‘Big Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner – take a fabulous trip to the beach

big summer

Jennifer Weiner never fails to grab readers with main characters who are entirely relatable, and who — in spite of many admirable qualities — usually have many of the same foibles that the rest of us suffer from. In “Big Summer,” main character Daphne Berg is an up-and-coming social media influencer. Her hashtags include #sorrynotsorry and #justasIam and her blog’s name is Big Time. Daphne is not slender, and during her whole life, she has been ashamed of her weight and her body.

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‘Race the Sands’ by Sarah Beth Durst is an amazing accomplishment – her best work that uses a fantasy world to teach us about our own

race the sands

“Race the Sands” is Sarah Beth Durst’s 20th published book, and maybe her best book yet. It’s a lovely fantasy in which women prove their strength not physically, but through mental exertions. The two main characters, Tamra and Raia, each have escaped a tortured childhood in the desert kingdom of Becar. They each end up working with kehoks, monsters who are born with the souls of depraved humans who didn’t deserve to come back in a human or animal body. Once reborn as a kehok, they are destined to be reborn as kehoks forevermore. It’s eternal damnation, and kehoks are monsters.

These monsters don’t respond to love or kindness. They want to kill and maim and destroy everything because of their monstrosity. Tamra, a former elite kehok rider, is desperate to find a kehok to train and a rider to race the kehok in Becar’s national races and win. It’s the only way she will be able to continue paying her daughter’s tuition at the school for augurs. Augurs are elite citizens, and the only ones who can read your soul (aura), who can tell you what you will be in the next life. It’s all about life, death, and rebirth. And the augurs control it all in Becar, where the emperor has died and his younger brother, Dal, cannot be coronated until his brother’s soul has been located in its new vessel and protected. But the augurs cannot find Zarin, his brother, in whatever new body he was reborn into, and time is running out. The neighboring country is amassing troops to invade, and important decisions cannot be made until there is a ruler.

Raia is running from unloving parents and an unwanted engagement to a man who killed his first wife. She is determined to make her way in the world, and if she can ride a kehok and succeed, so be it. What no one expects is how the newborn kehok Tamra buys, an apparently unmanageable killer, reacts to Raia, and what happens when they begin to race together.

The trainer, Tamra, is an unusual main character. She is not beautiful, but rather scarred and determined. She is a wonderful mother, but she is far from perfect. What she does have is an inner kindness and humanity. While other kehok trainers beat and starve their animals into submission, Tamra controls them with her mind, while treating the kehoks humanely. She is so powerful she can control several kehoks using just her thoughts. Strong women in this book show the men in it that physical strength isn’t always most important.

Durst forces us to question the status quo about religion and government. She opens our eyes about the nature of power and the corrupting forces that power and money can bring. She makes readers realize that no one is better than anyone else because of their position or their title. And that those who would preserve their power at the expense of the freedom of others are monsters.

While kehoks are monsters, they are straightforward monsters. You know by looking at them that they are monsters. Human monsters are a different animal. They walk among us, look like us, and often have power over us, but under their human disguise, they are as ugly and venal as any kehok.

“Race the Sands” will grab you and not let go. While the first few chapters take a slower pace because Durst is building the background and the world of Becar, the pace picks up to the point that this becomes a book you can’t put down, a book that you will savor at the same time you are feverishly turning the pages to find out how it all ends. I actually reread it immediately, looking for and enjoying my favorite parts. The characters and their world will linger in your mind long after the last page has been turned. It’s a perfect book — powerful, thoughtful, heartbreaking, and impactful.

Review first posted at Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.

‘Something She’s Not Telling Us’ by Darcey Bell; a novel set of liars

not tellingus

In “Something She’s Not Telling Us,” author Darcey Bell makes it pretty clear that there are some unreliable narrators telling the story. The main character, Charlotte, appears to have a perfect life. Her husband has made enough money that now he can pursue his passion, theater, and she owns a group of flower shops and gets to spend her days among the beautiful blossoms and heavenly scents of exotic blooms. They have a beautiful daughter, Daisy, and while she does suffer from asthma, it’s under control with her inhaler. So Charlotte and Eli, her husband, are as happy as can be. Continue reading

‘The Lost Orphan’ by Stacey Halls is a fascinating trip back to 18th century England and two very different mothers

lost orphan

What would you do with your newborn baby if you were a poor, uneducated, unwed mother in 1747 London? In “The Lost Orphan” by Stacey Halls, main character Bess is a seller of shrimp. She lives with her father and brother in a tiny two-room apartment, and they struggle to pay the rent and stay warm in the cold London winters. They rise before dawn and, no matter the weather, venture out to sell shrimp in the streets. It’s no life for an infant, and Bess doesn’t have the ability to stay home to raise a child. But she does have the opportunity to leave her baby at a foundling home where they will care for her infant, and when she is ready to reclaim her baby, she will be able to. Continue reading

‘No Bad Deed’ by Heather Chavez; one wrong move and watch out!

no bad deed

In “No Bad Deed,” debut author Heather Chavez presents readers with the thought that making one wrong move or just one poor decision, might change our lives. In fact, Cassie Larkin has always regretted not helping a victim of abuse she witnessed when she was in college, and she’s tried to make up for that lack in her current life. She’s a veterinarian whose heart is bigger than her pocketbook as she helps her patients with their beloved pets even when they can’t afford her skills. She’s a loving mother to her two children and a devoted wife to Sam, every woman’s idea of a perfect husband. He understands when she has to work long hours and can’t always be home for dinner or the children’s events. Continue reading

‘Golden in Death’ by J.D. Robb is the 50th novel in this fabulous futuristic detective series

golden in death

It’s proof of J.D. Robb’s talent that “Golden in Death” is the 50th novel in this popular series featuring New York Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas, yet one could just as easily¬† pick it up and read it as a stand alone mystery — and enjoy it just as much as a fan who’s read all the previous 49 novels.

In this mystery, a well-liked pediatrician is found murdered by a mysterious substance that killed him in minutes, evaporated almost immediately, and is unknown to the authorities. Soon after, there is another, similar murder. In each case, a package had been delivered to the murdered person with a fake return address. When each victim opened the outer shipping box, there was another box inside — a cheap wooden box — and inside that box was a plastic egg painted gold. When the clasp was unhinged, allowing the egg to open, the murderous substance was released. Continue reading

‘After Sundown’ by Linda Howard and Linda Jones is a story of survival, solitude, and two lonely people who find each other

after sundown

While the publicity for “After Sundown” by Linda Howard and Linda Jones emphasizes that it’s a love story, it’s also quite a tale of survival — how appropriate for right now. In this novel, there is a huge CME, or coronal mass ejection, that hits Earth, causing a massive disruption of the electrical grid. Sela Gordon and Ben Jernigan live in rural Tennessee, and have met infrequently at her gas station/general store when Ben has purchased gas. And while there was a mutual interest, neither of them actually did anything about it. Continue reading