The High Mountains of Portugal

By Yann Martel; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
The High Mountains of PortugalFans of Yann Martel’s international bestseller, Life of Pi (2001), will find many familiar elements in his new novel, The High Mountains of Portugal. Once again, Martel plumbs the relationship between storytelling and truth and mixes tragedy with healthy doses of humor. There is another leading character from the animal kingdom; religion and faith are integral themes. But The High Mountains of Portugal is a more difficult, less cohesive read, and will no doubt produce polarized reactions.

The novel is divided into three dissimilar parts….

Finding Jake

By Bryan Reardon; Reviewed By Linda Lindsey Davis
finding jakeIn Bryan Reardon’s Finding Jake, Simon and Rachel Connolly are like many other married couples: they have a house in the suburbs and two children. They differ from other couples in that they made the decision 18 years ago for Simon to shift his writing career to be the stay-at-home parent caring for their children, and Rachel, an attorney with a major law firm, would be the one who commuted to work in the city. Their story is told from Simon’s point of view, as he reflects on being a stay-at-home father.

Seventeen years ago, when Jake was born, and then three years later when his sister Lanney arrived, Simon learned to accept being the only father on the children’s playground…

The Santa Claus Man

By Alex Palmer; Reviewed by Carolyn Burns Bass
The Santa Claus Man, #LitChatIt all began with the dead letters department at the New York City post office. Every year letters to Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and other derivatives of the name, were destroyed as undeliverable mail per the policy of the U.S. postal department. In 1911 that policy changed and the New York City postmaster sent out a call for someone to receive all of the Santa Claus mail on behalf of the city’s children. A couple of years went by before John Duval Gluck, Jr. acted on impulse and stepped up. In 1913, fresh off an arrest and fines from his part in promoting the first and only bullfight in New York City, Gluck saw an opportunity to restore his reputation, bring joy to poor children on Christmas, and provide a lifestyle of prestige and privilege. The International Santa Claus Association was formed and Gluck became known as New York’s Santa Claus.

The Heart Goes Last

By Margaret Atwood; Reviewed by Carolyn Burns Bass

The Heart Goes Last #LitChatThe meaning of life and love is central to Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, The Heart Goes Last. Now before you think Atwood has gone soft and written a romance, stop right there. The Heart Goes Last is a brilliant satirical look into modern society with emphasis on the breaking economy, its opportunities for corporate greed, and its impact on the middle class. How far would you go to sleep in a bed every night? Would you kill your husband to preserve your comfort?

In a not-too-distant future the American economy has collapsed to the extent that cars have become real estate, rolling from place to place to protect the inhabitants who live inside from those on the outside who would commandeer the vehicle and abuse the residents ….

Girl Sent Away

By Lynne Griffin; Reviewed by Karen Struble, Ph.D.

Girl Sent AwayLord Acton’s famous saying, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” rings deafeningly true in Lynne Griffin’s new novel, Girl Sent Away. For parents of rebellious adolescents, Griffin’s story is a Nightmare with a capital N.  Basing her work on actual reports from teenagers sent to remote wilderness therapy camps, the author spins a harrowing tale of mental health care gone awry.

The novel’s main character, Ava Sedgwick, is a sixteen-year-old Massachusetts girl haunted by the unresolved trauma of losing her mother and sister during the 2004 tsunami that wreaked havoc on Thailand’s …

Honey From The Lion

By Matthew Neill Null; Reviewed by Billie Hinton

Honey From The LionBy turns graphic and poetic and sometimes both at once, Matthew Neill Null, in his literary debut, shapes vivid characters, West Virginia history, and a landscape under siege into one finely-hewn novel.

Null meticulously chronicles a community in West Virginia in 1904, as old growth forest is cut by hand using horses to haul the logs. The landscape herself seems to oversee the machinations of men: businessmen, loggers (called timber wolves), union men, a preacher, women. There is union-building going on, conversations in back rooms, and men named Cur and Neversummer, Seldomridge and McBride. The landscape is perfectly rendered, the work of cutting trees is brutal…

Rainy Day Sisters

By Kate Hewitt; Reviewed by Stephanie Kamerman

Rainy Day SistersUSA Today bestselling author, Kate Hewitt, begins a new series, Hartley-By-The-Sea Novels, with Rainy Day Sisters—a story of two half-sisters who long for love and acceptance, and find it in each other. Kate’s next book in the series, Now and Then Friends, is due out in August 2016.

