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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

March 26, 2016

3 Wonderful Women's Fiction Novels

reviews by Susan Roberts

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake
The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale
This novel is about friendship - the kind of friendship between women that anyone is lucky to find. Carri, Laine and Ella Rae have been friends since elementary school and now in their 30s they are faced with all kinds of adult problems. They live in a small town in the South where everyone knows all about what is going on in everyone else's life and there are all sorts of eccentric characters. The novel centers around their friendship - first whether or not Carri's husband is having an affair.  If he is having an affair, Carri thinks that she should go ahead and have one too, just to pay him back but her friends convince her that is not a very wise move.   After that there is a major health crisis of one of the members of the group.

Along with the story, there are descriptions of scrumptious Southern food throughout the book. These characters really eat well.  If you aren't hungry when you start this book, you will be while you are reading it!

I loved all three of the main characters - I live in the South and I know people just like them. I laughed with them and I cried with them and I hated to see the book end. This is a fantastic book and I will definitely be on the lookout for future books from this author.

Buy The Secret to Hummingbird Cake at Amazon
available formats: ebook & print (304 pages); published: February 2016 by Thomas Nelson; source: Netgalley

As Close to Us as Breathing
As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner
This is a multi-generational novel about a Jewish family and a how a tragedy affects all of their lives through the years. The novel begins in 1948 as the women and children of the family go to their cottage at the beach in Connecticut for the summer - their husbands only come up on weekends. The family consists of three sisters and their children. The reader is told very early on that a tragedy occurs that summer that affects everyone but it isn't until very late in the book that the tragedy is totally explained. The book switches back into history when the sisters were young and then into modern day when the children are grown up and we see how everyone dealt with the tragedy that happened that summer. I had a little trouble following all of the time changes and different stories but once I finished the book and saw the entire story and it all made sense, I appreciated the story and what the author was trying to do. I enjoyed the book and would read this author again.

Buy As Close to Us as Breathing at Amazon
available formats: ebook & print (368 pages); published March 2016 by Lee Boudreaux Books; source: Netgalley 

Somewhere Out There
Somewhere Out There by Amy Hatvany
This is my first book by Amy Hatvany and after reading this, it won't be my last. The author has a real talent for writing believable characters who the reader cares about and understands and wants to see happy endings for. This was a fantastic book and once I started it, I couldn't put it down.

Jennifer is a young mother with two small daughters. They are living in her car and she doesn't have money to feed them or take care of them. After some bad decisions that end up with her in jail, she agrees to sign away her parental rights hoping that they will have a better life. Forward 35 years, Natalie has had a good life with her adopted parents. She is married and has two children and a good education when her parents tell her that she has a sister that they never told her about. This is the story of her search for her sister and her birth mother. Will finding them make her feel more complete or will it create more problems in her life? Her search and the ultimate outcome of the search make this a compelling story.

Buy Somewhere Out There at Amazon
available formats: ebook & print (368 pages); published March 2016 by Washington Square Press; source: Netgalley

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: Free ebooks were provided for these reviews. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

March 25, 2016

Review: Florida Firefight by Randy Wayne White

review by Donna Huber

Florida Firefight

Hawker, the main character of Florida Firefight by Randy Wayne White, reminded me a little of Justified's Raylan Givens. Hawker is a lawman, but like Givens he is more moralistic rather than legalistic. In other words he will do whatever it takes for the outcome to be right, even if those methods aren't legal.

That is how Hawker finds himself stripped of his badge and on payroll as a vigilante.

Florida Firefight is more plot driven, rather than character-centric. At about 34% (I'm reading the ebook), we jumped right into the main action after a little backstory on how Hawker came to be where he is. I was hoping for some more character development. I wondered if the character was just very guarded, and in some ways this is true since he is essentially undercover, but I felt more like the author didn't want to give his characters much depth.

I was nodding along with Winnie when she says of Hawker:
"Who are you, James Hawker?" She seemed to be asking some person beyond his own eyes. "I want to know who you are.Why won't you trust me?"
While he may have been wised not to have trusted her with more information, I would have liked to know more about not only Hawker, but the rest of the cast. But that's because I enjoy character-centric novels and Florida Firefight is definitely a plot-driven story.

However, I'm not sure if the action was all that stellar either. (This may just be my bias because I didn't have an emotional connection with any of the characters.)

Even scenes that should have been emotional and tugging at my heart felt bland. We have Buck, an old man of the community who has seen the Colombians come in and take over the little fishing village that in its heyday attracted some of Hollywood's elite, telling his story of how the men of the town have failed to protect what is theirs. And I wanted to be emotionally involved, but it just never quite took hold of me.

