The Winston Brothers series by Penny Reid

I’m not a huge series reader, but I must tell you about my all-time favorite series. I met author Penny Reid at the 2019 Book Bonanza in Dallas, TX this past August. Of the over 50 authors I met there, Penny was the most humble, kind, and hilarious one. I knew immediately that I would enjoy her books, and man was I spot-on! Her writing is so refreshing, full of hilarious banter, romantic escapades, and a strong bond between a Southern family of six bearded brothers living in small-town Green Valley, TN.  

Of all Reid’s books, my favorite are the Winston Brothers series. The first book in the series is called Truth or Beard and is the story of Duane Winston. Duane’s mama, Bethany, was the beloved town librarian but she passed away at a young age after a fairly quick battle with cancer. Sweet Bethany’s only bad habit was staying with Duane’s despicable daddy, Darrell Winston, who is in jail due to his illegal exploits with the local biker gang, the Iron Wraiths. Bethany and Darrell had 6 boys (Billy, Jethro, Cletus, red-headed twins Duane & Beau, Roscoe) and one girl, Ashley. The brothers are ultra-charming and handsome, but also prone to mischief. Reid’s characters are charming and unique, and she tackles tough issues very well with her tell-it-like-it-is dialogue. Cletus, Duane, and Beau run an auto mechanic shop in Green Valley. Jethro is a park ranger with a bit of a sordid past. Billy is a senator, and Roscoe, the baby of the family, becomes a veterinarian. Ashley took on a sort of sister-mom role to the guys when Bethany passed away. They are all very close, and Cletus is a main part of the glue holding them all together.

Each book in the series focuses on a different Winston brother and his romantic exploits. They can all be read as a standalone full-length romantic comedy, but are better enjoyed when read in the order of publication so readers can follow the progression of the family as it grows with marriages and births. It’s easy to spot these books for their creative cross-stitched covers, each depicting a different bearded Winston brother (and one of Ashley!). (Side note: I also love that Penny cross stitches, just like me! Nerds, unite!) My personal favorite of the brothers is Cletus because of his extensive vocabulary and extreme geekiness that only someone like he can pull off as cool. Not to mention his homemade sausage and special coffee. He makes me laugh so hard!

I hope you enjoy this series and let me know what you think! The fictional world of Green Valley, Tennessee that Penny created is so popular and loved , in fact, that now there are a whole bunch of other amazing authors writing book series that take place in Green Valley, TN. The Winston brothers make many appearances in the Smartypants Romance books, which I absolutely love! They are all part of the amazing Smartypants Romance group. For instance, the Donner Bakery series which is Cletus’s wife, Jenn’s, bakery and the Scorned Women Society series by Piper Sheridan which is the story of Suzie Samuels, and all of the women that heartthrob, bad-boy turned park ranger Jethro Winston left behind. And, my personal favorite, as a librarian of course, is the Green Valley Library series, which have amazing titles (Love in Due Time, Shelf Awareness, Crime and Periodicals, Prose Before Bros). I mean, come on, the titles alone make a librarian swoon! And there are a bunch more Smartypants Romance books launching this year. Yippeee!

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Cletus Winston:

“Stay away from the normals, the small-minded people who fill their brains with small-minded pursuits, who blend in and keep up with the Joneses. Those people will tear you down and make you boring. Instead, surround yourself with the weirds. With the misfits, oddballs, and outcasts. Because the normals, bless their hearts, have no idea how to have fun.”

 

 

 

The Voice in My Head by Dana L. Davis

imagesOriginally published in School Library Journal, May 2019.

Gr. 9 & Up: Davis’s second YA novel set in Seattle, follows 18 year old black twins Indigo and Violet and their chaotic family on an unlikely road trip. While attempting suicide, Indigo hears a voice say that her terminally ill twin Violet will live if she hikes the Wave, a 2 ½ mile scenic rock formation in the Arizona desert. Unsure whether the voice is God or a symptom of a concussion, Indigo bravely pleads to her family before Violet’s medically assisted death plans unfold. Thanks to a resourceful Pastor, Jeb, everything falls in place allowing the family to set off in a rainbow-colored paratransport bus covered in eyeballs. Pastor, the twins, their retired parents, a 16 year old brother Alfred, and 33 year old nurse practitioner sister Michelle and her husband and biracial children are a motley group of passengers, seeking healing for Violet’s pulmonary fibrosis. From kidney stones to an attempted robbery with a paintball gun, there is never a dull moment for the Phillips family. Indigo’s perspective of herself and her family changes along the way, allowing her acceptance and hope. The writing is refreshing and characters relatable. Though the novel tackles heavy subject matter of terminal illness, mental health, and death; light-hearted, comical scenes make for a heartfelt, yet entertaining read. VERDICT: Readers of diverse realistic fiction will enjoy the sibling banter, unique characters and authentic dialogue.

