The Admissions – a review

The AdmissionsNora is a Realtor at an upscale brokerage in Marin County in the Bay Area. She sells homes worth millions, the kinds of homes with views of the bay, with picky buyers, and annoying, high-maintenance sellers who require a lot of hand-holding and expensive open houses. As the mother of three daughters, Nora’s life is one juggled task after another: rides to school, dance lessons and competitions, and business meetings. Sleepless nights begin when she realizes she left an important disclosure out of a closed deal. Late night emails to her east coast sister reveal little bits and pieces of her present day dilemmas, and the guilt-ridden mistake involving her youngest daughter, Maya, that she has kept secret for far too long.

Gabe works at a large firm, and has a secret of his own—one that threatens to spoil everything if it gets out. Abby, a particularly odious intern, lets him know she knows about it, and is not above blackmail to further her career.

Angela, Nora and Gabe’s gifted eldest, is about to graduate high school and hopefully gain admission to Harvard, the school her father has pushed her to strive for. Every moment of her life is structured and centered on this dreamed of goal.

As a former real estate agent myself, I felt Meg Mitchell Moore captured the tenor of an agent’s day, the stressors and exhaustion, with surprising veracity. Intelligent, thoughtful Women’s fiction, the writing is above average for the genre, flawlessly paced, and the characters and storyline avoided cliché pitfalls they could easily have fallen into. The Hawthornes are a family hovering on the edge of disaster, while trying to maintain their upscale lifestyle in one of California’s most competitive communities. This one didn’t set me on fire, but I did enjoy it, from the grabby beginning to the quietly perfect end.

Read and reviewed for She Reads.

1066, What Fates Impose

1066 What Fates ImposeLong before the bloody defeat at Hastings, long before the Normans were unleashed on England’s Anglo-Saxon populace, the Fates were at work changing the course of English history. It’s these events author Glynn Holloway focusses his eye upon, and these that make up the fascinating bulk of this novel. To English history lovers, the year 1066 has long been familiar, as have the names William the Conqueror, and Harold Godwinson. But in 1066, What Fates Impose, Holloway attempts to bring these characters and the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England to life, and to make some sense of the madness surrounding the succession of Edward the Confessor.

A king who has no son, and who finds his bride repulsive, is never a good thing. Edward the Confessor’s horror of women and possible homosexuality (whether as embellished in the author’s vivid and disturbing wedding night scene, or entirely accurate) leaves him without an heir. (Couldn’t Edward have just closed his eyes, thought of England, and done the deed? Good grief! But, in fairness, maybe he did, and it just wasn’t in the stars for him to reproduce. We’ll never know.) Witnessing the resultant political jockeying, squabbling, betrayals and subterfuge as portrayed by the author here are almost enough to make one understand and forgive that much later King’s (Henry VIII) anxiety over the matter.

The Godwinsons, on the other hand, are fulsomely prolific. A powerful, landed family in their own right, and always hungry for more, they are of value to Edward for their very strength. But, as with any strong ally, they were also a constant threat. Charming and naturally diplomatic Harold; psycho, nun-raping Sweyn; their powerful father Godwin: these were the characters Edward had to contend with, outmaneuver, keep in his corner with favors, and chase off when they over-stepped.

The author is obviously passionate the complex times he wrote about here. We are given a taste of everything: the facts, and the rumors, feuds and calculated but ofttimes tenuous family connections. The broader political situation is delivered in small palatable slices where pertinent to our understanding of the story. Told in a floating omniscient point of view, with occasional inserts of hind-sighted wisdom via the narrator, 1066 reads like a hybrid of historical fiction and history. The narrative glides from the general to the specific in a natural way that works quite nicely, filling the reader in on historical background and spanning large stretches of time, then moving in closer for the bigger, more dramatic scenes. An energetic narrative drive carries the story forward, spiced with some skillfully-handled medieval gruesomeness—hand-loppings, eye-gougings, and infanticide.

Holloway takes time to introduce and firmly establish a huge cast of characters, which serves to capture the reader’s heart and sympathies, so that one feels exactly what’s at stake. Following Harold, coming to know him and to like and admire him, while at the same time knowing his sad fate, lends a poignancy to all that precedes and builds to Hastings. Not an easy feat to induce suspense when the historical outcome is already known, Holloway nonetheless manages it, in spades.

The language is somewhat 20th century-sounding, and uses some modern turns-of-phrase to which the purist in me mildly objected. The dialogue, oddly formal and polite, often reminded me of the black and white movies of the 1940’s – yet Holloway makes it work here. There’s plenty of conflict in each chapter, and what is happening quickly captures the attention, despite the occasional clunky stretches of dialogue.

