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Book Review: A Week of Warm Weather – Lee Bukowski

Explore the hidden dark sides of an outwardly idealistic lifestyle.

A heads up to future readers: if you are currently looking for a light, uplifting novel, A Week of Warm Weather is not the book for you to grab off the shelves right now. If you’re in the mood to read a grim tale of how toxic secrets in a family eat away relationships from the inside, not just in the present but for years to come, pick up this book and get to it!

The people who appear to have it all–a great spouse, a wonderful home, charming children–may very well be concealing pain and generational trauma deep in their hearts. This is the case of Tessa Cordelia, wife of a newly successful dentist and mother of an adorable newborn baby girl. Her extended family, who she is very close to, lives nearby and is happy to help out with childcare and other tasks whenever Tessa asks. Throughout the novel, she constantly reminds herself that she is lucky to lead the life that she does.

However, when she was a young girl herself, Tessa’s mother walked out on her family, leaving her father crushed and herself and her siblings sad and confused. Author Lee Bukowski slowly reveals through Tessa’s inner narrative that this trauma is still informing Tessa’s own decisions and has shaped her outlook on life to an unhealthy degree: when Tessa discovers that her husband, Ken, has a secret that could destroy their family’s idealistic life, she makes decisions based off of her own traumatic experiences at age eight. The problem is that Tessa is so hyper-focused on trying to prevent her daughter from experiencing similar pain as herself that she fails to see the entirety of the big picture, plagued with self-doubt, never quite being able to do what she knows is right in her heart until the final chapters of her story.

Portions of the story had me nearly screaming at my e-reader, “Tessa, my goodness, do the right thing here! You can do it!”, only to discover that she makes a less-than-ideal decision a few pages later. While frustrating for the reader, it’s also very realistic, and nothing in the book is so fantastical to bring it out of the realm of possibility. I feel as if Bukowski wrote this to help some readers understand why people make the frustrating decisions they do, and to give people in unideal situations some hope and courage that they can exit the situation without massive judgment from the family and friends surrounding them. This is a solid debut novel, and I’m looking forward to any future books by Lee Bukowski.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own. This review originally appeared on Reedsy Discovery.

Title: A Week of Warm Weather
Author: Lee Bukowski
Publication Date: 07 June 2022
Print Length: 331 pages
Marie’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Short Story Book Review: MindGap – Ben ManHan

Author Ben Manhan explores grief, the pains of writing as a career, and philosophical musings in his intriguing debut short story, MindGap.

Protagonist Peter Mitchell, an aspiring writer, wanders through life feeling lost and helpless. After the untimely death of his brother, he channeled some of his grief into writing a book called Invisible Pain but feels conflicted over finding minor success over the “commercialization” of his brother’s death. A visit to the site of his brother’s passing away sends Peter into a depressive spiral, resulting in Peter deciding to spend the night drinking, getting into a bar fight, and then destroying a fancy billboard in his grief.

Author Ben Manhan does a great job setting Peter up to be sympathized with by the reader, a feat that could take several chapters in a full-length novel but is done quickly here in just a few pages of this short story. Peter’s inner thoughts show us how close he was to his brother, Kevin, feeling as if he was the only one who understood and supported him. His self-loathing runs deep, which might make other protagonists seem pathetic, but the reader understands where Peter is coming from.

After being arrested, he’s brought before the woman whose billboard he destroyed and falls apart when she inadvertently quotes the title of his book about Kevin. “Invisible pain. We all have some,” she says while interrogating Peter over his motives. She offers Peter a chance to escape–not just punishment, but escape from his inner demons–and he finds himself in a science-fiction sort of room where a program called MindGap promises to help him turn his life around.

Ultimately, this story is about what we want, and the steps we do or don’t take to achieve our goals. Would you do anything to be successful, even lose a part of yourself? Are you certain about what you want, or do secret, unacknowledged desires linger beneath the surface? Is happiness tied to the achievement of success? For a short, just under 70-page story, Ben Manhan intriguingly explores this, leaving me musing over philosophical questions long after I’d finished reading the book. Perhaps it will do the same for you as well.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for a positive review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally written for Reedsy Discovery. The original review is here.