Florida Firefight was originally published in the 1990s and it was fun in a way to hear Hawker talk about his "suped-up" computer with its minuscule amount of RAM (compared to today's standards) and dial-up modem. But what really had me laughing was the foreplay between Winnie and Hawker,
"My God, man, do you have a permit for that thing?"
"It's not even registered."
"You look like a sign post."
"Need directions, lady?"
Then they go on "to search for the label" to read. It took me back to the 1990s and some of the other corny things people said.

By the time I got to the end of the novel I was ready for it to be over with. I guess it was climiatic with all the gun fire and subterfuge. There was a bit of a twist that I wasn't expecting, but I might have been too bored with the story by this point to really care.

While there are definitely books written with women in mind, I haven't given it much thought as to what a book for men would be like. I have to wonder if Florida Firefight was written more for the male reader.

Objectively, Florida Firefight is a good book. It just wasn't really the book for me. If you like plot-driven tales with a good bit of action, then definitely pick up this book, which is now available for the first time in ebook.

Buy Florida Firefight at Amazon

book info:
available formats: ebook, audio, and print (200 pages)
published: March 2016 by Open Road Media
ISBN13:  978-1504035149
genres: mystery, suspense, crime
ebook provided by publisher via Netgalley

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: A free ebook was provided for this review. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

March 24, 2016

Build Online Relationships with Engaging Content

by Donna Huber

I'm back with another Tips on Thursday post. I know at the end of last year I thought I would discontinue this feature, but after a couple of months I found I missed it. Also at the end of the year I was trying to stave off burn-out and didn't feel like I had any more information to share. Well, a break has done wonders and I find myself with a lot I want to share. I probably won't go back to weekly posts, but will definitely be doing a monthly Tips feature.

I've been participating in a group to encourage engagement on variou social media channels. You know, in an effort to make social media social again. But it has me wondering if people know how to socialize any more.

The point of the group is to have discussions, but I was surprised by the number of posts that were nothing more than "buy my book", "this book is now on sale" and other iterations. Seriously, some of them had no text beyond "get this genre novel for 99 cents". There was no context to start a conversation. Honestly, it had the absolute opposite effect on me than the author wanted.

I was looking to connect with people with a shared interest and instead I was advertised to.

According to this blog post, a consumer is bombarded with 300 - 700 marketing messages each day. I didn't need to go looking for more advertisements.

I was surmised 3 possibilities why people think 'buy me' posts equate to engaged posts.

  1. People don't see the point
  2. They don't know how to craft an engaging post
  3. They just don't care

Why should I create an engaging post?

A post that makes a person think is more likely to be remembered. I can't name one book from last week that was mentioned in a "buy my book" post though there was a couple of boxed sets advertised. However, I do remember the post about Irish legends, Native American folklore, a reality that sounds like science fiction, and even one on choosing the appropriate beer for St. Patrick's Day.

These posts made a lasting impression on me. They also showed off the author's writing ability. SHOWING me you can write is better than TELLING me you can write (or have other people telling me).

I'm horrible with names, but I will remember small details of conversations we have. The more memorable the conversation, the more likely I will recognize your name when I see it attached to something else.

Also, an engaged reader will continue to come back for more. And you will get more opportunities to sell your book to the person.

Don't believe me? Check out this post on Hootsuite's blog, which starts off:
It’s no secret: The better you know your audience, the better you will be at engaging with them. The better you are at engaging with them, the stronger the relationships you will build with them. And the stronger the relationship with them, the easier it will be to sell to them.

How do I write an engaging post?

When you sit down to write your post, approach it as a conversation and not a lecture. A conversation requires participation by two or more people, whereas a lecture is just one person talking.

Right now, this post is a lecture. While you may be enjoying the information I'm providing, there is no required action on your part. How can I turn that around? How can I make this more interactive?

In face-to-face conversations there are natural opportunities for others to interject. It is not as easy in blog posts, though other social media channels make it much easier because they are set-up to be more dynamic.

Asking questions, presenting a problem, stating a position can all encourage dialogue.

Examples of Engaging Content

Ask questions of your readers. Perhaps you think that tweaking your back cover blurb will increase sales. Ask your readers which blurb is more appealing and for any suggestions they may have. I asked two questions above and I didn't answer them. I think it is important to pose questions that you don't necessarily have an answer to. You can always follow-up with your ideas in the comments.

Present a problem such "I'm having trouble finding time to write. I need to find a better work/life/writing balance". People will offer their opinion on how to balance your time. As your target audience aren't necessarily other writers make sure it is a problem they can relate to - most people have struggled with life/work balance. I presented a problem with this post - creating engaging content.