 

Faker by Sarah Smith

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Faker delights readers with a multicultural office romance that developed from two coworkers who really can’t stand each other…until they can’t stand being away from each other. Hawaiian born Emmie Echavarre knows how to fake her way through many things, especially her days in the office at Nuts & Bolts, a power tool company full of men. Being one of the few women in the office causes her trips to the warehouse to be anxiety ridden. Her friends know her as easy going and fun but at work she fakes a tough persona, placing a no nonsense barrier between herself and her coworkers.  One coworker in particular, Tate Rasmussen, an all American white boy compete with curly blond hair and burly physique, has always been hostile with Emmie, scowling at her from his office where she has full view of his perfect biceps and curly locks. Even though he’s ridiculously handsome and swoony, Emmie forces herself to dish out the curtness and coldness right back to him. When the two are placed on a charity work team together to build a house, things heat up and scowls and grimaces turn to kisses and smoldering looks. Turns out neither Emmie or Tate are as bad as they thought each other were. Thus begins quite the adventure of a relationship, including an unforeseen emergency surgery & hospital stay for Emmie and a tension filled high school reunion for Tate. It’s also filled with some laugh-out-loud moments and tender moments between Emmie and Tate once his rough exterior is peeled away. Hang in there, readers, you’ll love it all the way to the end. Fans of Helena Hunting’s The Hating Game and Christina Lauren’s rom-coms will enjoy this debut romantic comedy from Sarah Smith. Thanks to Berkley for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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Originally published in Library Journal, January 2019.

Loigman’s second novel follows Jewish sisters Ruth and Millie Kaplan from their childhood in Brooklyn to adulthood living at an armory base in Springfield, MA. The eldest by three years, Ruth is held to almost impossible standards, while Millie, with her striking looks and pleasing manner, gets away with most anything. Possible male suitors for Ruth always end up pursuing the younger, more beautiful Millie. After their parents die unexpectedly and Millie loses her husband, Lenny, the sisters end up together. Ruth’s husband, Arthur, is an army officer allowing Ruth a prestigious job in payroll, while Millie becomes a soldier of production in an armory factory. Resentment and jealousy intensify as Millie again becomes the beloved center of Ruth’s social circles. Then a stranger arrives and long-buried secrets are revealed, leaving the sisters a chance at a hopeful future. Unfolding in alternating points of view, Loigman provides a behind-the-scenes look at women fighting their own wars at home. Readers will enjoy the heartfelt picture of women’s daily life during wartime through the eyes of two unique, extraordinary sisters. VERDICT: Recommended for historical fiction fans of Pam Jenoff and Kate Morton.

Till it Stops Beating by Hannah R. Goodman

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Librarian Laura’s Review

Till it Stops Beating, a young adult realistic fiction from author Hannah R. Goodman tackles some very heavy themes including mental illness, alcoholism, sickness (cancer), and loss. The language and scenes are very mature, so I would not recommend it for readers under the age of 16. It is, however, a great book for teens to relate to for a variety of tough situations that may come up during high school or teenage years. 

Maddie Hickman, a 17 year old senior can not stop thinking about the boy who got away. No matter who she dates or that it’s been years since she’s laid eyes on him, Justin is the one for her. Her best friends, fun-loving Susan and handsome, gay Peter attempt to keep her mind off of Justin, to no avail. Added to her constant anxiety about Justin is the fact that Maddie has a major Senior Project due soon, which involves writing a book about the one that got away…Justin. Her older sister, Barb, has battled alcohol addiction for most of her adult life, which ultimately led to her marriage falling apart. To complicate matters, Barb starts bringing around her new beau, who is a bit overbearing for Maddie’s taste. And then, Maddie receives a phone call from Bubbie, her beloved grandmother who lives in Florida, to let her know that she has cancer. This announcement sends Maddie over the edge into a full-blown anxiety attack, which leaves her feeling unmoored and shaken. Come to find out, her father has suffered from a similar mental illness, so Maddie begrudgingly sees a therapist at her parents’ request. 