Title: MindGap
Author: Ben Manhan
Publication Date: 15 February 2022
Print Length: 66 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: The Lake Pagoda – Ann Bennett

A vibrant look into the life of a half-French, half-Vietnamese girl caught in the political realities of French Indochina on the eve of WWII.

Generally, I avoid World War I and II-era novels because I feel they’ve fallen into a predictable pattern of a female protagonist falling in love with a male soldier on the battlefields of Europe, the climax being one or the other thinking the other has been killed, then they live happily ever after at the end. It’s not just that the general plot beats are the same, the setting is as well, making the novels sort of blend together in my mind as it’s hard to differentiate them from one another.

Author Ann Bennett avoids this by setting the majority of her novel towards the end of World War II, within the lush tropical landscape of Indochina, known now as Vietnam. Young Arielle, the daughter of a French father and Vietnamese mother, grows up relatively well off within the French Quarter of Hanoi. Her mother has passed away, but her father is a government official and they lead a fairly prosperous life. When a rich French businessman named Etienne comes courting, Arielle is surprised but agrees to marry him. From then on, she finds herself drawn into the cultural resistance formed by the Viet Mihn, and her life veers down paths she never could have imagined.

Unlike other novels I have read where an author creates a multicultural protagonist in turbulent times and then calls it a day, the multicultural aspect totally ignored, Bennett pays attention to the French/Vietnamese cultural connotations Arielle is forced to deal with. While she can physically pass as fully Vietnamese, her father is an important French official, so most of the people in her town and other important officials are fully aware of her half-French heritage. As both the invading Japanese and the rebel Viet Mihn factions are anti-French for various reasons, Arielle struggles to maintain connections to her French father while hiding that side of herself. This take was immensely refreshing in a genre bloated with fully European World War II stories and gave it a unique feel that I absolutely loved. Bennett is talented at descriptions as well, bringing to life the vibrant colors, sights, and smells of Vietnam so much that I could almost taste the tea and smell the pho bubbling in the pots of street vendors.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh take on stories set in the World War II era.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley for free and read it on my 10th Generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally published on NetGalley. The original review is here.

Title: The Lake Pagoda
Author: Ann Bennett
Publication Date: 26 April 2022
Print Length: 311 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: ODINSALL: The Stolen Children – Cullen David

ODINSALL: The Stolen Children starts fast and strong. Readers are immediately thrown into the action, following the story of sixteen-year-old British-born protagonist Val. He finds himself kidnapped from the modern world of Earth and brought to the world of Norse mythology, along with other teenagers who have also been kidnapped from their respective towns throughout Europe. The Norse god All-Father has created a school named Odinsall for these modern children, aiming to train them in the ways of Norse culture and combat, and the teachers of this school are none other than Norse gods such as Thor and Loki.

The story is reminiscent of the world of Harry Potter, with so-called “normal” teens suddenly discovering they have some sort of mystical quality about them that makes them good candidates for a magical school. Val, however, is a more morose protagonist than Harry Potter, grumpy and discontent with his life in the modern world. He’s shy and only an average student, flooded with self-doubt once he realizes that many of the students in the school of Odinsall are much better at academics, combat, and sailing than himself. He’s convinced that the leader of his class, Loki, has it out for him somehow, and spends much of his time trying to blend in as possible. However, as the plot progresses, Val grows as a protagonist, realizing that his penchant for trying not to stand out gives him an advantage during a class teaching the students the art of assassination. Val finds himself winning a fight he didn’t expect, musing, “He never won anything. Maybe it was because he was so acreage that he was getting good at blending in, who knew?” Sometimes what a person thinks is their biggest weakness is actually a great asset in life, and this theme threads itself through the plot well.

For an epic young adult fantasy, ODINSALL: The Stolen Children feels a bit short, even though sequels are clearly in the works. As the first in the series, I would have liked to see a lot more worldbuilding and day-to-day life for our protagonist and his friends. The supporting characters feel a little one-dimensional, simply being The Bully, The Smart Girl, The Main Character’s Crush, The Best Friend, and so on, and I really would have liked to see these characters truly develop rich personalities of their own. Perhaps we’ll spend more time with them, their past lives, and their present-day goals and dreams in the sequels. For now, ODINSALL: The Stolen Children is a fair debut novel with the promise of much more to come.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally written for Reedsy Discovery. The original review is here.