Stating a position is opening yourself up to debate. And while it can create some of the greatest conversations, it is also the hardest to do. In one of last week's tweets an author put forth that there's no such thing as a fascinating woman. That was an excellent starting point for an extended conversation. I came back with I didn't agree with that statement. I expected the author to come back with an explanation of why they did or did not agree with the statement. I got a sad face which I couldn't figure out if it meant the author was sad that I didn't agree with them or it it meant they were sad about the statement. Either way it didn't encourage further conversation.

I debated how to start this post because I stated a position that others may see as an attack, which is not what I'm doing at all. By the number of articles out there on engaging audiences, it is a far larger problem than just what I'm seeing within this group. By the way, I think this article has great tips on creating engaging content.

(Side note: this group I'm part of is relatively new and a learning curve is to be expected. I've noticed better content this week.)

What does it take to engage your audience?

  • It takes work. I've been working on this article for a few days. While I've only been writing it for two days, I've been thinking about it and searching sources for a a little more than a week.
  • It takes time. You have to build an audience. You have learn what your audience wants. You have to build trust and a relationship. All of that takes time. Don't get discouraged if you only get a few comments (or even none), keep working on it. 
  • It takes diligence. You can't just put up a post and forget about it. Continue the conversation in the comments. That is where the real engagement and relationship building occurs.

What do you think? What do you do to engage your audience on social media?

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March 23, 2016

Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

by Kathleen Barker

The Boys in the Boat

I rarely read non-fiction, and I've never rowed.  I can count on one hand the number of crew races I've watched on television in my lifetime.  The books I choose to read are based on suggestions from a trusted circle of friends, and they are invariably fiction.  So, whatever possessed me to buy this book? 

A friend outside my reading circle raved about it on Facebook, so I decided to look it up.  I'd never heard of it and was knee-deep in my third re-reading of the Outlander books in preparation for the start of its second season in April.  Olympic rowers were not on my radar screen.  Yet when I checked on Amazon, there were over 17,000 reviews, and 81% were five stars.  The other 19% were four stars.  My interest was piqued.  How could so many people love a book that sounded kind of ho-hum to me?  I still had some money left on a holiday gift certificate, so that made it a little less painful to take a chance and check it out.

Yowza...I'm glad I did.

The sport of crew (rowing) is, for the most part, Eastern elitist.  What kind of chance did Depression-era young men have in the Seattle, Washington area?  I wondered if I were in for a deadly dull read about Rowing Rocky-types.  Yet author Daniel James Brown knows how to weave everyday details and historical timelines into a magic carpet ride of hope, determination, team bonds and glorious triumph.   The magical alignment at that point in the 1930's of British boatmaker George Pocock, the brilliant University of Washington coach Al Ulbrickson, and an unlikely group of young men from economically-devastated America is nothing short of historical lightning. 

The story centers on Joe Rantz, a boy who had been abandoned by his family, but survived through his wits and ability to endure a daily amount of hard labor that would have crushed a lesser spirit.  Thrown together as freshmen, the assortment of young men from dairy farms and lumber mills soon coalesced into a very special crew.  As they learned to submit to the harsh master that is team rowing, they ascended to a level of excellence that allowed them to represent the United States triumphantly at the infamous 1936 Olympics, otherwise known as Adolph Hitler's plan to showcase German superiority. 

Author Brown's ability to tell the story by blending descriptive detail and the euphoric memories of a dying Rantz make this an extraordinary tale that will enchant and inspire readers for years to come.

Buy The Boys in the Boat at Amazon

Book info:
available formats: ebook, audio and print (416 pages)
published: May 2014 by Penguin Books
ISBN13: 978-0143125471
genres: non-fiction, sports
source: purchased

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Kathleen Barker attended Catholic elementary and high schools before graduating with a B.A. in English and Education from Towson University. She also attended Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. After 20 years as the widely-traveled wife of a U.S. Navy pilot and mother of three, Ms. Barker worked in New Orleans, LA for a Forbes 500 company until just before Hurricane Katrina. During her tenure there she wrote multiple feature articles for the company magazine, and received the Field Reporter of the Year Award. She returned to her beloved home state of Maryland in 2006, where she still resides.  Her published works include "Ednor Scardens", "The Body War", "The Hurting Year" and "On Gabriel's Wings".  Barker maintains a blog, "Dashboard Confessions of an Undisciplined Mind" at

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March 22, 2016

A Beautiful Family Story #BookReview

review by Susan Roberts

The Charm Bracelet

I will tell you right at the beginning of my review that The Charm Bracelet was a fantastic book! Viola Shipman did a great job as a first time novelist with this story in making the characters and the story come alive. Its a fantastic book to read and I think it would be a great book to be discussed at book club meetings.

The book centers around Lolly, grandmother, Arden, daughter and Lauren, granddaughter. Lolly is starting to lose her memory and wants to share the stories of their family and invites her daughter and granddaughter home to Michigan for Memorial Day weekend.

