Aunt Nellie B by Dixiane Hallaj

Aunt Nellie B

by Dixiane Hallaj

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Five stars


Aunt Nellie B plunges us into the life of Charli as a girl, a young woman, and an old woman. Through the latticework of time Dixanne weaves Charli’s tale of discovery, adventure, trial, and family. As a child, Charli watches her mother and aunts battle a mysterious curse that destroys their marriages. Through her creative eavesdropping, the girl tries to discover how to break the curse for herself and ensure her happily ever after, chronicling her discoveries in her journal. As a young woman, Charli has failed to escape the curse for the first time. We watch her frightening flight from her prince and the inner and outer struggle to break free. Through these times she finds comfort in her childhood journals. As an old woman, she strives to hold together her connections to her family through her daily efforts and attachment to the journals of her childhood. She now strives to rescue her child and other family members from the curse. Is the curse real or a child’s imaginings? Does it matter?

Dixanne took on a very challenging method of storytelling for Aunt Nellie B and triumphed. This story could have so easily become lost in the confusion of when an event happened or how it fit in with other events, but Dixanne handled the complexities with mastery. Her separation of child voice, young woman voice, and old woman voice continued to be both separate and unified in the character speaking them. I could believe that young Charli wrote the diary and the voice of old Charli came out just as distinct as her older self. Instead of confusing me, the style increased my anticipation of what came next and in what timeline.

I loved the personal dynamics and relationship of the all of the characters in Dixanne’s story. She crossed social and cultural boundaries with fluid ease. Charli’s family felt like real, dynamic people, and the main character’s insights into their personalities gave them a lot of depth. When the author introduced a fantastic element of her story, the characters all expressed their doubts and disbeliefs. I found that delightful! Their little quirks such as switching to Spanish when discussing secrets, or fears that divided them, made them feel like a real family.

Dixanne has written a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable story of personal tragedy, courage, and redemption.  I approve this title for Awesome Indies.

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Restoration by Elaine D. Walsh




by Elaine D. Walsh

Genre: Women, Contemporary Fiction, Drama

Convicted serial killer Randall Wright’s crimes included more than murder. He also destroyed a family. But death by lethal injection is the worst punishment the state of Florida can give him, so Tess Olsen, one of the “other victims” can exact no retribution. Randall Wright didn’t kill Tess in the traditional sense, but he did kill her dreams, wreck her ability to connect to others, and destroy her family.  Why did her mother, Alish, fall in love with a murderer when she had a stable, happy family? Why did she leave them all for this monster? And why did she not see the evil he wrought on her daughter? How could he deceive Alish so, and how could she be so blind?

Tess, now an adult, still struggles with the pain of her broken family and smothered artistic spark. She lives a hollow life of temporary flings with men and a career of restoring artwork instead of creating her own. Will Randal Wright’s execution set her free from the fear that still strangles her? Can she find a real relationship with the chivalrous art critic, Ben, who pursues her heart and not her body? Will she ever be restored?

Elaine writes a gripping story of the far-reaching destruction that an evil person can wreak whether they live in freedom or not. She also explores the terrible layers of wrong in divorce and the different ways it affects the survivors. Tess’ sensitive nature is prostrated by the betrayal of her mother, plunging her into an existence of helplessness and misery. No other family member is tortured so much as Tess, but Randall Wright didn’t return their kindness with horrors either.

Though dark and brooding, the tale also zings with the energy of Tess’ hope for release and thirst for justice. She hopes for Randall’s death and for her mother’s eyes to be opened. Ben gives her hope for a bright future of love, though she wrestles with her confidence that she deserves such a life. The characters around her also begin to open her up and relieve her of some of her icy suffering as they show her kindness and care about her.

Restoration is a deep and varied tale that highlights the best of people and the worst. I thoroughly enjoyed Tess’ journey through her psyche and her wrestle with herself.

I approve this title for Awesome Indies.

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana Lost

by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller

Francesca Pacelli is the daughter of a crime boss and has spent most of her life so far in Cuba. The casino her father runs is in its heyday, but trouble is coming. Cuba is on the verge of revolution. In the charged environment, Francesca, or Frankie, never expects to fall in love, and especially not with Luis. After all, he was sent to kidnap her to raise funds for the revolution. Abandoning her father and his heavy-handed rule over her and his piece of Cuba, Frankie runs away with Luis and starts a new life as a Cuban wife supporting Fidel’s revolution.