Title: ODINSALL: The Stolen Children
Author: Cullen Spurr
Publication Date: 08 April 2022
Print Length: 269 pages
Marie’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Happy, Happy, Happy – Nicola Masters

An introspective piece about a protagonist who is definitely sad, sad, sad.

Nicola Masters’ debut novel, Happy, Happy, Happy, follows the journey of Charlie Trewin as she navigates self-doubt and generational trauma when she’s forced to return to her hometown after the untimely death of her father. It’s an introspective piece that I believe will be hit and miss for the reader depending on the experiences of the reader themselves.

After the death of her mother when Charlie was a young girl, Charlie began emotionally shutting herself off from the world, purposefully growing distant from her father and everyone else in her hometown. She escapes to college in London, hoping for a glamorous, busy, semi-anonymous life; a choice that will resonate with many readers who have or hope to do the same as young adults. Masters does a fantastic job delving into Charlie’s train of thought as Charlie continues to wish for closeness and intimacy while continuing to shut herself off from the world so much that she finds herself without friends and is completely unenthusiastic about her upcoming marriage to her fiance, James. Early on in the plot, Charlie remembers something her mother told her before she died: “You have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with anybody else.” As Charlie returns to her hometown, convinced that everyone has forgotten about her and that she’s merely back to deal with her father’s estate before making a quick escape back to London, she projects a stony exterior to the outside world, internally chanting, “I’m happy, happy, happy,”–especially when she clearly is not.

Readers who have dealt with extensive self-doubt and emotional trauma may identify with Charlie. A common phrase for people struggling emotionally is “Fake it until you make it,” but Charlie’s journey shows that lying to yourself doesn’t fix underlying issues. Her mother’s words ring true, but it takes work to love yourself, and this can be an incredible struggle for many. Charlie’s inner turmoil can frustrate the reader, but I believe this was an intentional choice by Masters. Even if someone knows what they need to address in order to begin healing, that first step can be the absolute hardest of all. Perhaps Masters’ exploration of Charlie’s journey will help some readers who are themselves struggling with self-doubt and self-love. Even if you’ve convinced yourself otherwise, you are never truly alone in this world.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally written for NetGalley. The original review can be found here.

Title: Happy, Happy, Happy
Author: Nicola Masters
Publication Date: 19 May 2022
Print Length: 303 pages
Marie’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Short Story Book Review: My Evil Mother – Margaret Atwood

If you’ve been wanting a bite-sized sample of Margaret Atwood’s writing, this will do the trick.

Yes, there are some voracious readers out there who have yet to pick up a Margaret Atwood book. I won’t judge you, because I only finally read The Handmaid’s Tale about a year before the TV show came out! I have read several of her novels since, and while I love them, they are dense. Atwood has a very specific writing style, especially in the first person, where it feels like the narrator is slightly removed from the story around them because of how observant the protagonist is about the world they inhabit. Some novels like Oryx and Crake require an investment into the entire trilogy of books for the full impact of the story. Atwood is a fantastic writer, but I understand why people might hesitate to pick up one of her creations.

Enter: My Evil Mother: A Short Story, the latest by Atwood. Easily read in under an hour, it’s a fantastic sample of both Atwood’s writing style and the underlying themes she manages to weave into several of her other works. In the 1950s, the unnamed teenage protagonist is fifteen years old and in the midst of her peak conflict years with her mother. She accuses her mother of being old and out of touch, and her mother responds by leaning into the idea that she’s actually a witch. Good things happen to their family because of spells cast, her mother insinuates, and bad things happen due to the outside influences of evil spirits. The protagonist, as many fifteen year olds would, feels far too old to believe in such childish fantasy, but a tiny part of her hesitates to completely dismiss her mother as she grows into adulthood herself.