In the midst of all of these issues surrounding her, Maddie ends up taking a life-altering road trip with her friend Peter and his current boyfriend. On the way, she decides to take a risk and really start living her life the way she wants to live it. I won’t give you any more plot details because you’ll have to read it yourselves. The author does a great job of bringing the characters to life, in a way that readers can identify with them. 

My favorite quote from this book: Bubbie tells Maddie “Never worry about your heart, honey, till it stops beating.” (Good grandmotherly advice.)

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

About the Book

Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).

Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.

Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/dp/1684330807/‬‬

About the Author

Often referred to as “the teenage whisperer”, Hannah R. Goodman’s twenty-year career working with teenagers includes the titles teacher, tutor, coach, and, more recently, mental health counselor. Hannah has written essays about mental health for various online publications. Her work has appeared on MindBodyGreen, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Zencare.co, and The Mighty. Though she has previously earned the title author with her first three books, the last was released in 2009 and all were self-published. This time around, indie publisher Black Rose Writing released her novel Till It Stops Beating this summer.

Hannah’s first YA novel, My Sister’s Wedding, won the first place award for The Writer’s Digest International Self-Publishing Contest, 2004, children’s book division. She published the follow-up, My Summer Vacation, in May 2006, which went on to win a bronze IPPY in 2007. The third Maddie book, Fear of Falling, was released in the fall of 2009 and was praised by teachers and readers for tackling subjects like homophobia and coming out. She’s published young adult short stories on Amazon’s Shorts, in an anthology entitled Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith, and in the journal Balancing The Tides. She also has written columns for The Jewish Voice & Herald. Recent, previous projects include Sucker Literary, which features emerging YA authors and All The Way YA, a group blog of writers telling the real deal about writing and publishing YA fiction.

Hannah is a member of ARIA (Association of Rhode Island Authors) as well as a graduate of Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program in Creative Writing where she earned an MFA in Writing For Young People. She resides in Bristol, RI with her husband, two daughters, and black and white cat named Zoe

You can find Hannah:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/969127.Hannah_R_Goodman

Twitter: @hannahrgoodman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tillitstopsbeatingnovel/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tillitstopsbeating/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-goodman-76b9596/

Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Hannah-R.-Goodman/e/B002BLU56K

Website: https://www.hannahrgoodman.com

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

9780399592188_1bf94Originally published in Library Journal, February 2018.

Readers meet Venus Black, age 13, in 1980 Washington state, as she is locked up in juvenile detention after a horrific event involving her stepfather Raymond. Her father died when she was 5, and soon after Inez, her self-absorbed mother, married Ray. The only positive aspect of their union is her developmentally disabled step-brother Leo, whom Venus loves fiercely. Later details emerge that Venus shot Ray who had been peeping into her bedroom for years. Inez refused to help, forcing Venus to ensure Leo’s and her own safety from Ray the only way she could. Leo is then kidnapped by Ray’s estranged brother, Tinker, who feels he is doing Leo a favor, rescuing him from Inez and Venus. Tinker rents a room from tattoo artist, Tony, and his 11 year-old daughter Tessa. Tessa cares for and loves Leo like a brother. At age 19, Venus is released, rents a room from Mike, and begrudgingly agrees to babysit his precocious 9 year-old niece, Piper. Venus eventually adores Piper like a sister, but when Piper moves away, Venus decides to find Leo, no matter the cost to herself or Inez. In the aftermath of finding Leo, Venus and Inez find forgiveness and hope for a loving future where Leo is loved by two families. While searching for Leo, Venus meets Danny, a determined cop who loves her despite her troubled past. At the end, Venus decides to start college and write her memoir as a way to heal and move forward. VERDICT: Fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Lloyd’s fast-paced, debut novel for the unique characters, captivating story-line, and beautiful tribute to the healing power of love.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.