His power as a writer lies in his descriptions, and in the most brutal parts, in what he doesn’t tell us, as much as what he does tell. It takes a deft hand to convey horror with restraint. Holloway does so admirably, allowing the medieval world to be what it no doubt was, without spending too much time rolling around in the entrails of the worst parts (as some authors tend to do). There’s just enough here to let the reader know: yes, this is war, and yes, in war there are rapists and probably an inchoate serial-killer or three.

When the end comes, the final battle is harrowing. Each setback for King Harold is keenly felt. The last scenes give a feeling of just how close the battle was, and how nearly the history of England missed being a very different story altogether.



After graduating from Coventry University with an honours degree in history and politics, G K Holloway worked in education in and around Bristol, England. After reading a biography about Harold Godwinson, he studied the late Anglo Saxon era in detail and visited all of the locations mentioned in the sources, until he had enough material to weave together facts and fiction to produce a novel. 1066 What Fates Impose is the product of all that research – and imagination.  A sequel is on its way.

For readers who’d like to find out more about Glynn:

Glynn’s author website

Twitter @GlynnHolloway

Glynn on Facebook

The Marauders – a review

The MaraudersI absolutely adored this novel. I rarely begin a review by saying something in first person, but in this case, it’s simply required. In this brilliant debut Cooper grabbed me by the shirt collar and yanked me under the oil slicked waters of the Barataria, and didn’t let me up until I turned the last page. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Set in the post Katrina Louisiana bayou during the BP oil disaster, The Marauders, is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. And with the recent decade anniversary of Katrina (can you believe it’s already been that long?) this novel was a perfect, timely read.

One-armed Lindquist is looking for treasure. He’s something of a character even to the locals, best known for traipsing around the boggy islands of the Barataria with his metal detector, and chomping Vicodin and Oxycotin from a Pez dispenser. He’s certain if he keeps looking he will find a stash of pirate Jean Lafitte’s buried gold. He’s been at it for decades, and it has cost him his wife. And, just recently, his thirty thousand dollar prosthetic arm, so it’s back to the hook.

The Toup brothers, on the other hand, aren’t interested in leaving wealth to chance, and grow killer weed on one of the many islands deep in the labyrinthine heart of the Barataria. Reginald and Victor are twins, and the whole parish knows not to mess with them. People who do that get hurt, or disappear. And their pot island empire lies directly in Lindquist’s treasure-sweeping path.

Grimes is an oil company man, sent to try and ward off as many potential law suits as he can in the wake of the BP oil disaster. He’s got a list of resident bayou trawlers – those men who make their livings shrimping. He’s working the list in alphabetical order, avoiding the mother he hasn’t seen in years, and drinking himself to sleep at night. He’s from the bayou; that’s why he was chosen. But he hates it, and never intended to return to the scene of his unhappy and alienated childhood.

“The state’s dearth of infrastructure was awe-inspiring. Third world countries would deem the place an outpost of civilization. He passed Lilliputian enclaves, most of them nameless, no more than a few clapboard houses and shanties scattered on pilings along the levees. He made countless wrong turns, followed single lane roads until they turned to rutted dirt lanes that dead-ended at swamp.”

“Grimes felt sick and exhausted and missed the cool gray days of the city, the polychrome electric nights. The glowing signs of Chinese and French and Spanish. He missed the shark-like limousines and the kamikaze taxis and the restaurants and bars open all night, the smoked glass and submarine lighting. The panoply of strange faces, never the same.”

Wes Trench is seventeen and building the boat he hopes to launch on his eighteenth birthday. He loves the bayou, and never wants to leave. He’d like nothing better than to follow in his father’s footsteps. But first Katrina, and now BP, have threatened those dreams.

Cosgrove and Hanson are petty criminals. Thieves. Looking to get rich and change the downward trajectory of their seemingly pointless lives. They’ve come to roost in the seabird rescue mission, but making fifteen an hour washing oil from gummed up cranes isn’t going to make that happen. And soon they are on a collision course with the Toup twins, who have something they want.

The bayou is as much a character as all these. Its islands and inlets, its moods and colors, its scents. Its history. The reek of petroleum is a constant companion when Cosgrove and Hanson wash up into the bird rescue program, and hear about an island of pot plants.