Atwood’s greatest works generally deal with relationships between people, especially ones between women, and this is no exception. They often deal with situations that feel completely possible, with just a touch of the fantastical, and My Evil Mother hits those notes as well. Anyone who has been wanting to read Atwood’s works without investing time into an entire novel they may not actually like would do well to pick up My Evil Mother. It’s a great little microcosm of what Atwood is all about.

Disclaimer: I downloaded a copy of this book from the Kindle Unlimited program for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review and all opinions are my own.

Title: My Evil Mother: A Short Story
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: 01 April 2022
File Size: 5951 KB (this title is currently only available digitally)
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 – Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Cliff Chiang (artist)

A coming of age story rooted in the 80s and set among BKV’s bizarre-yet-beautiful science fiction backdrops.

*Note*: I had heard a while ago that Paper Girls would become a TV series, but assumed it was stuck in development. What a surprise to find that Paper Girls artist Cliff Chiang posted a teaser trailer for the series this past Saturday! No spoilers in the trailer, so feel free to take a look!

Paper Girls is a series I went ahead and picked up shortly after it began while a couple of other graphic novels/comics I was reading went on hiatus. I was already a fan of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga and Pride of Baghdad, so I hoped I’d enjoy Paper Girls just as much, and was thrilled to begin reading a Brian K. Vaughn series as it launched.

Vaughn has written a coming-of-age story based on four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls in the year 1988. The day after Halloween, they meet up on the streets of Cleveland, OH while delivering their papers, banding together for protection against the teenagers still wandering around their neighborhood wreaking Halloween havoc in the early hours of November 1st. From here, things go surreal in a very Brian K. Vaughn sort of way–grounded in reality, with characters reacting to things realistically without suddenly gaining a bunch of mystic powers, but with an otherworldly influence at the center of everything. Like most of his graphic novel first volumes, the plot seems to be heading in one neatly predictable direction but swerves at the last minute to a bizarre cliffhanger that will make you want to run and grab the next issue immediately.

Initially, I wasn’t so sure about artist Cliff Chiang’s style, but I quickly grew to love it! His colors are bold and bright and sort of otherworldly, which was offputting at the beginning of the book when it seems like we’re just following a bunch of preteen girls around the 1980s, but as the sci-fi elements are introduced, Chiang’s style really begins to shine. Backgrounds are often somewhat monochromatic, allowing the characters to stand out, which complements Vaughn’s apparent writing theme of “humans react the same and face the same core issues no matter what on earth is exploding or otherwise happening behind them.”

Paper Girls clearly sets itself up to be a fantastic coming-of-age story, and at only 6 trade paperback volumes (or two deluxe volumes, or one omnibus–there are a lot of options here!) it’s a fairly short comic run you can read over just a few days. Take a read before the TV series comes out, especially if you love any of Vaughn’s other work! It’s absolutely worth it.

Disclaimer: I bought the physical copy of Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (trade paperback) myself for my own personal use and am absolutely psyched that the TV series is coming out soon. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Title: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (trade paperback edition)
Author: Brian K. Vaughn
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Publication Date: 05 April 2016
Print Length: 144 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: Rescuing Hope – Heidi M. Thomas

Author Heidi Thomas’ writing immerses you both in the life of Sam Moser and in the beautifully described open plains of rural Montana.

I know nothing about raising horses or living on a ranch, but it doesn’t matter, because author Heidi M. Thomas creates an immersive world that made me feel like I was standing on the wide-open plains of Montana, looking up at deep blue skies above while wildlife frolics in the grasses around me.

Protagonist Samantha Moser keeps running into complications as she tries to get her horse-rescue ranch off the ground. She’s denied the ability to buy the ranch outright, a frightening mistake while working with veterans affected by PTSD shatters her confidence, and then the man she’s just begun to date is involved in a serious accident. Every time she’s able to catch a breath, something else seems to come up, and at the young age of 24, she’s reaching her limit. How can she make it all work out?

