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August 10, 2023

3 Character Driven Stories That You Don't Want to Miss

by Donna Huber

I've gotten a bit of a break from the sorching heat during these dog days of summer. It's still plenty hot enough in the sun, but it is quite pleasant sitting in the shade, plus there have been a few wonderful thunderstorms. All perfect for reading. If you love a story that focuses on the characters, I have three novels for your consideration. 

Amazon affilate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

There's No Coming Back from This by Ann Garvin

book cover of women's fiction novel There's No Coming Back from This by Ann Garvin
August 2023; Lake Union Publishing; 978-1542033596
audio, ebook, print (303 pages); women's fiction

If you missed Susan's review of this book last week, here's your chance to add it to your reading list. It is one of the best books I've read this summer.

Poppy is a typical mid-westerner - honest, friendly, and forthright. She is a 50-something mother whose daughter just graduated high school. Her daughter has taken a job in New York City for the summer before she heads to nursing school in the fall. While Poppy is worried about her daughter going to the big city, she is relieved that her daughter won't be home for a few months. Poppy has found herself in hot water with the IRS. She trusted the wrong person to be her accountant and her business and property taxes haven't been paid. In over her head and faced with losing everything she has worked hard for, she will grasp any lifeline offered. In walks her ex. Theirs was a May-December romance nearly 20 years ago. - he was the "one that got away" for Poppy. He is a Hollywood producer and needs Poppy on the set of his new movie.

I read this book super quick. I just couldn't put it down. You know something is quite right on set and I was just waiting for the shoe to drop on Poppy. 

Probably because I read it so quickly, I didn't notice some of the errors that others have mentioned in their reviews. And really I was focused on the characters. It is a great character-focused story. I liked Poppy, though I found her annoying at times. It wasn't until Muriel mentioned why she was annoyed with Poppy that I realized it was the same reason for me. But Poppy is a great character, especially if you like rooting for the underdog.

If you are trying to fit in one more beach read before fall, then I definitely recommend this one.

(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read for FREE)

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

book cover of historical fiction novel The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry
May 2023; Atria Books; 978-1668011836
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction

I've come to look forward to Patti Callahan Henry's new book each year. While the last few I've read have been based on real people, this one is a bit more fiction. It does feature a real-life event - Operation Pied Piper. But the characters are all fictional.

The two books I've read by Henry have featured aspects of C.S. Lewis's life. First, there was Becoming Mrs. Lewis (read my review), and then there was Once Upon a Wardrobe (read my review). She does extensive research for her books so it wasn't surprising that when she wrote a book featuring Operation Pied Piper there would be similarities to the story around C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series. Supposedly he wrote the story after housing 4 children in his home during WWII.

Henry's main character Hazel makes up the world of Whisperwood - an enchanted land for just her and her sister - to help comfort her younger sister Flora during their separation from their mother and the recent death of their father. A tragic event in which it is believed that 6-year-old Flora fell into the river and drowned left a heavy mark on 15-year-old Hazel. When a first edition book featuring the story that Hazel created 20 years ago shows up in the rare bookshop she works in, she must delve into the hurt and pain of the past in order to learn the truth of what happened to her sister. 

I really liked Hazel. My heart hurt for her as she has carried the burden of thinking she was responsible for the loss of her sister all these years. But I was also thrilled that she followed her heart. While some may have thought she was just grasping at straws hoping her sister was still alive, it felt like so much more. And really showed Hazel true character.

Parts of the story were predictable, but that didn't take away any of the enjoyment of reading this story. I had real trouble putting the book down.

This is a great seasonal transition book so if you haven't picked it up year, now would be the perfect time.

Shadows We Carry by Meryl Ain

book cover of historical fiction novel Shadows We Carry by Meryl Ain
April 2023; SparkPress; 978-1684632008
ebook, print (196 pages); historical fiction

Shadows We Carry
 is the sequel to The Takeawy Men (read my review). You don't have to have read the first book to enjoy this book. I listened to the audiobook two years ago so I don't remember much about the characters. There is enough backstory given in this second book that you can quickly catch up if you haven't read the first book.

Bronka and Jojo are now twenty-somethings and embarking on adulthood. However, both carry the burden of being immigrants of Jewish parents who lived through the Holocaust. I read Sonia Taitz's memoir a few years ago and much of what Bronka and Jojo experience and feel echoed what Taitz wrote about being the child of Holocaust survivors.

Jojo has a role in the book, but it mainly focuses on Bronka as she finds herself during a turbulent time. The book spans the 1960s and 1970s. Bronka embodies the desires of many women who lived through those decades of great change. She wants a career as a journalist but she also wants to marry and give her father Jewish grandchildren. 

Bronka is an interesting character. I have read one or two other books set during this time period that featured women, but this is the first one that had a Jewish main character and as such there is a lot of focus on what it meant to be Jewish during this time. There were some Jews who held tightly to their faith and continued to follow Jewish customs in their everyday lives. Then there were others who were considered cultural Jews - they might celebrate some of the big holidays like Yom Kippur, Passover, and Hanukkah but it has little bearing on their daily lives. Bronka is the former, but throughout the story she encounters both conservative and cultural Jews. And I found it interesting to see how the Holocaust did (and in some ways) didn't have an impact on their lives.

I had a little trouble getting into the book because the writing was a bit stilted. Often the dialogue didn't ring authentic - it didn't sound natural. But I wanted to see if Bronka's dreams would come true and I'm glad I stuck with the book. In the beginning, I wasn't sure I liked Bronka but by the end, I had a real respect for her and the life she forged for herself.

Buy Shadows We Carry at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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