She uses her charm bracelet and has a story to tell about each charm on her bracelet. Arden, long embarrassed by her mom had quit wearing her charm bracelet but Lauren still wore hers. As the stories are told, Arden realizes the mistakes that she's made in her life and the three women work to re-connect with each other and with their inner feelings. As they learn to forgive each other for their past mistakes, they also forgive themselves and begin to make plans to go forward and be the women that they were meant to be.

The Charm Bracelet is a wonderful book about love and family and the family history that makes us all what we are today. I am definitely looking forward to future books from this author.

Buy The Charm Bracelet at Amazon

Book info:
available formats: ebook and print (304 pages)
published: March 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN13: 9781250071323
genres: women's fiction

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: A free ebook was provided for this review. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

March 21, 2016

Diana Stevan: Taking My Writing Off the Back Burner #MondayBlogs

A Cry From the Deep
Writing has always been a passion but one I had put on the backburner. I didn’t publish my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP until our children had left home and grandkids were on the scene.

I waited that long, because writing has never been a guaranteed way of making a living. In the early days of our marriage, my husband returned to university to finish his Bachelor of Arts degree and then went on to get a Master of Social Work. I needed to help cover our living expenses, which by the time he finished, included expenses for two children.

With a growing family, I continued to dabble on the side, publishing the odd newspaper article, but again, I knew I needed a steadier income. So I also went back to university and got my Master of Social Work. It wasn’t going to be a career that promised big money, but at least I’d have a job and I’d be doing something both worthwhile and enjoyable.

It’s not surprising then that my experience helping people finds its way into my novels. Catherine Fitzgerald, the protagonist in A CRY FROM THE DEEP, ends up visiting a therapist when her fears about diving again get the best of her. In my upcoming second novel, THE RUBBER FENCE, to be published on March 3, 2016, therapy sessions play a much bigger role. This story is inspired by my work on a psychiatric ward in 1972.

My rich and varied work experiences have been fodder for my tales but I’ve never used  the stories of people I’ve seen in therapy or counselling sessions. Confidentiality and respect are part and parcel of the work I’ve done.  Helping people find solutions to their problems has allowed me to write characters with depth. Sometimes too much depth, meaning I’ve taken a longer time to write a novel than most novelists. Of course, much of my time was spent supporting my aging mother and taking care of grandchildren when the need arose.

So given family responsibilities, A CRY FROM THE DEEP took over fifteen years and my novelette, THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN, over ten years. THE RUBBER FENCE was even longer. The latter one was a screenplay first. I had agents in both Toronto and Vancouver, who shopped it around to Meg Ryan, Jody Foster, and others. There was some interest but I realized before long how difficult it is to sell a screenplay, even harder than a novel.

Though writing continues to be a challenge especially in today’s marketplace, it remains one of the things I most love to do. If you do get a chance to read any of my stories, please leave a review and pass the word along. Word of mouth is appreciated by all authors who write to have their stories read.

Buy A Cry From the Deep at Amazon

About the Author:

Diana Stevan likes to describe herself as a Jill of all trades. Her eclectic work history serves her well in her writing. She's worked as a family therapist, a professional actor, professional model, teacher, and a freelance writer-broadcaster for CBC Televisions Sports Journal.
Diana was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Home Economics with honors and Master of Social Work, graduating on the Dean's honour list.
She's published poetry in the U.K. journal, DREAMCATCHER; a short story in ESCAPE, an anthology; a novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, a romantic mystery/adventure; a novelette, THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN, coming-of-age story; and her second novel, THE RUBBER FENCE, contemporary fiction, inspired by her work on a psychiatric ward in 1972, will be published in March, 2016.
Diana lives with her husband Robert on Vancouver Island, in beautiful British Columbia.
website  *  Facebook  *  Twitter  *  Google+  *  Pinterest

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: Views, opinions, and beliefs expressed by guest writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Girl Who Reads. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

March 20, 2016

"Sweet and Funny" ~ Clutch by Lisa Becker

clutch: a novel is the laugh-out-loud, chick lit romance chronicling the dating misadventures of Caroline Johnson, a single purse designer who compares her unsuccessful romantic relationships to styles of handbags – the “Hobo” starving artist, the “Diaper Bag” single dad, the “Briefcase” intense businessman, etc. With her best friend, bar owner Mike by her side, the overly-accommodating Caroline drinks a lot of Chardonnay, puts her heart on the line, endures her share of unworthy suitors and finds the courage to discover the “Clutch” or someone she wants to hold onto.

Purses, Cute Boys and a Sweet Southern Girl ~ ArcadiaLynn

A funny, light, easy read ~ Sharon

I loved Clutch! This was such a fun read ~ Christine Larson

Start reading...

Buy Clutch at Amazon

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