Rescuing Hope is perfectly named: when the world around you seems dark, you look for hope. This novel is all about finding it. With patience, grace, the help of wonderful neighbors, and yes, lots of tears, Sam searches for hope amidst all the things in her life that have not gone the way she wanted. Although not an overly religious novel, Sam’s faith in the Christian God sustains her, and this theme of finding her “grounding” in God threads throughout the book without being preachy. Sam also works hard: she doesn’t pray and sit back and hope things go well. She’s willing to power through and try to find solutions to her problems with the help of her friends and self-made family. Honestly, this book reminded me of a grown-up version of Lurlene McDaniel’s youth books about teenagers diagnosed with serious, life-altering diseases finding strength and hope in their faith in God and in the support of the people around them. I am not a Christian myself, but I did not find the religious aspects of Rescuing Hope to be intrusive or offensive. Sam’s faith is simply part of her character, and it works just fine.

Thomas wrote this novel well enough to be a stand-alone novel. I had no idea it was the second in a series until I was about halfway through it and the characters were referring to past events just enough that I wondered if there was another book that delved into those events. Lo and behold, yes, there is a prequel, as Thomas has envisioned Sam’s full journey as a trilogy. However, Raising Hope references these past events in a way that you’re not missing anything in the plot of Raising Hope if you haven’t read the first book, and concludes in a satisfactory way without major cliffhangers leading into the upcoming third book. It can be difficult to write the middle part of a trilogy without relying too heavily on past or upcoming plot points, but Thomas does this magnificently. I’m interested in finding the first book to read now, and I’ll be on the lookout for the third when it releases.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally written for Reedsy Discovery. The original review is here.

Title: Rescuing Hope
Author: Heidi M. Thomas
Publication Date: 09 October 2021
Print Length: 367 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Booklist: May the 4th be with you!


If you aren’t a rabid Star Wars fan like me, a common phrase in the Star Wars universe is “May the Force be with you” (if you were also raised Catholic like me, you may have trouble stopping yourself from responding “And also with you!”). Over the years, since “May the 4th” sounds a lot like “May the Force,” it’s become a Star Wars holiday of sorts, with lots of retailers having sales on Star Wars toys and so on.

Today, the full trailer for the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi show on Disney+ also dropped on all official social media! Check it out if you haven’t seen it! (this is NOT a sponsored post, I swear).

Otherwise, if you want to dip your toe into the Star Wars universe, feel free to check out some of my reviews of Star Wars literature below 🙂

Book Review: Star Wars: The High Republic – The Fallen Star, by Claudia Gray

Graphic Novel Review: Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures, Vol. 1 – Daniel José Older, Harvey Tolibao

Graphic Novel Review: Star Wars: The High Republic, Vol. 1: There Is No Fear – Cavan Scott (author), Ario Anandito (artist)

Graphic Novel Review: Star Wars: The High Republic – Trail of Shadows – Daniel José Older (writer), David Wachter (artist), Giada Marchisio (colors)

Short Story Book Review: Evidence of the Affair – Taylor Jenkins Reid

Evidence that a really great story doesn’t have to be a really long one.

Despite clocking in at under 100 pages long, Taylor Jenkins Reid pulled me into a world so intriguing I could hardly believe this was merely a novella rather than a full-length novel. Evidence of the Affair is told as letter-written correspondence between Carrie Alsop, who has discovered her husband is having an affair with the wife of David Mayer. As the heartbroken Carrie and David write back and forth, they also discover letters written between their spouses and send them to each other, giving the reader two more narrative points of view as we see how the cheating spouses met and how they feel about what they’re doing.

Choosing to write the novella through letter form helps us quickly learn the personalities of the characters as well. Letter writing can be quite intimate, so we get sort of a shortcut to our protagonist and antagonist’s inner thoughts and feelings–a fantastic choice in a story that can be read within an hour. Together, the heartbroken Carrie and David must decide whether to confront their spouses about the infidelity or let it slide in the hopes that they can save their marriages, and discovering how things turned out kept me on my seat until the very end.

If this novella was meant as an introduction to Taylor Jenkins Reid for those of us who have never read her work, it is a fantastic one, as I’ll be seeking out her other novels in the near future. Anyone looking for a quick, quality read would do well to pick up Evidence of the Affair.

Disclaimer: I borrowed the e-book version from the Kindle Unlimited program for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Title: Evidence of the Affair
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publication Date: 18 September 2018
Print Length: 88 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.