anyway. Even though it was great middle school drama, it was ultimately a waste of everyone’s time and energy, and I stopped pranking after that. Life lesson learned. And another one learned years later: be very wary of 500+ page Tana French books.

Tana French is the New York Times bestselling author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser, and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

2018 TNBS Year-End Wrap Up

>>Wrapping up the year that was, but wait… wasn’t it just January?<<

2018 sure did go by in a blur! Currently, it’s the season for celebrations, family and friends, and reflections on the year as a whole. And I’m glad to add my bookish reflections along with other bloggers as we look back on our literary lives in 2018.

Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.

Brad Paisley

This was one of the best years of reading for me. I read a total of 130 books in 2018! That included hardcovers, paperbacks, Kindle versions, audio CDs, Google Play books, audio versions on YouTube, and Audible audiobooks. I bought a lot of books this year (mostly used), but I also took advantage of my local libraries more than ever.I was able to get several popular, new-release titles fairly quickly through my library’s hold system, which really is an excellent resource. And the best part about that? It’s free!

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

Anne Herbert

Most significantly, in 2018 I started my blog! That New Book Smell celebrated its first birthday on December 29th and I’m so proud of my achievements over the past 365 days. I[‘ve joined a community that is friendly, inclusive, and dedicated to one of the things I love best – Books! I am looking forward to seeing what new things 2019 brings my way for TNBS. I already know that somethings will definitely be different. For one thing, I got a job! So, posting new reviews every Monday like I did this year may not be as feasible as it was this year. But I will be posting as often as I am able to finish books. Hopefully, this will help me to become a much faster reader!

In 2018, I used September to clear several books from my bookshelves at home and that worked really well for me. I ‘m hoping to add at least one more month of “shelf-discipline” so I can make more room for monthly book hauls!

I’m discontinuing the monthly events and book deals sections of the blog – nobody ever looked at them anyway, so no loss there. But I will continue posting my seasonal and mini-hauls, and any reviews my daughter wants to contribute. She read a lot of books this year too, and I love to hear how a ten-year-old reviews what she reads.

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Oscar Wilde

Five-star books seemed hard to come by this year. I’m not sure if that was because I was less generous with my reviews, or if my picks were just less than perfect in 2018. But some of the following books made my list of best reads, even if all of them didn’t get the coveted 5 stars:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

(Pub Mar 2018) This book changed a lot of my opinions about YA Fantasy books, and when I got to meet Tomi Adeyemi in October, I became a fan for life.

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

(Pub Oct 2018) The perfect spooky prequel to the classic Dracula. This one kept me up late at night!

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey

(Pub Aug 2018) This book surpassed my expectations and ended up being one of my favorites. Taut, suspenseful, and captivatingly conflicted.

Past Tense by Lee Child

(Pub Nov 2018) I love this series and Past Tense is easily one of the best books in it. Jack Reacher is in perfect form and the action is perfectly paced.

Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard

(Pub Dec 2018) Sean, the quintessential unreliable narrator, won me over in this suspenseful whodunit.

Spinning Silver

(Pub July 2018) Loved, loved, loved this re-imagining of the classic tale of Rumpelstiltskin. The only problem with this book is that I wanted it to last longer.

I read other highly-rated books this year that were released prior to 2018:

  • Station Eleven (2014)
  • Beanstalker (2017)
  • Court of Mist and Fury (2016)
  • Pride an Prejudice and Zombies (2009)
  • Little Fires Everywhere (2017)
  • Silver Sparrow (2011)
  • Cold Flat Junction (2001)
  • Illuminae (2015)

In 2018, I also received a surprisingly large number of requests from authors and reps alike to read new books. And, no, I didn’t get through most of them, but still, it was nice to be asked to review someone else’s work.

Along that same line, I joined Netgalley his year. It has been a great resource for new releases and for discovering new authors. Even though some of the denials were frustrating, I’ll stick with it for 2019 because many of the approvals were well worth the effort. My feedback ratio is at 84%, so hopefully, that will mean more request approvals in the upcoming year.

I hope your year of reading was a great one and that you’re looking forward to 2019 as much as I am. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Hunting Annabelle

⇒A thriller that tests what you do when you can’t trust your own mind, or heart, or anyone and anything else…⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, MIRA Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Wendy Heard

(3.96 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Format: Kindle

Published December 18, 2018, by MIRA

Pages: 304 (Kindle)


I know what happened. Whether anyone believes me or not, I know.

This book won me over because of two words: Unreliable Narrator! I have read plenty of books where the narrator is untrustworthy, clinically mad, or is operating under certain delusions that cause readers to question the veracity of their storytelling. Since I’ve read so many, you’d think I wouldn’t get excited about one more. Well, you’d be wrong.

Hunting Annabelle is different. It grabbed my interest immediately. Yes, Sean Suh is a shady lead character with a dark and dangerous past (that is craftily revealed over time throughout the book), but he’s still an intriguing young man whose magnetic personality pulls in close to everything he does. He’s unique in his appearance (partially shaved head, goth-dark clothing, and black jelly bracelets crawling up his arms), but he’s also still vulnerable in so many ways. It’s easy for readers to care for him and stand in his corner even though – with every added chapter – Sean shows us all the reasons why we shouldn’t put any faith in him. At all. But before I get too far ahead of myself, here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Sean Suh is done with killing. After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, he’s determined to stay away from temptation. But he can’t resist Annabelle—beautiful, confident, incandescent Annabelle—who alone can see past the monster to the man inside. The man he’s desperately trying to be.  
Then Annabelle disappears.
Sean is sure she’s been kidnapped—he witnessed her being taken firsthand—but the police are convinced that Sean himself is at the center of this crime. And he must admit, his illness has caused him to “lose time” before. What if there’s more to what happened than he’s able to remember?
Though haunted by the fear that it might be better for Annabelle if he never finds her, Sean can’t bring himself to let go of her without a fight. To save her, he’ll have to do more than confront his own demons… He’ll have to let them loose.

