B O O K R E V I E W : The Tenderest of Strings

Thank you so much to Regal House Publishing and Over the River PR for including me on the book tour for The Tenderest of Strings by Steven Schwartz.

The Rosenfeld family has moved from Chicago to Welton, Colorado, where Reuben purchased the local paper. Although relocating was supposed to give them a new start, their elder son, Harry, a loner, comes home with injuries he won’t explain, younger son Jamie still suffers from the asthma that the dry Colorado air was to have alleviated, and Ardith, a stay-at-home mother, has become embroiled in an affair with the town’s doctor. Reuben, unaware of the affair, wonders at Ardith’s distance. Meanwhile, the fixer-upper they purchased remains in disrepair, so decrepit that it is mistaken for a haunted house attraction on Halloween.

Despite the malaise afflicting the Rosenfelds, inertia maintains their fragile bonds until they learn of a fatal hit and run accident the night of a raucous barbecue they attended. The death acts as a key unlocking secrets with repercussions for the entire family and the larger community.

I really enjoyed The Tenderest of Strings, at heart a family drama exploring the strength of love and possibly of forgiveness in the wake of trauma. The characters were extremely flawed but at the same time very likable, and I thought Schwartz did an excellent job developing distinct tones for the primary point of view characters. The young, rebellious teen Harry’s journey was particularly emotional to me.

Some comic relief comes from the paper, where reviews of local fast food restaurants are popular and the sole reporter has a column about the highly-exaggerated exploits of her toddler daughter.

If you like family dramas, books about small towns, or are looking for Jewish representation, add The Tenderest of Strings to your TBR. I also think fans of Richard Russo would enjoy the novel.

B O O K R E V I E W : The Siren of Sussex

Thanks to Berkley Publishing or including me on the book tour for The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Mathews which went on sale January 11 and for a gifted copy of the book.

In this historical romance, Evelyn Maltravers arrives in London for the season determined to find a wealthy husband. It is the only way she can ensure the future of her younger sisters and her beloved horse since her family lives only on a small inheritance of her Aunt Nora. Yet, with her penchant for blurting out honest opinions and looks that have been overshadowed by her older sister’s, Evelyn knows that she’ll be overlooked in the ballrooms. Instead, she has a plan to bewitch a potential suitor through her riding prowess. She just needs a phenomenal riding habit as part of her wardrobe—and she knows just the designer, the tailor who dressed the Pretty Horesbreakers.

Ahmad Malik, able to flatter every size and shape with his designs, has worked with beautiful women before but none have bewitched him like Evelyn. She, too, confesses her love, but with barriers of race and class, not to mention Evelyn’s need to provide for her family, a happy ending between them is impossible, unless they are willing to put aside their dreams and flout the expectations of polite society.

Evelyn’s spunk and determinedness won me over. She was resolved not to be boxed in by the rules of what “ladies” should do. I also found Ahmad completely swoony with such an interesting backstory.

Evelyn made friends with three other women participating in the season (all of whom will have their own books in the series, I believe). They gravitate towards each other because they are awkward and not popular among society men, but that’s what makes them so endearing, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

The book is also, of course, filled with references to 1860s fashion and history. I was particularly amused by the older adults’ fascination with spiritualism, including crystal balls, seances, and spirit advisors—based on real events, but it also touched on more serious issues such as colonialism.

Fans of Evie Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women will enjoy this!

Note: This has lots of sexual tension but is closed door!

Impeccably researched, brimming with passion and chemistry, and a loving tribute to Victorian fashion and horsemanship, The Siren of Sussex is a page-turning, powerful, and endearing love story about two people rising above the pressures of society to follow their hearts. A five-star fantastic read!—Syrie James, USA Today bestselling author

B O O K R E V I E W : The Bait

The second novella in the To Catch a Leopard triology, The Bait finds the lovers Ania and Jerome in Venice, Italy during the Venetian Carnival a year after the events in The Steal. Determined to trap the Leopard, they plan a daring heist to steal the famed Lemon Twist necklace from Julie Kimbell during her own ball.

Events, however, do not go as planned, and Jerome becomes the focus of the investigation. He realizes Ania may not have been completely honest and that revenge may be more important than her feelings towards him.

This is a quick-paced, classic heist story with a touch of romance. I loved the Venice setting and all the 1950s glamour! The writing style evokes the era, and I think it’s unevenly successful. There’s a scene at a glass factory on Murano island that I really enjoyed: when I was in graduate school, I worked at a bead store and I still sometimes make jewelry so I enjoyed the descriptions of the necklaces and other accessories.

A good choice for readers looking for a quick, fun, romantic heist.

Thanks to @mjroseauthor, @getredprbooks, and @letstalkbookspromo for including me on the tour and for an advanced reading copy of the book!

B O O K R E V I E W : Honor by Thrity Umrigar

Thank you to my friends at Algonquin Books for inviting me on the book tour for Honor by Thrity Umrigar which publishes Tuesday, January 4.

When Meena, a Hindu, and Abdul, a Muslim, meet at a textile factory their religious differences fade in the strength of their love. Meena’s brothers, however, view the match as unnatural, an affront to their honor, so they retaliate by setting the couple on fire, killing Abdul and severely injuring Meena. With the help of a crusading lawyer, Meena pursues charges against her brothers.

Smita, an Indian-American journalist who vowed never to return to her home country after leaving as a teenager, makes a reluctant visit to India to cover Meena’s story and the upcoming verdict in the case.

Although Smita tries to maintain some objectivity, she soon becomes attached to Meena and incensed by the injustices dealt to her. As much as she empathizes with her, though, Smita is aware that her family’s move to the United States has given her a position of privilege.

As much as being an American shields her, her companion Mohan, a wealthy friend-of-a-friend can draw on power conferred by his gender and class when necessary. Yet, as she recognizes her attraction to Mohan and reckons with the events that precipitated her family’s departure, Smita must confront what India really means to her.

Honor is beautifully written, with musical sentences that at times belied their contents which were often (deliberately) enraging as characters used tradition to justify the most heinous acts. At times, my stomach was in knots, I was so upset, but the ending was very satisfying, highlighting what courage can come from love.

Although at times painful to read, it is incredibly meaningful and worthwhile. It includes important topics for all readers but will be of special interest to those who enjoy books about India and/or women overcoming adversity. Look for it at your favorite bookstore on Tuesday!

B O O K R E V I E W : The Kindness Workbook by Robin Raven

I can think of no better book to begin 2022 with than The Kindness Workbook by Robin Raven which I hope will set the tone for the new year!

Divided into two sections, one focused on being kinder to yourself, the other on spreading kindness to others, the interactive workbook is full of activities to promote compassion, establish priorities, and develop loving-kindness.  

A reader could go through the exercises from the beginning to the end of the book or pick and choose the ones that resonate. I particularly appreciated the variety—some focused on written reflection but others on music or using art. Each one also included a “keep it going” strategy. I also liked that Raven acknowledged negative emotions and avoided toxic positivity.

One of Raven’s exercises is to start a Kindness Book Club, beginning with a list of inspirational books as well as those that promote empathy, like anti-racism books. Which one(s) would you include?

Thanks to Let’s Talk Books Promo, Robin Raven, and @simonandschuster/ @adams_media for including me on the book tour and for a gifted copy of the book! Thanks also to Robin for the signed bookplate, bookmark, postcard, and stickers!