Newest review: Waiting to Begin by Amanda Prowse

June 9, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: June 8, 2021

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A woman deals with memories of the past on her birthday and a secret she’s only shared with one other person. As she goes through the day, she tries to ignore her insecurities while also grappling with the reality that her marriage may not be in the best shape. Author Amanda Prowse builds another strong character in a book that needed a little bolstering in her latest release Waiting to Begin.

It’s her 53rd birthday, and Bessie Talbot feels every bit middle-aged. Her children have long since left the nest; one has just left on his honeymoon, and the other is wrapped up in her career. Now it’s just Bessie and her husband, Mario. At one time looking at Mario would make Bessie’s heart race. These days she’d be grateful for the odd palpitation.

The day brings hearty wishes from family and friends, but Bessie can’t shake the feeling that she’s stuck. In fact, she’s felt stuck ever since her 16th birthday. That day started out completely different than her current birthday.

At 16, Bessie woke up knowing she had the whole world ahead of her. Exams had ended, and she just needed the results so she could continue on her path to becoming a flight attendant and traveling the world. She had a boyfriend, although she hadn’t told anyone about him yet, and she and her best friend were all ready to make a splash at the rugby club later that evening for the end-of-term party.

Then everything slid downhill. One after another, her birthday brought so many shocks that Bessie wanted nothing more than for the day to end. She wanted to forget the day ever happened.

She may have physically moved on from turning 16, but Bessie’s never quite gotten over that birthday in her heart and mind. Worse, there are things about that day she’s never told anyone—not her parents, not her best friend (who is her former friend now,) and not even her husband. Those situations still lay claim to who she is, and she thinks about them every year.

As she starts looking around at her life on this latest birthday, Bessie just wants to walk away from it all. It seems like everyone has moved on to bigger and better things. She’s the only one who’s stuck in the past. Try as she might, she can’t seem to make any strides forward. Before the day is out, Bessie will find herself at a crossroads yet again. This time she’ll have to decide whether she can salvage her birthday for good.

Author Amanda Prowse’s latest novel showcases her writing skills in building sympathetic characters. Readers will understand Bessie’s reluctance to move on from the past. Prowse lays out the events of Bessie’s life one careful layer at a time, proving her ease with characters who could very well live next door.

The trouble with the book comes in its pacing and plot. As Bessie relives her memories, the story flashes back to her 16th birthday and intersperses moments from that day with her current birthday. Both feel much longer than they needed to be, both in time and the number of incidents that occur.

Bessie wishes, repeatedly, for the day to end. At some points, readers might be tempted to wish for the same. No doubt, the events on her 16th birthday were necessary to establish her character for later, but Prowse spends too much time driving the main point home. Multiple situations and multiple mentions of those situations come up when a few would have sufficed. As Bessie shares every thought, complaint, and tear, readers might be tempted to tell her to move it along already.

Some parts of the plot are predictable from the earliest pages, leaving readers to wait for Bessie to come to certain conclusions on her own. The result is a story that is much slower than it needed to be. Fans of women’s fiction and diehard Amanda Prowse fans will probably want to read this one. I recommend readers Borrow Waiting to Begin.

Brand new review: Girl One by Sara Flannery Murphy

By Ekta R. Garg

June 2, 2021

Genre: Mainstream fiction

Release date: June 1, 2021

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A young woman considered a scientific miracle discovers that there’s a darker agenda behind the science when her mother goes missing. As the woman searches for her mother and for answers about her own existence, she’ll have to decide whether the path she’s chosen for herself is the right one after all. Author Sara Flannery Murphy offers an intriguing premise that’s light on crucial details in the novel Girl One.

When Josephine “Josie” Morrow was born in the 1970s, some people called her a miracle baby. Others called her an abomination. Her scientific father, Joseph Bellanger, called her Girl One, because Josie was the first child conceived without male DNA. Josie came out whole and a perfect replica of her mother, Margaret.

Josie and Margaret lived in a commune known only as the Homestead with eight other Mothers and Girls. Media and social backlash forced the Mothers and Girls to keep to themselves, despite Dr. Bellanger’s confidence that one day the world would accept the Girls for what they are: scientific breakthroughs. Not long after the last Girl is born, however, someone sets fire to the Homestead. One of the Girls and Dr. Bellanger die while everyone else barely escapes with their lives.

In 1994, Josie is in medical school in Chicago. Unlike some of the other Girls, Josie is fascinated by the science that created them and wants to reproduce it in the lab. When the Homestead burned down, the fire took all of Dr. Bellanger’s notes and research with it. Now Josie is slowly piecing it back together. It helps her feel closer to Dr. Bellanger who always called her his most special daughter.

Then word comes that her mother’s house in her small Illinois hometown has burned down. Josie races back home, only to discover that Margaret has disappeared. The circumstances around the fire are suspicious at best, and Josie gets a feeling the whole incident is somehow connected to her status as Girl One.