Several things set this novel apart in my view: The writing, which is trim and vigorous, yet filled with beautiful imagery, wit and humor; the story, which rockets along toward the smashing end; the timeliness of the place and background situation; and the characters, who are intensely well-wrought and vivid—and I include the bayou and ubiquitous oil disaster in this.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this one win some awards. It certainly deserves to. It’s an American novel in the truest sense.

The Marauders, by Tom Cooper. Read it, if you haven’t already.

The Sisters of Versailles – a review

The Sisters of VersaillesSet against the gilt-edged rococo backdrop of early eighteenth century Versailles, and the reign of Louis XV, The Sisters of Versailles follows the lives of the five Mailly-Nesle Sisters: Louise, Pauline, Marie-Anne, Diane, and Hortense.

When their mother dies the girls leave their childhood nursery and home and are split up. Pauline and Diane are consigned to a convent where they languish for want of freedom and excitement, Marie-Anne and Hortense go to the care of an aunt, and Louise, the eldest, to a marriage and Versailles as one of the queen’s attendants. It isn’t long before Louise attracts the attention of schemers within the palace who are aware of the King Louis’ waning romantic interest in his much older queen. Anxious to avoid the possibility of an unknown, and therefore possibly dangerous liaison, they convince Louise to become the king’s mistress, certain they can control her and that she won’t introduce any undue influence or upset the status quo.

There are endless petty struggles for precedence, mounted with the precision of military campaigns.

She is everything they hoped for. But when plotting and forceful Pauline comes to visit, after years of begging letters, she steals Louis away from Louise, and sets about terrorizing and alienating these very same jaded courtiers; Pauline is nothing like her docile eldest sister. She is shrewd, selfish, and disdainful. As a reader, I found her character arc the saddest, as it is only in her last moments that Pauline shows a dawning ability to love.

Next in line for the king’s affections is Marie-Anne, perhaps the most formidable of all the sisters. Bold and self-serving beneath a pretty, charming exterior, she is almost sociopathic in the pursuit of the fulfillment of her needs.—This is the girl who starved mice as a child, to see how long it would take them to die.— An experimenter in the bedroom as well, she even shares Louis with her youngest sister: sweet, plump, ingenuous Diane.

Over the course of the novel, which spans decades, four of the sisters succumb to King Louis. It’s the strangest story ever, made more so by being based on true events. Only Hortense resists the siren pull of the king’s bed, and it’s through her eyes, as the lone and final survivor, that this story is told. Historical details are unobtrusively sprinkled into the narrative: we see the wide-hipped gowns and powdered wigs, the jewels, the high-stakes card games, the carriages pulled by teams of glossy horses, the lavish feasts (while peasants starved) in fabulous, high-ceilinged and ornate rooms, the remarkable gardens of the palace. The writing is above good, even wonderful in places; funny at times, and sad at others. Sparkling dialogue, witty characterizations, wicked innuendo, and dire doings kept me turning pages and wanting to find out what would happen next.

The Sisters of Versailles is Sally Christie’s debut novel, and it’s a page-turner.

432 pages. Publication  date: September 1st 2015 by Atria Books

Reviewed for Simon and Schuster

In Wilderness – a review

In WildernessI’m always hungering for a book that will make me forget I am reading. A book that will make me take a pass on doing the shopping, forget the milk out on the counter, and burn dinner. In Wilderness, by Diane Thomas is that kind of book.

It begins quietly: an expectant mother feels her baby flutter for the first time. But this is not some saccharine, worn out by overuse Women’s fiction trope; it couldn’t be anything further. For in the next chapter that same baby is dead, killed possibly by the anonymous spray of pesticide on the ginkgoes outside their home. And now the mother is dying as well.

The story is set in the mid-1960s, that time of pesticide innocence, when boys on bikes followed those small tanker trucks spraying for mosquitos, and everyone marveled at how much more comfortable chemicals could make life seem, never suspecting that with the turn of the millennium would come the mass death of bees, swaths of unexplained brain tumors and auto-immune diseases. Katherine Reid does not know why she is dying, nor do her doctors, she only knows she doesn’t wish to do it in the home she bought with the husband whose love didn’t survive the death of their baby. She sells her share of her advertising agency and her home, and buys a cabin in the back country of Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. There she will settle with only the sparest rudiments of living, to await death.

But the woods around her cabin hold several life-altering surprises in store for Katherine.

Part of what makes In Wilderness so remarkable is that the main character is alone for much of the novel, and yet the story is never dull; we watch Katherine learn to survive, and away from all the chemicals, we watch her begin to recover. There’s little dialogue. Deeply interior, the novel is told in third person present tense. Thomas sweeps us into Katherine’s head and heart, and there, in language and style uniquely her own, she spins her spell, as increment by painful increment Katherine moves from hopelessness, toward revival—and into the arms of new terrors, because she is not alone in her woods.

