Blog Tour: The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel

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Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the tour for The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel! I generally try to choose blog tours that are outside of my usual genres but still sound interesting. I don’t read enough historical fiction on my own, and I enjoy novels set in the 1920s, so this seemed like a promising choice. And it was: it ended up being one of those pleasant surprises that was even better than I expected. Before I tell you why, check out the summary. (Also, don’t forget to scroll down and check out the other tour stops!)

Motherless and destitute, Frieda Hope grows up during Prohibition determined to make a better life for herself and her sister, Bea. The girls are taken in by a kindly fisherman named Silver, and Frieda begins to feel at home whenever she is on the water. When Silver sells his fishing boat to WWI veteran Sam Hicks, thinking Sam would be a fine husband for Frieda, she’s outraged. But Frieda manages to talk Sam into teaching her to repair boat engines instead, so she has a trade of her own and won’t have to marry.

Frieda quickly discovers that a mechanic’s wages won’t support Bea and Silver, so she joins a team of rumrunners, speeding into dangerous waters to transport illegal liquor. Frieda becomes swept up in the lucrative, risky work—and swept off her feet by a handsome Ivy Leaguer who’s in it just for fun.

As danger mounts and her own feelings threaten to drown her, can Frieda find her way back to solid ground—and to a love that will sustain her?

MyReview

For starters, I really enjoyed hearing the thoughts inside Frieda’s head. They were remarkably human and honest. She was so self-aware and yet so unable to escape from the snares in which she found herself, both romantic and legal. She frustrated me at times, but I know I’ve been guilty of similar behavior, and it was one of the things that drew me to her the most. I especially admired the way that she picked herself up, time and again, and carried on.

The setting, both time and location, is alternately glamorous and seedy, and it is wonderful. I enjoyed getting to visit a poor seaside town and see how a lucrative opportunity for illegal work could change its residents. I also enjoyed catching a glimpse into smoky, music-filled New York speakeasies.

The scenes on the rumrunning boat made me much more nervous than I anticipated. My heart was in my throat on multiple occasions as I wondered whether Frieda would manage to make it out of yet another threatening situation. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that she managed to make this book of historical fiction set in a sleepy seaside town feel tempestuous, nostalgic, hopeless, furious, and suspenseful.

I would have liked to see a bit more of Bea and Frieda as they grew into their adult lives together. Most of Frieda’s scenes were with men, and I enjoyed watching her attempt to have a female friendship with her sister; I would’ve liked to see them adjust into a more mature relationship with one another.

Mostly, what I enjoyed about this book was the characters. They were all so different, none of them perfect, and I appreciated my time observing each of them. A minor favorite was Rudy, a wonderful undercurrent of strength, but I also loved the relationship between Frieda and Silver, the quiet understanding that they held as father and daughter.

All in all: Works on lots of levels. I expected to enjoy this, but I was surprised by just how much I did.

OtherInfo

CreelPhoto

Ann Howard Creel was born in Austin, Texas, and worked as a registered nurse before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of numerous children’s and young adult books as well as fiction for adults. Her children’s books have won several awards, and her novel The Magic of Ordinary Days was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS. Creel currently lives and writes in Chicago. For more information about Ann’s work, visit her website, annhowardcreel.com.

OtherTourStops

Monday, August 22nd: Musings of  a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 23rd: You Can Read Me Anything
Wednesday, August 24th: Staircase Wit
Thursday, August 25th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Friday, August 26th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, August 29th: BookNAround
Tuesday, August 30th: Black ‘n Gold Girls Book Reviews
Wednesday, August 31st: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Thursday, September 1st: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Friday, September 2nd: The Warlock’s Gray Book
Monday, September 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, September 6th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, September 7th: Reading is My Superpower
Thursday, September 8th: Write Read Life
Monday, September 12th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, September 13th: Melissa Lee’s Many Reads
Thursday, September 15th: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, September 16th: FictionZeal
Monday, September 19th: Reading the Past

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Blog Tour: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

June

June by Miranda Beverly-Whitemore. Crown. 400 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on TLC’s tour for June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore! Before we get to my review, check out the synopsis:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever. 

Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

MyReview

I requested this book because it sounded interesting. I don’t like to write negative reviews for tours, so I only agree to read books that catch my eye and that I expect to enjoy. While I expected to like this one, I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Let’s talk about the time periods. Half the book takes place in 1955, half in 2015. I enjoyed that Cassie (2015) didn’t have an Internet connection or a smartphone because it made the mystery last a little longer. I find it so refreshing when a book has the bare minimum in terms of technology; although I make frequent use of Google, I enjoy it more when characters have to search for clues the old-fashioned way. And the 1955 chapters? I adored them. Hollywood moving into a small town was an excellent tension-builder!

As far as the characters, they’re pretty flawed, but in the best possible way. Sometimes readers complain about not “liking” a character, but that’s never been an issue for me. The problem is when an author can’t make me care at all about what happens to said characters. And I needed to know what was going to happen to the people in June!

The pacing was also excellent. Each chapter revealed a bit more information while also posing new questions. I kept promising myself I’d only read one more chapter…then I’d check my phone and it’d be 1:30 AM! (I have two kids and really can’t afford to be up that late on a regular basis, but when a book is this intriguing I don’t have much of a choice.)

Finally, the writing. Some writers can tell enthralling stories, but their writing just isn’t my style. Others have a beautiful way with words, but their stories never seem to go anywhere. June was a pleasant surprise: I couldn’t seem to put the book down, and I enjoyed Beverly-Whittemore’s language immensely.

All in all: I’m so glad I had the chance to read this book. I enjoyed it so much that I added Bittersweet, another novel by the same author, to my ever-expanding TBR.

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MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet; Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman; and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

OtherTourStops

Tuesday, May 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, May 25th: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, May 26th: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, May 30th: Buried Under Books
Tuesday, May 31st: FictionZeal
Tuesday, May 31st: Books a la Mode  – author guest post
Wednesday, June 1st: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Thursday, June 2nd: Luxury Reading
Monday, June 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, June 6th: Must Read Faster
Tuesday, June 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, June 8th: Fictionophile
Thursday, June 9th: Just Commonly
Friday, June 10th: A Bookaholic Swede
Monday, June 13th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, June 14th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, June 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Thursday, June 16th: Write Read Life
Friday, June 17th: Bibliotica

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Blog Tour: Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

Private Citizens cover

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte. William Morrow. 384 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte! Before my review, here’s the plot summary:

Capturing the anxious, self-aware mood of young college grads in the aughts, Private Citizens embraces the contradictions of our new century—call it a loving satire, a gleefully rude comedy of manners, Middlemarch for millennials. The novel’s four whip-smart narrators—idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda—are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, Private Citizens follows the four estranged friends as they stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again.

A wise and searching depiction of a generation grappling with privilege and finding grace in failure, Private Citizens is as expansively intelligent as it is full of heart.

MyReview

There’s not much I can say that the above description doesn’t, but I’ll do my best to find something. Let me start, though, by saying that the book is indeed cleverly satirical and that the four main characters are certainly “whip-smart.” The various groups encountered — from “I’m-too-cool-to-be-here” house party attendees to protestors whose focus is spread too thin — are portrayed in ways that made me nod in agreement (“Yes! That’s exactly what that sort of person is like!”) and laugh out loud. My personal favorite was Handshake, a commercial, self-help seminar whose leader argues via vague (or just plain off-the-wall) affirmations like the following:

What’s our most lethal modern sickness? Cancer? You can beat it, like my wife did. Heart disease? Diet, exercise, and baby aspirin. No, the answer is cynicism.

Please tell me that you, too, are rolling your eyes.

I know that character likability isn’t the be-all and end-all value of a book, but I still want to mention that I pretty much hated every one of these characters. No one’s perfect, and maybe I just got to know these four a little too well, you know? But, in spite of the fact that I would actively avoid being in a conversation with any of them (except maybe Henrik), I still found myself concerned about them from time to time (my heart broke for Will, and Linda’s journal entries made her much more accessible).

My main complaint with this book is the sheer amount of jargon/insider language it contains on topics as varied as technological toys, philosophy, and Internet porn. If you’re a very specific sort of person, you’ll pick up on every reference and acronym, but otherwise these scenes potentially distance the reader. Maybe that’s the point, that even insiders are on the outside sometimes, but I found it more frustrating than anything.

