Transference by Kate Jonuska

(4 / 5)

What do you do when you wake up one morning and every thought and physical sensation of those around you makes you feel nauseated and dizzy and completely overwhelmed? You probably don’t think, “Yay! I have superpowers now!” Like Transference’s leading lady, Janet Buckmann, you might be more likely to think of it as a super-curse and hope that it will just go away. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t, which leads her to seek out the assistance of therapist and neighbor, Dr. Derek Verbenk.

 

Derek has issues of his own, starting with an inappropriate relationship with a patient that leads him to being fired from the therapeutic practice his grandfather started. He is simply going through the motions in his own private practice when Janet shows up. While Derek is grappling with how to help Janet cope with her newfound ability, Janet’s telepathy mirrors back to Derek the person he has become, and it’s not someone he likes. Could the relationship possibly be curative for both of them? Maybe, if they don’t drive each other crazy first.

 

Transference is a punchy, bright read from first-time novelist but long-time writer Kate Jonuska. The dialogue and chemistry between Dr. Derek Verbenk and Janet Buckmann (and between Derek and himself) is sharp and delightful and provides a strong backbone for this sometimes funny, sometimes serious, most often captivating story. When we first meet them, Janet is as combative and frenetic as Derek is myopic and stagnant. How each person evolves, and hence how the relationship develops, is clumsy and real and enjoyable to read. Jonuska deftly creates two people, that although initially unlikeable, unwind enough of their own dysfunction to become charming and appealing through their flaws and humanness. You can see the beginnings of an interesting relationship forming, and the author adroitly keeps that tension throughout the novel, without projecting too far ahead or playing coy with what might or might not happen between the two. Kate Jonuska has a keen, witty, unique voice that will likely only get more incisive and vivid with time. In this case, you don’t even need superpowers to see that.

Over the Moon by Linda Joffe Hull

(4.5 / 5)

With a push or two and a ‘hee-hee-ho’, we are propelled back into the delightfully crazy world first imagined by author Linda Joffe Hull in Frog KissesOver the Moon picks up with Sunny St. Clair-Dey giving birth to her second child with husband, Adam.  Of course, it being Sunny, adding another member to her family is just the tip of the iceberg of the chaotic, occasionally neurotic, swirl that is her life.  First, there’s the presumably well-intentioned but intimidating and overbearing mother-in-law that comes to stay with Sunny and help out with the new baby. Then there’s a gigantic business deal for Sunny and her sister, Luna, that has the potential to make all of their monetary dreams come true.  Or so it would seem.  Third, there are those pesky emails that seem to suggest Adam is having an affair.  He wouldn’t, would he?  He has been gone a lot and has been quite evasive lately. . .  I haven’t even mentioned The Cream, Jake’s startling psychic visions, Atlas’ odd lack of them, or the Next Mrs. St. Clair.  Oh yeah, and the super yummy ex-boyfriend who wants Sunny back in the worst way.  Whew!

 

Linda Joffe Hull does a beautiful job of creating very human characters who are likeable, flaws and all.  They are down to earth and talk the way real people talk, which is easier said than written.  The problems her characters face are honest and they are tackled in real and imperfect ways.  Her writing is infused with engaging whimsy and wordplay that comes across as fun and natural, not contrived or cringe-inducing.  One of the best parts about reading Over the Moon is that you feel as though Sunny could be someone you know – that smart, pretty friend who is a bit high-strung, a little myopic and always trying to juggle too many things at once, but nevertheless is good-hearted and is someone you’re glad you have in your life.  Or maybe she’s you.  Either way, the continuing adventures of Sunny St. Clair-Dey and her clan will leave you smiling and glad that you’ve invited them into your life to stay.

The Beaten Territory by Randi Samuelson-Brown

(4.5 / 5)

The Beaten Territory is a fast-paced, deeply textured tale of three women whose lives interconnect in late nineteenth century Denver. Annie, enmeshed in the prostitution trade, yearns to become an independent businesswoman, with her own saloon and brothel. Lydia, owner of the building Annie rents, is drawn to Hop Alley and the opium dents to supplement her laudanum additions while her naiveté exposes her to risks she doesn’t suspect. Annie’s niece, Pearl, is nurtured into the trade by her aunt and is soon trapped into a life of prostitution. Attractive and resentful, she plays the game, waiting for her chance to get out. The lives of the three women intertwine, but each exists in her own world, none knowing enough about the others’ affairs to sense how much of a spider-web their lives eventually become. When each attempts to satisfy her own goal, all are put in danger.

Samuelson-Brown’s use of vivid, metaphorical language brings historic Denver and surrounding towns to life. Many passages are almost lyrical in tone without subtracting from the story itself—a delicate balance. Her secondary characters convey the shadiness of the red-light districts of the past and add depth to the story. Setting and flavor are admirably accomplished.

But it is the masterful weaving of individual stories that makes this novel stand out as unique. At the onset, each character has her own separate story. Annie, Lydia, and Pearl each have dreams as well as flaws that hold them back. Samuelson-Brown adeptly establishes each of the three as sympathetic while never losing track of the rough edges that make them who they are. As she winds the three plotlines together into a complicated tapestry, she reminds the reader of the tragic influences of the underworld. The story is a captivating yet realistic glimpse into prostitution in the Old West and how trapped such women became, despite their strengths.