I greatly enjoyed this novel, and highly recommend it to readers who enjoy sentences that make you want to read them again – they’re so pretty; but also to those who expect an engaging plot. This one has all that, and more.

Guest Post by Kathryn Craft

Every writer is first a reader. We have shelves of books we really liked. And then we have our talisman books, that ‘special’ shelf that houses the books that made us feel differently than all the others; the books that made us want to be writers. These we may read, and reread time and again.

It’s with great pleasure that I welcome the lovely and talented Kathyrn Craft here today, author of The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, to tell us, not only which books these are for her, but what it is about her favorites that has caused her to read them each more than once.

My Three Most Re-Read Books

by Kathryn Craft


Unlike many writers, I am not a re-reader of books. There are too many to get through in my lifetime! On my shelves, however, among hundreds of others I can’t part with, sit three well-thumbed and Post-It ridden novels:

  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A gothic story-within-a-story, a coming-of-middle-age tale, and a domestic drama narrated by a dog. With covers in completely different styles. There is no reason at all to compare these titles, besides the fact that I have re-read each of them three times. What compelled me to lavish so much time and attention on them?

Turns out they do have some important things in common.

A strong perspective. Watching a biographer write is not riveting story material. Unless her subject is an eccentric bestselling novelist who has reinvented her personal story time and again, and the biographer writing The Thirteenth Tale is a woman so quiet she considers receiving a letter “somewhat of an event.” Added to the 43-year-old drunk who needs redemption in The Memory of Running and the aged dog lying in a puddle of his own urine in The Art of Racing in the Rain, all three promise an interesting lens through which to view story events—and the voice to deliver it.

A clear yet deeply conflicted goal. Stein’s dog believes he will reincarnate as a human and is ready to sacrifice his earthly life to do so—but he can’t leave just yet because his human, Denny, needs him more than ever. In hopping on his childhood bike to ride from Boston to California to identify his beloved sister’s body, Smithy of The Memory of Running must butt up against all the ways he’s let his life slide, even while navigating uphill; he’s “a porker pushing a bike.” Margaret’s biography will unlock emotional territory that her stack of perfectly sharpened pencils suggests she might not be eager to handle. I love a disadvantaged protagonist who will grow into him/herself.

Concise language. I am a fan of understatement. The spaces hiding within spare prose invite the reader to co-create story. When Smithy stands beside his dying mother and rearranges her thin hair on the pillow, he says, “There.” That’s it. McLarty doesn’t make the mistake of telling the reader his character feels helpless. He doesn’t have to—that one generic word oozes with helplessness that the reader can’t help but feel. After Margaret and friends suffer a deeply felt loss they speak briefly about the weather and then start peeling potatoes for dinner. We get it: life goes on. The dog can’t help but embrace understatement: the design of his tongue does not make it an effective tool “for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.”

Meaningful metaphor. Stein sets up his book-length metaphor from the start—the best racecar driver is the one who can handle his car in the rain—and my mind flew on creative overdrive for the rest of the book. In her diary, Margaret Lea speaks of a “ghost reader who leans over my shoulder watching my pen, who twists my words and perverts my meaning, and makes me uncomfortable in the privacy of my own thoughts.” And the turning points in Smithy’s understated emotional journey mimic the literal as he confronts both hardship and generosity on his cross-country ride. Such layers make reading a delight.

An ending that begs continued engagement. I am not one who likes her songs to end. The questions that hover around a story’s conclusion keep it reverberating in my soul like an unresolved chord. All three of these protagonists stuck with me long beyond the end of their stories. So much so that, in time, I took the record of their adventures back off my shelf for the pleasure and honor of spending time with them all over again.

Photo - Kathryn Craft - The Far End of Happy

Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves any event that brings together readers, books, food and drink, and mentors other writers through workshops and writing retreats. A former dance critic, she has a bachelor’s in biology education and a master’s in health and physical education from Miami University in Ohio. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and spends her summers lakeside in northern New York State.

Twitter: @kcraftwriter


Cover - The Far End of HappyThe Far End of Happy
Kathryn Craft

Ronnie’s husband, Jeff, is supposed to move out today. But when he pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make—but is what’s best for her best for everyone?

Based on a real event from the author’s life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.


Check out these other stops on the tour for reviews of The Far End of Happy, and a chance to win a copy: