Note to Readers

Roundtable Reviews receives many galley and ARC copies for review. Please understand that the finished copy may differ from the copies we have reviewed.

I have not received any compensation for writing this post other than a free digital or galley copy of the book. I have no material connection to the publisher, agent, or author whose book/s I am reviewing. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Release Date - March 19, 2019



While I loved The Last Year of the War, I also hated that people don't seem to learn from the past. This book takes the reader back to WWII and the atrocities many U.S citizens faced simply because their ancestors were in Germany or Japan.

Elise Sontag only knows Iowa as her home. Her parents became U.S. citizens 20 years earlier, long before she was born. Her father's job as a chemistry teacher is part of what makes the U.S. government decide he's a threat. The family is whisked off to an internment camp in Texas.

Mariko Inoue is in a similar position. Her family lives in Los Angeles, but that doesn't stop the U.S. government from deciding their Japanese heritage makes them a threat. That family is also sent off to the Texas internment camp where Elise and Mariko become friends.

It isn't too long before Elise and Mariko are both sent back to their ancestral countries with their families. Elise, her parents, and her brother will be traded for U.S. soldiers. She and Mariko promise that when the war is over, they'll meet up again. In countries foreign to them, they'll have to first survive the atrocities of war and human nature.

The Last Year of the War broke my heart. I know it happened. I see similar behaviors happening today and it maddens and saddens me. As humans, we are supposed to learn from the past, yet we just don't.

The story moves between past and present. Much of it takes place in the 1940s, but you also see Elise today as she tries to find Mariko before it's too late. Elise has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, so time is running out. She needs to find her friend before her memories of past and present disappear.

I loved this story, but it isn't an easy read. It's painful at times. It's also full of hope. If you enjoy historical women's fiction, this book needs to be on your must-read list.




Monday, March 25, 2019

Murder From Scratch by Leslie Karst

Release Date - April 9, 2019



I'm a sucker for culinary mysteries. I never caught wind of Leslie Karst's first Sally Solari Mystery, but that didn't keep me from indulging in Murder From Scratch. Sally's busy running her newly inherited restaurant. Despite a somewhat moody chef and impending partnership deal, she finds herself taking in her distant cousin.

Evelyn's mom died of a drug overdose. Evelyn is blind and found the body when stumbling over her. She's devastated, but there's no family who can take her in except for Sally's dad and he's allergic to dogs. Sally agrees and quickly learns that her cousin is fun, very independent, and an excellent cook.

Soon, the pair realize that Evelyn's mom did not accidentally overdose or commit suicide. She has to have been poisoned intentionally. Police detectives aren't quite as convinced. Sally and her cousin decide it's worth finding what is needed to get the police to open a murder investigation. Doing so might put them in harm's way.

From the beginning, I was hooked. Evelyn is incredibly likable and her insight as a blind person added to the intrigue. Sally had moments where I couldn't believe she was missing obvious things, but that often happens. The mystery keeps you guessing, but it's not impossible to solve either.

As a bonus, there are several recipes at the end. Including one for Evelyn's hand-rolled pasta. I cannot wait to try it!




Monday, March 18, 2019

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Release Date - March 5, 2019



I'd heard so many people say that the ending to Beautiful Bad was truly shocking. I saw it coming, so that ended up being a bit of a letdown.

The story focuses heavily on three people. Maddie and Jo were best friends, joined into a friendship during their years in the Balkan Peninsula. The dangers they faced there drew them together. It's also there that Maddie was introduced to a British security officer, Ian. Their relationship grew fast but rocky.

In Kansas, Maddie and Ian are happily married with a young son Charlie. There's been a horrific crime and the police need to unravel what happened.

Beautiful Bad takes place in past, recent past, and present. You get to know Maddie's story when she lived in Bosnia and frequently went to Macedonia to see Jo, as well as her life in New York City and Kansas. Ian's story is told as he is in Iraq. There is also the police officer who responds to the 911 call and hears young Charlie's cries asking why someone hurt him.

The real-time account from the officer drew me into the story. As the story started flipping around from past to present, I started finding myself wishing for more of the current investigation. After a few chapters, I felt that the frequent flips back and forth were slowing the part of the plot that intrigued me. I started to grow tired of Jo and Maddie's story. When I started having to force myself to keep reading, I knew I was in trouble.

There is plenty of suspense in Beautiful Bad, and it started off so strong. I'm sad that it reached a point where it became exactly what I was expecting. I had the ending pegged too soon for this to be a keeper.




Friday, March 15, 2019

House on Fire by Bonnie Kistler

Release Date - March 12, 2019



Imagine if Greg Brady from The Brady Bunch had driven Jan Brady and caused a crash that led to Jan's death. That's the premise behind Bonnie Kistler's House on Fire.

Leigh is a divorce lawyer, so she knows the statistics on how many marriages don't last. She's been through it. When she met builder Pete Conely, she was stunned by how well her twin sons and daughter got along with Pete's son and daughter. Their fifth year anniversary has arrived, so they decide to leave 14-year-old Chrissy at home with her 17-year-old step-brother.

Neither expects the call that will change their lives. Kip's been arrested for DUI with Chrissy in the truck when it goes off the road. Within 12 hours, a traumatic brain injury ends Chrissy's life and Kip is now facing manslaughter charges.

Leigh and Pete are now pitted against each other. Kip swears he didn't do it and that Chrissy was driving because he was drunk. Leigh cannot believe her daughter would ever do such a thing and not tell her. Kip swears there is a witness, though no one has been able to find him. One thing is certain, these events threaten to tear two families apart and end their marriage.

Here's a book that had me hooked from the start. Could I see both Pete and Leigh's desperation and points of view? Sure. Could I side with either? I have to say both made errors that annoyed me at times. I certainly had issues with Leigh's twin boys, though I get them too. Despite these niggles, House on Fire is a book I couldn't put down. I was up early to read on and stayed up far later than normal trying to fit both this book and my nightly binge of an Agatha Raisin show.

I'd been in a bit of a rut since last week. House on Fire cured it. I'm so glad I picked it up.


Friday, March 8, 2019

Convergence by Ginny Yttrup

Release Date - March 1, 2019


Years ago, a stalker tore Denilyn Rossi's life apart. Though he's in jail, recent events convince her that she's being stalked again and all signs point to her original stalker. As a psychology professor and former victim, she has the experience and knowledge to handle what's thrown her way, but when it's you, it's personal and hard to manage.

Adelia Sanchez is a fan of Rossi's work. She has a life to live and things to prove to herself. When she and Deni cross paths, it will lead to unimaginable consequences.

It's been a few years since I've picked up one of Yttrup's novels, but Convergence really intrigued me. It sounded like it was going to be an incredibly creepy ride. 

Sadly, even though chapters were clearly represented as to who was speaking and when it was, I couldn't get past the jumps from one character to the next and past to present. I felt incredibly bogged down by these changes. I was having to really work to keep track and pay attention to the top line of every chapter, and that was a turn off for me. Reading for pleasure shouldn't feel like work. The choppy flow due to the switches made it hard to stay focused and while I wanted to get what was going on, I could never get past that feeling that it felt like I was working to keep up.






Monday, March 4, 2019

Me For You by Lolly Winston

Release Date - March 12, 2019



You know, I'd heard so many things about Lolly Winston's prior novels that I was dying to see what the buzz is about. I've heard Good Grief is an exceptional book. Maybe I need to try that one. Me For You fell really flat for me and I struggled to finish it.

He's 54 and madly in love with his wife of many years. Rudy wakes up with big plans for a day together. He never suspects that his still sleeping wife is actually dead. Ten months later, he's still uncertain how to move on.

His job playing piano for the shoppers at Nordstrom's helps. It also helps that he's slightly smitten with Sasha, a Hungarian woman who suffers her own secret loss. As she and Rudy get to know each other, they form a friendship that may be what they both need to get through their grief.

Rudy's world explodes when the police come with shocking news. His wife may not have died of natural causes after all. She may have been poisoned. The investigation threatens to turn Rudy's world upside down.

I had a really hard time with this book. I loved Rudy's character. His grief seemed authentic when it came to the effect it has on mental health. I thought Sasha's story ended up being stronger to me. I liked reading about her situation more. Despite the strength of their characters, I always felt like I was muddling through a book that had too much going on and not enough real depth to inspire me to keep reading.


Friday, March 1, 2019

I Am Yours by Reema Zaman

Release Date - February 5, 2019



I Am Yours is haunting, maddening, sad, and heartwarming in one. Really, the memoir begins before Reema Zaman is even born. Her mother is in college when she enters an arranged marriage. Reema is her firstborn. As she grows up, she questions the role of women in this world. She sees her mother trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her own dabbles in relationships lead to a range of outcomes. It ends up being a powerful look at relationships between men and women, families, and humans in general. It's not always pretty, but it's painfully honest.

I've seen some of the meanness that exists. I housed a Muslim college student for a month. The comments made when people thought we couldn't hear - maybe they just didn't care - stunned me. I watched a mother tell her young daughter that "men with brown skin" are dangerous. I watched three older men follow us around the store while saying he must be up to no good. This was essentially how a grown Muslim man was treated.

I cannot begin to imagine what it's like when you're actually the one in those shoes. The things Reema experiences run from being a strong player in the #metoo movement to emotional and verbal abuse from a family member. It's sad that people judge, bully, and harass and think it's okay. As I read each chapter, I became eager to read to the end.

Is I Am Yours an easy read? Not a chance. I had to adjust to her writing style to start with. Once I did, I was heartbroken at times and it made for tough reading. It's so worthwhile though. If you like memoirs, it's a must.