What I have can’t be treated. It’s just what I am. I am a predator.

On the surface, Sean is just a man in love trying to solve a mystery about an enigmatic, beautiful young woman he meets. But the story’s undercurrent involves so much more.

There’s the overbearing mother who resents Sean and his sketchy past and seems to think that the perfect combination of medication will cure a multitude of sins. And then there are the skeptical police officers who have made Sean their number one suspect in Annabelle’s disappearance, even though he’s the one that reported it. Finally, Annabelle’s own eccentric grab-bag of acquaintances and relatives lead Sean through some of the most harrowing experiences along his covert amateur investigation, only adding more layers of unpredictability to this already dubious tale. Could Sean, the corrupt ex-con end up being the only true hero in this book?

I have no plan. I’m no hero. I suppose every villain is the hero of his own story.

Wendy Heard tells Sean’s story at a steady pace. There are very few slow sections, which I greatly appreciate. Sean’s prescription drug-addled personality and his sketchy past are revealed in bits and pieces, not just regurgitated in one anticlimactic fact-finding paragraph, which readers have been made the victims of far too many times in the past in mysteries and thrillers.

And now we come full circle back to the number one reason why I enjoyed this book so much – Sean is a perfect unreliable narrator. Any time you read a book written in the first person, you have to ask yourself – even subconsciously – how much do I trust the person who is telling me this story? Well, in this case, you know you’re not supposed to trust Sean. He’s a predator, a bad dude struggling to be good, but not really making it 100% of the time. You know that you should keep him and his “truth”at arm’s length, but he just keeps pulling you back in until, eventually, you just end up buying what he’s selling. Lock, stock, and barrel.

Maybe I was confused about more things than I’d been willing to admit. Maybe I’m crazier than I want to believe.

Read this book for the magnetism of Sean’s mercurial personality and for his unique way of seeing people through synesthesia (a psychological condition through which you can see other people’s auras). Read it for the twisty parts, that don’t all bunch up at the end of the book. And read it to find out who the monsters really are.

Listen to an excerpt of Hunting Annabelle HERE  (Courtesy of Soundcloud)

And if you end up reading and enjoying Hunting Annabelle, look forward to Heard’s next release – as yet untitled – in December 2019 that will feature a female protagonist who is “scrappy, a hopeless smartass, and is covered in tattoos. More importantly, she’s kind, strong, and warm.” – Wendy Heard.

Wendy Heard

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Wendy Heard was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.

Before We Were Yours

⇒A true-life crime gets a novel treatment in a poignant story about the strong ties of family and the persistent pull of the truth.⇐

Authors: Lisa Wingate

(4.37 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook

Published June 6, 2017, by Ballentine & October 16, 2018 (audio) by Random House Audio

Pages: 342 (Hardcover) ; 12 Discs / 14 1/2 hrs (Audio CDs)

Audiobook performed by Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber


Everything I wanted my life to be, it won’t be now. The path that brought me here is flooded over.

True Crime. How many of us are instantly captured by those two little words? They’re an instant draw for me, and you can also easily win me over with the phrase, “Based on real-life events.” Surely that’s one of the most intriguing phrases in all of entertainment.

Before We Were Yours is just such a story. Based on real-life events, it’s a story of tragedy and hard-fought survival. Told in dual perspectives, Lisa Wingate tosses us back and forth from the past (1939) and the present to tell the story of every parents’ worst nightmare. Here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty. 
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

So what about this story relates to true-life crime? Back in Depression-era Memphis, Tennessee, a real witch of a woman named Georgia Tann presided over an organization responsible for kidnapping and selling over 5,000 children from 1924-1950 in black market adoptions. She was a Robin Hood in reverse, stealing children from poor families in Memphis and selling them to rich families in and out of state. Over 500 of those children died while under the care of workers from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Tann died before facing prosecution, but her crimes were revealed and later served as a catalyst for adoption reform in Tennessee.

The book is written from the perspective of one of those stolen children, 12-year-old Rill Foss. She and her river gypsy siblings, Camellia, Fern, Lark, and Gabion, are stolen from their boathouse and taken to the orphanage after their extremely fertile parents, Queenie and Briny, are deceived into signing away their rights to their own children. In a painful chain of events, Rill – renamed May – watches as her sisters and brother are taken away one by one – some to be adopted by wealthy families, and some to darker things.

Together, we travel the living river. We turn our faces to the sunlight and fly time and time again home to Kingdom Arcadia.

The story is a dark one, sad, with several triggers for sensitive readers: child abuse, molestation, human trafficking, kidnapping, and cancer. The hopeful moments are few and far between and happen mostly in the present day story where Avery Stafford is hunting down the mysterious tendrils of her family’s darkest secret.

I’ve found in life that bygones are a bit like collard greens. They tend to taste bitter. It’s best not to chew on them overly long.

Wingate’s writing is captivating and brings humanity to the facts of the true tragedy of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Reading Before We Were Yours pushed me through the gamut of emotions – anger, fear, heartache, and mourning. The small victories Rill experiences aren’t enough to bring a sense of triumph to the story, despite its Hallmarkian ending.

Read this book for the lure of a historical event coming to life. Read it for its profound emotional effect and for the pull of its provocative characters, both past and present. And read it if you like stories about secrets revealed and all the repercussions that result from their exposure.

Read an excerpt of Before We Were Yours HERE  (Courtesy of LisaWingate.com)

Lisa Wingate



Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award.