Frankie’s act sets off a chain of events that lasts through the life of her son Michael and her granddaughter Luisa. Caught between the affluence of America and the strenuous conditions in Cuba, Frankie and her family struggle to hold onto the ones they love. Separation and death work against them in a fight for power, money, respect, and sometimes love.

When I heard about Havana Lost I knew I would enjoy it because I enjoyed Libby’s book, A Bitter Veil, so much. She didn’t disappoint with Havana Lost. Libby writes with a compassionate and fascinating personal approach to history with her fictional characters. Revolution means so much more to the people inside it, especially if they are in love and pregnant. The frank and honest way Libby looks at the truth about the countries, the people involved in the revolution, and their different points of view gives an important face to the historical facts.

I loved the way Libby’s characters were not quintessential good guys or bad guys. Luis supported the revolution for his reasons and Ramon for his, and both men act in ways that may be “bad” for their good ends. Frankie supported Luis and his values, but as a pampered American had different, more idealistic personal motives for the cause.  Later she embraces the role of crime boss for the power and place it gives her though she hated her father for it.

Spanning three generations, Libby takes on a lot with her tale. But nowhere did the action seem to fall flat or lose the interesting momentum. I cared about each person for themselves and for the other characters connected to them. At first her sudden time shifts disconcerted me, but I love the way they added mystery to the events transpiring and gave the very real sense that time flies. Her details bring Cuba and all the other places and their cultures to life. I thoroughly enjoyed Havana Lost and recommend this riveting historically-based tale.

I approve this title for Awesome Indies.

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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The Rockin’ Chair by Stephen Manchester

The Rockin’ Chair

By Steven Manchester

Genre: General Fiction

Four Stars

John McCarthy is losing his dear wife, Alice, to the horrors of Alzheimers. Her mind is slipping and her days are numbered. The crushing blow of loss motivates John to “finish his chores” and right the wrongs in his family. His son, Hank hasn’t been on speaking terms for years, though he lives just across the creek. His three grandchildren, George, Tara, and Evan, have left their Montana homestead to find their way in the world, and have lost their way.  John must call them home to mourn Alice’s passing and re-forge his connection to his family.

If you love a story of love and sentiment, where all the men are tough and earnest and all the women are longsuffering, patient angels, then this is the story for you. The writing style is rich and full of loving description of scenery and memories that run deep. Stephen has written his tail in a stream-of-consciousness style without losing the continuity of the tale. Rabbit trails branch off with appropriate context and return quickly. The sentiment of the tale abounds. Several of the descriptions made me cringe, but I’m a cynical Seattleite, not a country girl at heart.

This story was an elderly man’s fantasy. Grandpa John had all the answers and could solve all his problems and his family’s problems with a word or gesture of goodwill. Putting his mind to it and taking the steps he already knew he should, he buttoned up all the messy loose ends of his life and ensured his family’s happiness and success before he died. And they all knew it and fully appreciated him for it.

For a cynical Seattleite like me, the story was too sentimental. I enjoyed the descriptions of times gone by and love for memories, but Stephen didn’t hold back with the embellishments. Sometimes it went too far.

Grandpa John seemed to have been holding out on his family for a very long time. All along he had the solutions to everyone’s problems, but hadn’t gotten around to helping them out. Also, their problems were so easily solved by returning to the land and hearing an apology or a truism that shed a perfect light on any situation. I didn’t buy it. The troubles of each character appeared deep and serious, but evaporated like mist under the sunshine of Grandpa John’s wisdom, giving them a sense of triviality. Faith, churchgoing, and prayer appeared to be a light garnish to their lives and not the glue that held it all together. Grandpa John took that role instead. Countless opportunities to show the transforming power of the Gospel appeared to be omitted or edited out.

The Rockin’ Chair is an entertaining tale of family love and redemption. Sentimentality, country sense, and good ol’ days fill the pages, with a healthy dollop of family loyalty, drowned in butter.  If you long for the simple life, this book is for you.

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