Having no one else to turn to, Josie starts combing through Margaret’s belongings and finds the contact information for a reporter with a keen interest in the Homestead. They begin a search for Margaret by tracking down the other Mother-Girl pairs to see if Margaret visited any of them recently. As Josie talks to the sisters that science gave her, she begins to understand how their existence is more incredible than anyone realized and how that very existence puts all of them in grave danger.

Author Sara Flannery Murphy offers readers a cursory introduction to the field of parthenogenesis, where a species reproduces without the presence of sperm. Much is made in the book about this accomplishment in humans, yet Murphy doesn’t share any of the scientific details. The oversight makes it a little harder to buy into the concept overall. Dr. Bellanger is purported to be some kind of genius scientist, yet readers never actually get to see what he did to accomplish this incredible feat. Later explanations, too, are skimmed over. Instead, Murphy directs readers to the relationships between the Girls and between them and their Mothers.

Here, too, the story feels a little lightweight. Margaret’s willingness to participate in Dr. Bellanger’s experiment on the Homestead is the only one given much consideration, but the details are sparse. Readers never get the chance to hear the “why” of it all—why would nine women leave behind their lives and all social conventions to participate in a radical scientific experiment?

Without this baseline motivation or any grounded science, the book becomes an exercise in the suspension of disbelief. Josie’s voice is the strongest, and Murphy’s descriptions are delightful and innovative. However, the story lacks the weight to make it truly a knockout. I recommend readers Borrow Girl One.

Brand new review: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

By Ekta R. Garg

May 26, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 25, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A young woman becomes a widow, and all of the town’s inhabitants go along with her delusion that her husband is still alive. When a journalist comes to the island searching for a story, he discovers one he never saw coming. Author Colleen Oakley offers warmth, romance, genuine affection, and kind characters in her newest novel The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.

The lifelong residents of Frick Island divide people into two groups: From Here, meaning those who belong to the island, and Come Here, those who migrated to it. While the residents treat everyone with politeness, the Come Heres have often felt a small difference. All of them except Piper Parrish, that is.

Piper and her scientist mother came to Frick Island when Piper was in the sixth grade. In the beginning, the other kids in school singled her out as a Come Here. When Tom stood up for her, though, people stopped bothering her. Through the years, her sunny disposition won them over to the point that they forgot—or forgave—her Come Here status and adopted her as a From Here. Tom did more than that, however; he fell head over heels in love with Piper, and she returned his love with eagerness.

It didn’t surprise anyone that they got married young. Piper loves Frick Island, and Tom’s family has always been in the crab business. Tom took it up like his relatives, but he also feels a little restless. Piper keeps him steady, and he challenges her in the best of ways. As corny as it sounds, they’re meant for one another.

When Tom’s crab boat capsizes during bad weather, then, everyone in town understands Piper’s longing to grieve. When she starts talking to Tom as if he’s still there—telling everyone she needs to help Tom with his tie for church, say, or that she’s going out to the beach to meet his boat when it comes in the way she did before the accident—no one has the heart to correct her. In fact, they go one step further.

Anders Caldwell moved to Maryland from Atlanta hoping for a break in his journalism career. The proximity to New York and his pluck were all he needed for big things to happen. Except Anders is stuck covering the dumb stories no one wants, like a Cake Walk on Frick Island, which he’s never heard of and where he really doesn’t want to go. The only way to get to the Island is by ferry, and Anders hates being on the water.

His editor doesn’t give him a choice, though, and Anders makes his way to the island expecting to see a bunch of cakes and gawking tourists. What he finds is an entire town of people pretending to see a dead man. They actually call out to Tom as if he’ll respond, leaving Anders incredibly confused at first.

The more questions Anders asks, the more an idea burns inside of him: what if he starts a podcast about the town and this bizarre situation? What harm could it do anyway? The town doesn’t even have a cell phone tower, and internet speeds are actually crawls. Maybe this will be the feature story that will catapult him toward success.

As Anders comes back every weekend to interview Frick Island residents and spend time with Piper, he finds out just how far the From Heres will go to protect their own. He also discovers something more valuable than his next big career move.

Author Colleen Oakley handles her situations and characters with a practiced hand. While in theory it might seem a tad precious that Piper gets married so young, within the context of the story world it makes complete sense. Piper’s grief and her longing for Tom will endear her to readers. Both ring true and loud for anyone who has lost a loved one.

Oakley’s plot stays well within the realm of its genre but doesn’t come off as saccharine. Moments meant to be solemn maintain their dignity. Those meant for a laugh will make readers chuckle. With the exception of the dialogue that comes off as unrealistic at times, the book leads its target audience through the entire range of emotions with precision. I recommend readers Bookmark The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.