The Pirate Bride’s Holiday Masquerade

 

(4.5 / 5)

Pirate Andre Dubois can deny his wife nothing. They both know that. So even though Andre much prefers the high seas to dry land, when Sophie Bellard Dubois asks to spend Christmas in New Orleans with Andre’s father, he reluctantly agrees. What neither of them know is who is also home for the holidays — fellow pirate and arch enemy, Gilbert Harrington IV. Sophie has still not psychologically recovered from the scars Gilbert left when he forcibly robbed her of her maidenhood five years earlier. Once he finds Sophie in the Crescent City, he demands she privately entertain him again, lest Andre be thrown in the stocks. Sophie fears there is no way out, unless she can create one of her own.

 

 

Cathy Skendrovich’s sequel to The Pirate’s Bride is a saucy, delightful romp through eighteenth-century La Nouvelle-Orléans. The liberal sprinkling of French throughout Holiday Masquerade adds charm and texture; the story is briskly paced and realistic. Sophie is fierce and independent. So it makes sense that the high point of the book comes when she regains her sense of power over Capitan Harrington, and even though Andre is present, she doesn’t need him to save her.

 

Skendrovich does a wonderful job of creating chemistry and passion between the two title characters. Those are key to a really good romance, after all, and Andre and Sophie have them in spades. That is fully evident in the titillating lovemaking scenes sprinkled throughout the book. From bed to bed and beginning to end, Andre and Sophie are lively and entertaining. Even though The Pirate’s Bride: Holiday Masquerade is set during Yuletide, it is a perfect read for any season.

Promised to the Crown (Daughters of New France) by Aimie K. Runyan

(3.5 / 5)

In 1667, King Louis XIV created a program to promote emigration of young women to New France as wives for Canadian colonists. Promised to the Crown follows the story of three fictional young women who answer the call. Rose leaves a bleak life in a charity hospital; Nicole hopes for a better future than that promised for a poor farmer’s daughter; Elizabeth flees her mother’s schemes for her future.  Each has her own demons, her own dreams, and her own story.

 

Runyan masterfully creates a composite tale, combining accounts of many of the real King’s Daughters into a single captivating story that weaves the lives of three women together.  She is able to create characters with believable flaws and complicated histories. Her adept merging of historical facts from the lives of many women to build these three distinct protagonists speaks to Runyan’s skill as both a researcher and a writer. Each woman responds uniquely to the unexpected realities of Quebec: its harsh climate, difficult conditions, the sometimes discouraging attitudes of those already there.  Expectations are tested when Rose, Nicole, and Elizabeth discover life in New France to be different than anticipated. All three women demonstrate resiliency as they adapt and grow. Historical information not utilized for her main characters is highlighted via dialogue and secondary characters.

 

Each of the women in the novel has faults and makes choices that can sometimes be a bit exasperating to the modern reader. It is a credit to Runyan’s skill that she is able to motivate their seventeenth-century responses with backstory. Her careful construction of their personalities allows us to identify with them despite the span of time and culture that separates us from them.  The book is worth the read to glean a glimpse of this often forgotten chapter of history.

Ghosted by Judith Docken

(4.5 / 5)

Freelance writer Hannah has a predilection for the unwanted and for distancing herself from others (with the exception of her cat), so when she comes across a Victorian era house for sale located in the wilderness outside of Calgary, she knows she’s found the perfect place. Tucked an hour away from everyone she knows, she soon discovers that it is someone else’s place as well—the resident ghost, who has scared off all previous owners of the beautiful, lovingly crafted home. But Hannah is as intransigent as the ghost and refuses to leave her newfound sanctuary. The two battle for control; all changes to the home are met with door-slamming and the knocking over of lamps, and even her cat starts behaving strangely. When Hannah’s journalistic drive leads her to discover what motivates her spooky companion, she finds a commonality between the two of them—and wonders if the ghost’s fate may also be hers.

 

Judith Docken paints the small town of Spruce Valley and its denizens as well as the quiet beauty and solitude of the woods outside Calgary in a way that makes the reader visualize it all perfectly. She possesses a strong voice as a writer, as shown by the subtle details of her characters, all who feel like distinct personalities. Hannah, the protagonist, is an independent, stubborn, and completely relatable woman in her early thirties with a penchant for wine and an equally independent and stubborn cat named Jimi (for Jimi Hendrix, whose black hair the cat resembles, which I found to be a nice touch). Any cat owner will chuckle knowingly at Jimi’s antics, as well as Docken’s deadpan humor, which contrasts perfectly with the heavier aspects of tragedy and loss that pervade the story. Ghosted is a strong debut novel from Docken, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

(4 / 5)
9780393241655Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage unravels after her husband Jim leaves her for another woman. Ava’s children are grown; her son if off to work in another country and her troubled daughter Maggie leaves for Europe to attend school. Ava is lonely and desperate for company, and though she is not an avid reader, she begs her friend Cate to let her join Cate’s monthly book group where members choose the books they want to discuss throughout the year. This year’s theme is for each member to choose the book that mattered most to them over the course of their lives. Ava, struggling to name a book that matters most to her, chooses a book from her childhood which she read after the traumatic deaths of her sister and mother, for which Ava blames herself. Ava, trying to fit in with the group, tells them that she has invited the author of her book to come to the group and speak. The problem is that Ave does not know, nor can she locate, the author. Maggie disappears in Europe, and Ava must now find both her daughter and the author. These quests both confuse Ava and help her to untangle secrets from her past including the death of her mother.

 

The Book That Matters Most if filled with misdirection but ultimately these direct the reader to a predictable ending. In spite of this, the story is smoothly written as it examines grief and healing, and is filled with a tangible depth of emotion. Hood weaves humor throughout the moody and intricate plot and builds suspense, forcing this reader to turn pages.