Overall? It took me a while to get into this one. It was difficult to look past how much I disliked the characters. Once I did, I found it interesting, but the average reader may not stick around long enough to get into the rhythm of the book. If you do, you’ll read a smart, cleanly-written satire of the modern age.

That’s all for today. Be sure to check out the other tour stops (listed below)!

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Tony Tulathimutte AP

Tony Tulathimutte has written for VICEAGNIThe Threepenny ReviewSalonThe New Yorker online, and other publications. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University, he has received an O. Henry Award and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. He lives in New York.

Find out more about Tony at his website, and connect with him on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

OtherTourStops

Wednesday, February 10th: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Monday, February 15th: I’m Shelf-ish
Tuesday, February 16th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, February 18th: Dwell in Possibility
Monday, February 22nd: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, February 23rd: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, February 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, February 25th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, February 26th: Worth Getting in Bed For

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Review: The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday

The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday. 304 pp. St. Martin's Press.

The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday. 304 pp. St. Martin’s Press.

All his life, Elijah Goldstein has idolized his charismatic Uncle Poxl. Intensely magnetic, cultured and brilliant, Poxl takes Elijah under his wing, introducing him to opera and art and literature. But when Poxl publishes a memoir of how he was forced to leave his home north of Prague at the start of WWII and then avenged the deaths of his parents by flying RAF bombers over Germany during the war, killing thousands of German citizens, Elijah watches as the carefully constructed world his uncle has created begins to unravel. As Elijah discovers the darker truth of Poxl’s past, he comes to understand that the fearless war hero he always revered is in fact a broken and devastated man who suffered unimaginable losses from which he has never recovered.


Hm…what to say about this one? I requested it because of this tweet from John Green:

Granted, it doesn’t take much to get John to cry, as is evidenced by his recent reaction to Shailene Woodley’s MTV Movie Award acceptance speech and his own admission (time and time again) that he’s an easy crier. But still. When something is so moving that you don’t even know what the hell just happened to your emotions, it can be a pretty powerful thing. So I hopped on over to NetGalley and requested this book.

I feel a little guilty for not liking this one. Not because John liked it and I’m a big fan of his (John the Nerdfighter more than John the Author, to be honest) but because, when I step back and look at it, it has so many positive elements: it’s a coming of age story, it’s a book within a book, it tells tales both modern and historical, and the idea of a young Jewish man fighting with the RAF during World War II just felt right somehow. It’s a great examination of the role that stories play in our lives and the fine line between fact and fiction. Reading what I just wrote, it sounds like I’m endorsing this book. But honestly, it almost bored me to tears rather than moving me to them. I feel like the concept was better than the execution and, although I wanted to like this book, I didn’t, not really.

All in all: It was too dry and detached for me, but if you don’t mind that sort of style, the story is good and the themes interesting.

Review: We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler. Bloomsbury. 288 pp.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler. Bloomsbury. 288 pp.

A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.
Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.
Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.
Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.
Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.
We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives. 
Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.


I’ve been reading Daniel Handler for over a decade. After figuring out that he was the alter ego of Lemony Snicket, I read everything he’d written that I could get my hands on. As the years have gone by, I’ve snapped up everything he’s written, enjoying the wordplay in Adverbs and even lugging a copy of the full-color (and therefore rather weighty) Why We Broke Up around New Orleans with me when it was released while I was on vacation a few years ago.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when NetGalley approved me for a review copy of his latest, We Are Pirates. I didn’t get far, though, before realizing this book is entirely different from the Daniel Handler that I know and love. It’s less sly and more forthright, less black comedy and more bleak, less linguistic show-off and more “literary.” I love Handler’s usual style and, though I didn’t dislike this book (in fact, I was pleased to see him try his hand at something new), I didn’t immediately love it the way I did The Basic Eight (my favorite of his books).

Thematically, though, We Are Pirates just might be Handler’s strongest book yet, with its foggy coast reflecting the loneliness and confusion of those on the outskirts of society. The idea of a teenage shoplifter and a man struggling with dementia leading a crew of pirates is laughable in theory, but Handler manages to make it into something poignant and terrifying all at once.

