Review: The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak @DurangoWriter @KensingtonBooks

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Release: 2018
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Southern Lit

From the moment I watched The Green Mile many years ago, I became fascinated with stories about death row and prison inmates. Surprisingly, I haven’t read as many books about the topic as I would’ve wanted, so I was obviously excited to read Mandy Mikulencak’s novel as soon as I came across its intriguing blurb.

The Last Suppers tells the story of Ginny Polk, a young woman working as the head cook in Louisiana’s Greenmount State Penitentiary in the 1950s. Ginny’s father was a prison guard at that same prison but was killed many years ago and the murderer was put to death when she was eight years old. Ginny is now dating her father’s best friend, Roscoe, who happens to be the prison warden, but they have a very complicated relationship. And Ginny’s life is about to become even more complicated when she starts looking into her father’s mysterious death…

I absolutely loved the concept in this novel. Ginny was both kind and strong-willed and I really loved her as a character. She provides the prisoners’ last suppers and always tries to cook their favorite meals, no matter what she has to do in order to achieve that. Ginny feels they should be shown a little humanity during their last hours, and I deeply admired her determination.

The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak was unexpected in many ways, especially because I didn’t know how the story would evolve. The “mystery” plot didn’t pick up until the last section of the book, but I found it quite compelling. The book dealt with several themes like racism, human rights and family relationships and I must say this is a little gem that I feel should be way more appreciated.

Many thanks to the publishers and Edelweiss for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review

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Review: The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart @wordstogobuy @KensingtonBooks

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Set in the Carolinas in the 1940s, The Road to Bittersweet is a beautifully written, evocative account of a young woman reckoning not just with the unforgiving landscape, but with the rocky emotional terrain that leads from innocence to wisdom. For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life…

The Road to Bittersweet came exactly at the right moment for me. This past month has been a bit difficult because of work stuff and I tried to keep myself busy, so I didn’t read as much as I usually do. However, I loved this book from the moment I started it, and even though it took me almost a week to finish it, I must say I adored every page. I had a feeling it would eventually drag a little because of the slow pace, but the truth is that it kept me engaged the whole time. I highly recommend it.

The Education of Dixie Dupree was one of my favorite books last year and I was excited to dive into Donna Everhart’s new novel. That being said, I was instantly surprised when I started reading it because although both books are set in the southern United States, in my humble opinion, they have nothing else in common. Dixie Dupree was a tougher read, dealing with darker themes and featuring a more cynical perspective. On the other hand, The Road to Bittersweet had more of an “epic” feeling and I think it was much more hopeful and innocent in some ways.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a happy book. It’s actually so dramatic that for the first 50%, I kept wondering how could anyone endure so many tragedies and still be willing to go on. I loved the Stamper family and wanted them to be happy, but Donna Everhart kept making that particular goal less clear with every page. So I guess the title fits perfectly, since this novel truly felt like a journey. The Road to Bittwesweet tells us all about Wallis Ann’s coming of age (although not your usual one by any means) and how families never give up, even under the worst of circumstances.

The book was emotional (I cried when something terrible happened) but it never felt overly sentimental, I think it portrayed everything in a very realistic way and I loved the writing. As for the characters, Wallis Ann was amazing, I loved everything about her and I could understand her jealousy and insecurities as well. She was fourteen years old, after all. She was the main protagonist of the story, but it was nice to read about Laci, Seph, the parents, and Clayton too.

All in all, this was such a beautiful book that I would recommend it to all those looking for a different kind of historical read, one that deals with a family’s struggle to live happily ever after. I removed part of the blurb because I feel it reveals way too much and it’s better to read it without knowing some things.

Edelweiss, Kensington, 2017

Review: The Stolen Marriage by @D_Chamberlain @panmacmillan

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In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out…

I read a couple of books by Diane Chamberlain in the past and thoroughly enjoyed them. I was eagerly anticipating The Stolen Marriage and found myself completely hooked from the first page. I adore when that happens. I couldn’t wait to keep on reading! The truth is, I love Diane Chamberlain’s writing and the way she creates such cinematic stories. While reading her books, you can picture everything in your head and easily imagine the story as a film. Her stories are always engaging and filled with “action” in the sense that you never ever get bored. There’s plenty of drama and twists and you care about the characters and what will happen to them.

The Stolen Marriage tells the story of a young woman called Tess DeMello who suddenly sees her life change completely after a weekend in Washington DC. I don’t want to say too much and I’ve already changed the blurb because I felt like it practically told you the whole story. Basically, Tess’s life does not go exactly the way she had planned it and she needs to come to terms with her new future: marriage, family, and friends.

This is a historical novel because it’s set in the 1940s, but it reads like contemporary fiction and I believe you don’t need to be into hist-fic in order to enjoy it. It is such an easy and delightful read, perfect for a cozy evening with a cup of hot chocolate and the sound of rain as your soundtrack. And admit it, all of us need one of those books every once in a while!

Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as, for example, Necessary Lies, I’ll definitely read many more books by this author (I’m already planning on starting another one really soon). As for the secret, in my humble opinion, it was kind of a disappointment, and not because I guessed it -I actually shared the same suspicions as Hank’s mom- but because I didn’t really care about that part of the story.

Still, I loved Tess’s and really enjoyed reading about her journey, especially when she fought for what she wanted professionally. I wanted her to be happy, but did she achieve that? I guess you’ll have to read to find out…

ARC, Pan Macmillan , 2017

Mini Reviews #5 | The Secret She Keeps & The Poisonwood Bible

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Two books that I read while being on vacation… wanna know what I thought of them? Let’s see…

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Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls. When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

The Secret She Keeps was a compelling and thoroughly addictive read that I enjoyed while on vacation. I had previously read another book by Michael Robotham, and it was quite different, to be honest. What I liked the most about this one were the two distinct voices. I greatly appreciate when an author makes me care for a character who isn’t a really good person. The way this book was written, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for them.

As for the plot, I can’t say the book was particularly original. I had read similar stories in the past and I was almost glad that the “twist” was revealed at about 40%, as I had suspected it from the beginning. The second part of the book was less psychological and more “classic thriller”, so I knew there wouldn’t be any surprises left, which was kind of a disappointment. Still, I enjoyed reading this one a lot and I explained the entire plot to my friends, so I think that’s a pretty good sign.

Netgalley, Little Brown UK, 2017

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This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

The Poisonwood Bible is celebrating a brand new edition featuring this strikingly beautiful cover. This is not a new book: it came out in 1998 and it’s already considered a classic. I read this book because I wanted to dive into a completely different story and I got exactly that.

This was a fascinating tale featuring a Baptist family who moves to the Belgian Congo and tries to settle down there. The father is a preacher and his mission is to convert the whole community into Christianism. The story is told from the four daughters’ points of view and despite some sad scenes, I found the narration pretty amusing. My favorites were Adah and little Ruth May. Rachel was fun to read because of her shallow personality, but on the other hand, I didn’t like Leah at all, and she was probably the main protagonist.

My only problem with Poisonwood Bible was the length. I usually avoid longer books because I don’t think I enjoy them as much as I would if they were shorter. This was exactly what happened here. My initial enthusiasm gradually decreased when I got to a point where I thought the book might be ending but there were actually many pages left. So I struggled a lot and I’m quite sad because I think I would’ve absolutely loved this if it had been around 350 pages.

Faber & Faber, 2017

Review: All The Wicked Girls by @WhittyAuthor @BonnierZaffre

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Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing. Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally. But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .

You can’t imagine how happy I was when I checked out my reading calendar and saw that my next ARC was All The Wicked Girls. I had been trying to catch up on physical arcs to be able to focus my attention on Netgalley when I’m on vacation, and Chris Whitaker’s book was next on my to-read list. I was excited. And nervous. What if I didn’t love it as much as I loved Tall Oaks? After all, that one was my favorite book of 2016. High expectations were inevitable.

As soon as I read the first chapter though, I remembered why I loved his debut so so much. The writing is flawless, the story manages to grip you from the very first paragraph and you can’t wait to keep on reading to find out more. If you read the first chapter and you don’t want to know more… well, then I guess we can’t be friends 😉 It’s still July, but I already know All The Wicked Girls will be one of my favorites. It was that good. You know which book I thought of while reading this one? Mystic River. And I liked All The Wicked Girls better.

At the same time, I feel I should warn you that this is much darker and dramatic than Tall Oaks ever was. This book was like one of those epic dramas that leave you exhausted but in a good way. I don’t know how to explain it, but I could feel this was going to be a special novel just after a few pages. There was something magnetic about it, I was completely captivated. And no, this isn’t your typical fast-paced, easy-to-read thriller, it’s way more complex and deep, and I especially love the way the author explores small-town dynamics and relationships between unlikely allies. And how the weather is practically another character.

So what’s it about? All The Wicked Girls tells the story of Grace, Alabama, a small-town filled with broken people keeping secrets. And girls from near towns are disappearing. No one knows what’s going on and the only suspect is someone they call “Bird”. But who is he? Everything changes when Summer Ryan disappears. She’s Grace’s “good girl” and she wouldn’t run away, would she? But then again, she left a note… Did Bird take her? Did she take off? Meanwhile, her wild sister Raine is determined to find out what happened and so she starts investigating with the help of two other teenagers: Noah and Purv. But that’s not all. We will also follow Summer’s months before her disappearance and we might discover things we wish we hadn’t known…

The mystery was hands down fantastic, and it’s exactly the kind of story that I crave for. A southern gothic tale that is completely absorbing and leaves you breathless by the time you reach the tragic final pages.

Even though the book is completely different to Tall Oaks, it still has all those ingredients that made me fall in love with Chris Whitaker’s writing. You can’t help but love Noah from the very first scene with the badge. And he is not Manny, but there’s something about this sweet kid that reminded me of him. The relationship between the teenagers is sweet and devastating at the same time and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears.

All The Wicked Girls is an unforgettable novel and I want you all to discover its magic.

ARC, Bonnier Zaffre, 2017