Lucy Bagshaw’s life as a barista and aspiring artist in Boston ends abruptly when her mother, artist and liberal commentator, Fiona Bagshaw, writes openly on how she doesn’t support Lucy’s artistic capabilities and how the fame she has will not be given to Lucy. After the humiliating article is printed for all of Boston to read, Lucy’s partner…

Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders

By Julianna Baggott; Reviewed by Billie Hinton

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of WondersJulianna Baggott’s newest novel, Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, is brilliant and beautiful, quirky and captivating, a multigenerational tale told from four unique points of view: Harriet Wolf’s, her daughter Eleanor’s, and those of her granddaughters, Ruth and Tilton.

Baggott uses the passage of time and very specific individual experiences in a family of women to reveal the ways in which mothers and daughters—and all of us—connect. She embroiders in rich detail…

Did You Ever Have A Family

By Bill Clegg; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
Did You Ever Have A Family“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With this famous first line, Leo Tolstoy begins his classic novel Anna Karenina, a story about allegiances and relationships, social confines and aspirations, and the binds of family and home. These themes are also the purview in Bill Clegg’s wonderful debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, and his characters are no strangers to unhappiness in its many forms….

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

By Lucy Frank; Reviewed by Carol Baldwin
Two Girls Staring at hte CeilingSometimes books title are difficult to come up with. But when I consider, Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling (PenguinRandom, 2014) I think, Lucy Frank, this title is perfect.

Written out of Frank’s own battle with Crohn’s disease, this novel-in-verse is simultaneously beautiful and earthy. The premise is simple and as alluded to by the title, focuses on two young women—as opposite in lifestyle, character, and background as you can imagine—who share …

The Way to Stay in Destiny

By August Scattergood; Reviewed by Carol Baldwin

The Way to Stay in DestinyThe minute sixth-grader Theo Thomas gets off the bus and arrives in Destiny, Florida with his Uncle Raymond, I’m right there with him. The author, Augusta Scattergood uses great details to pull readers into the character and setting: Theo grabs his bags, baseball mitt and a tattered book, Everything You Want to Know About Baseball; the heat hits him like a slap in the face; diesel fumes whoosh around him; he encounters slithery gray stuff hanging from the trees; and no “old men in shorts and flip-flops” meet him and his uncle at the Marathon…

Love Sick

By Autumn J. Bright; Reviewed by Carolyn Burns Bass

Love SickDebut author Autumn J. Bright’s Love Sick spins a gritty tale of one woman’s break from the dysfunction and lies of her past and toward a reinvention of herself as an independent woman capable of breaking the abusive generational habits that have bound her life. Toni Jones is a rising star in Charleston’s competitive radio scene. Her husband is a man on the move, ambitious, charismatic and passionate. He’s everything Toni could want in a husband, and more. He’s violent, possessive and a mean drunk. Toni’s family has never approved of Marvin, which makes Marvin resent Toni…

Blue Birds

By Caroline Starr Rose; Reviewed by Carol Baldwin

Blue BirdsThis is the reason I love well-written historical fiction: It draws me into a place and time that I am barely familiar with, brushes me with information and imagery, and leaves me wanting to know more. Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose is such a book. Written from the points of view of Alis, the daughter of one of the first British colonists to land at Roanoke Island and Kimi, a Roanoke girl who has lost her father and uncle at the hands of the English, this novel-in-verse creates a plausible backstory of the Lost Colony. The alternating viewpoints are an excellent vehicle to show what it meant to the English and Indians…

Circling the Sun

By Paula McLain; Reviewed by Billie Hinton

Circling the SunThese are the openings to two of my favorite books in the world, so Paula McLain’s Circling The Sun was on my list to read the moment I learned it existed. I was not disappointed. McLain deftly captures the ambiance of colonial Kenya and meticulously crafts Beryl Markham’s own voice. I was immediately drawn into this familiar world, a landscape and a story that has been previously painted so perfectly by Isak Dinesen and by Beryl Markham herself….

The Mountain Story

The Mountain StoryLori Lansens is guest author in #LitChat on July 20, 2015. Follow #LitChat on Twitter or login directly to our dedicated channel at

By Lori Lansens; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White

On his eighteenth birthday, Wolf Truly boards the tram that takes tourists up the mountain overlooking Palm Springs. He loves the mountain…