And there’s still a bit of the old Handler thrown in for good measure in lines like these:

There was a joke so vicious and funny she could not say it:

All hands on deck.

There was a hand on deck.

and

“I was Singapored.”

Shanghaied.”

“I knew it was a city…”

I didn’t find this as immediately quotable and lip-quirking as Handler’s other works, but I definitely didn’t dislike it. I’m actually glad that he’s proving not to be a one-trick pony like Chuck Palahniuk; I gave up on him a few years ago when I realized that his books could be epitomized by that line from Empire Records: “Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.” I’m interested to see what Handler’s got in store next! And while I wait, maybe I’ll finally pick up those Lemony Snicket prequels…

All in all: I didn’t love it, but I definitely liked it. Worth reading if you don’t mind feeling a little sad/shocked.

Off the List: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about my love of lists. Sadly, I haven’t crossed many items off of those lists in the meantime (off the top of my head, The Last Unicorn, The Interpreter of Maladies, and Wuthering Heights are the only ones I can recall — the former two rather good and the third incredibly underwhelming).

I’m trying to get back to those lists, though. This is partially due to the fact that I’ve been picking up lots of new releases lately and want to have more diversity in the time periods from which I’m reading, but it’s also because I own a great deal of the books on the lists and need to finally get around to reading them. Though I’m not enrolled in classes anymore, I want to continue working my way through the classics. It’s easier to read modern stuff right now, because I like to annotate (and sometimes even read works of criticism and take notes!) when reading a more challenging work, and that’s tough to do with a toddler and a newborn to keep track of. It’s much easier to dip into popular fiction, reading a page here and there, than it is to be interrupted from Tristram Shandy or Finnegans Wake (two volumes that have been silently judging me from my shelves for at least a decade). So I thought I’d compromise: I’ll pick a book from a list here and there, but I’ll hold off on the more intimidating ones for the time being.

Lord Of the Flies by William Golding. Penguin. 182 pp.

Lord Of the Flies by William Golding. Penguin. 182 pp.

My first choice was an item from The BBC’s Big ReadLord of the Flies. Please don’t judge me for not having read this yet. I attended private religious schools, and they were overly cautious and censoring about the works they assigned. I actually selected Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, among others, for book reports during my junior year of high school because I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough in my English classes. Yeah, I was that kid.

So. Lord of the Flies. William Golding, deceased though you may be, I’ve got a bone to pick with you: the book takes place on an island, I get it, but why oh why do the descriptions of nature have to be so dense?! I could see the boys’ mindsets reflected in the scenery around them, which is probably the point, but I didn’t care for the language at all. The dialogue moved along okay, but every time I hit a descriptive passage, it felt like I was dragging my way through a mucky old swamp: the action stopped so short that I wanted to fling the book across the room. (It’s a good thing I didn’t, because my copy is so old that it needs packing tape to hold it together. There are actually page clusters that will flutter out like dead leaves if I’m not careful.)

The physical and social changes in the boys are portrayed well, though, as are many of the observations about humanity, government, civilization, and lawlessness. For instance:

“The rules!” shouted Ralph. “You’re breaking the rules!”

“Who cares?”

Ralph summoned his wits.

“Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got!”

But Jack was shouting against him.

“Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong — we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat — !”

Even Ralph, who was initially a powerful leader, driven to keep the signal fire alight and call for rescue, begins to lose his focus as time goes by. His sense and logic are described as sort of shutting off from time to time, and he struggles to recall the goals he has set. The longer he spends away from society, the more he struggles to retain his civility, and the other boys are even worse, turning to superstition and violence to create a new, savage way of life.

Of course, it’s all a bit melodramatic, but I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for sensationalist fiction. I find that I’m losing this streak as time goes by, probably because I don’t see the point in panic and paranoia so much anymore, but it’s still a nice sort of story to visit here and there.

All in all: I can see why this one is taught in schools. I imagine that this book would be more shocking and mind-blowing if you’d never read anything like it before, but since that wasn’t the case with me, I wasn’t as impressed. It’d probably be fun to teach, though, if only to hear students’ reactions to the terrors that take place.

Review: The Next Breath by Laurel Osterkamp

TheNextBreath

The Next Breath by Laurel Osterkamp. 313 pp. PMI Books.

“I kiss him, choosing love over honesty, which is a choice nobody should ever have to make…” 

Robin loves sweet, responsible Nick, with his penchant for Beethoven and Ben Folds Five. But she also still loves her college boyfriend Jed, an irreverent playwright plagued with cystic fibrosis. Now Robin is struggling to reveal her secrets and confront her past, as she finally performs in the play that Jed wrote for her, eleven years ago. Will Robin have the strength to keep her promise and stay true to her heart?

Alternating between present-day scenes, college flashbacks, and segments from Jed’s play, this tear-jerking yet uplifting tale illustrates how life is finite but love is infinite, and the road to recovery begins with the next breath.

***WARNING: This review gets pretty spoiler-y at the end, but I’ll warn you before we get there so you can jump ship if you so choose. I want to tell you how much I loved this book, but I can’t tell you why (at least, not entirely) without giving something away.***

The Next Breath tells the story of Robin, a character I first encountered in another of Laurel Osterkamp’s books, The Holdout. I flew through The Holdout because it was engaging and enjoyable to read, and I hoped that I’d be similarly sucked in to this book, especially since it’s a sort of companion piece (though you don’t need to read one to enjoy the other). When I like a book by an author, I’m always a little nervous about starting another of their books because I don’t want to set my hopes too high. I needn’t have worried in this case, though, because The Next Breath was just breathtaking.

There are so many things I liked about this book: the symbolism in Robin’s dreams, the clear differences between college Robin and Robin-in-her-thirties (some flashbacks can’t pull this off, and the characters feel exactly the same), Jed’s deeply touching play, and Robin’s struggles and failures and ultimate determination to pull through. There’s really nothing I didn’t like, except that sometimes the flashback segments ran a little long and I forgot what was going on “in real time.”

Robin is a character that I like quite a bit. Since the story’s told in the first person, the reader is privy to her thoughts, both deep and shallow, and this makes her immensely relatable. There are some books that I love because the protagonist considers the “big issues” in ways that make me think, but there are other books where the protagonist thinks about the silliest, most neurotic things in a way that makes me realize I’m not alone in my all-over-the-place brain. Robin is a nice middle ground, her thoughts a combination between the two that I loved. I also like the fact that Osterkamp allows Robin to make some really cringe-worthy mistakes and ultimately recover from (most of) them.

All in all: I’d definitely recommend this one. It’s a great story of love and life and letting others in, even when it’s scary.

Okay, here come the SPOILERS.

(Leave now if you wish!)

 

You know all those tear-jerking books about a young person who loses his or her beloved all too soon? (I’m looking at you, Me Before You and The Fault in Our Stars!) I’ve read a few of them and shed some tears, sure, but there’s something I always think when I finish reading: what will become of the surviving lover? Most writers end with the survivor making a valiant effort to come to terms with being alone. That makes sense, in a way, but I’ve always wondered what comes next. Did Hazel Grace ever meet someone else that caught her eye, or could nobody hold a candle to Augustus Waters? Love, loss, grieving, and loving again are tough subjects to write about, and most writers tend to write about one side of things or the other, i.e., an entire book about falling in love and losing that person or a book about a widow(er) who meets someone interesting and learns to love again. This is not to say that I disliked the books mentioned above; I was actually very moved by both. I just wanted to know what came next. And until now, I’d never read a book that included both the lost relationship and the newly-found one.

Obviously, this a tough order for a writer to fill. In the case of The Next Breath, in order to fully appreciate Robin’s loss, the reader needs to feel the intensity of her relationship with Jed (who, in case you hadn’t guessed, sadly doesn’t have a successful lung transplant). However, in order to root for Robin to move on, the reader also needs to see how well she works with Nick. Laurel Osterkamp manages the dynamics of both relationships well, so well that I could feel my heart breaking for Robin multiple times throughout the book. Add the touching material that Jed’s play deals with, along with Catherine’s heartbreak at losing her son, and I was a teary mess.

This is a beautifully moving book, one that I hope you find the time to read.