Category Archives: Ballantine Books

Review: What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 7, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0345524438
  • Source: Publisher

In the follow up to Flock’s Me & Emma, nine-year-old Carrie and her mother are now transients, attempting to start anew, escaping a life of abuse and rejection from their small town in the mountains of North Carolina. Carrie’s mother, Libby, unable to cope with the way their life has turned out, takes out her abuse, verbally, on poor Carrie. Never short on complaints about her daughter, Libby often leaves Carrie alone in the  hotel room they now call home while she looks for a job.  Libby often forgets to leave her daughter food, so Carrie is forced to eat whatever she can find, in some cases just paper, to sustain herself. She’s beings to make a practice of going to the nearby Wendy’s, stocking up on croutons and ketchup packets. Her only solace is her memories of her sister, Emma, a name Libby forbids even mentioning.

It is at Wendy’s that Carrie meets Cricket Chaplin (yes, those Chaplins) and her mother Honor. Honor sees how starved Carrie is, also noticing the uncanny resemblance she has to her dead daughter. It doesn’t take long before Cricket and Carrie become close friends. Cricket introduces Carrie to a world she’s never experienced: clean clothes, an iPod, computers. Carrie provides Cricket with the companionship she has missed since the passing of her sister. The three generations of Chaplin women-Cricket, Honor, and her mother Ruth, provide Carrie with a live she’s longed for. Yet, the secrets that each family holds dear begin to unravel, altering both families lives forever.

As mentioned above, What Happened to My Sister is the follow up to the author’s previous book, Me & Emma, taking place with only a short span of time between. Told in alternating chapters, What Happened to My Sister is told from two completely different voices, young, abused and naive Carrie and a more mature Honor Chaplin. Certainly not a light read, this novel focuses a great deal on Carrie’s abuse and neglect. That said, there is a great deal of hope, for Carrie rises above her painful past and transforms into an incredibly strong, brave, and resilient heroine.

I do recommend reading these two books in the order they were published. While What Happened to My Sister does give a brief summary of the saga that transpired in the previous novel, it is my opinion that a reader cannot fully comprehend the magnitude of the story without reading it, first hand.

These two novels have truly made an impact on my life, for the incredibly young Carrie Parker will have a place in my heart for some time. Highly recommended.


Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops in the tour.

Review: Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Original edition (May 29, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0345527011
  • Source: Publisher

Tommie McCloud returns to her small hometown in Texas when her father passes away. Ponder was like many small towns, everyone knew one another’s business, no secrets could be withheld from the prying eyes of neighbors. So Tommie thought, that is.  Just days after her father’s passing, she receives a letter from a woman, indicating the family and the past Tommie thought believed was her own was in fact a horrible lie. Tommie’s true name was allegedly Adriana Marchetti, abducted from her parents over twenty years ago. As if this news wasn’t shocking enough, Tommie learns that her biological parents were a former stripper and mob boss, her father currently in jail for murdering an entire family in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Tommie scrambles to hold on to the only family she’s ever known. She and her sister Sadie are dealing with their mother, now suffering from dementia and living in assisted living. Just when she needs her most, needs her honesty and explanation, Tommie is unable to get any information from her.   Certain that the letter she received is a hoax, she begins to investigate this alleged kidnapping. As she digs deeper into her family’s past and reveals a great deal of secrets that were long-ago buried, her life, and the lives of those she loves, is at risk.

Without sounding too cliche, Playing Dead is a whirlwind of a story. Tommie, still recovering from the death of her father is dealt a horribly painful blow. Her family has always seemed a little off to her; her mother was frequently depressed frequently fought with their father. Tommie assumed a great deal of the pain her family suffered was due to the loss of her brother on his eighteenth birthday, but the more she digs into her family’s secret past the more questions are raised. The man she thought was her father is not, instead her actual flesh and blood is spending the rest of his life in jail. No one currently living is able to answer the dozens of questions she raises, so she begins to investigate the lives and stories of those now dead and how their demise is tied to her family’s secretive past.

Tommie is an incredibly endearing character. Incredibly strong-willed and minded, she’s always felt as though she was living a life not meant for her. She fled her hometown of Ponder for a reason and is now forced to return and become enveloped in a life, a history, her parents kept from her for decades.  Her strong-will does allow a sense of vulnerability to shine through, however. As an adult, she now works with children from difficult and/or abusive homes.  It isn’t a stretch to see that she’s hoping to make up for the childhood she experienced.

Playing Dead is a truly monumental debut. Heaberlin sends her readers on a roller-coaster ride of deception and deceit, ending in a truly mind-blowing conclusion. Her novel is one that will force itself into your life, not relenting until you’ve finished it. A truly addictive thriller, one I recommend wholeheartedly.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Be sure to check out the official tour page for other stops along this tour.

Review: The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 22, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0345517083
  • Source: Publisher

  • Mia, Lainey, Betts, and Ginger met and became best friends at law school in the late 70s at the high point of the women’s liberation movement. They earned their nicknames as the Ms. Bradwells in law school after discussing the 1873 Supreme Court case of Myra Bradwell who was denied the right to practice law, soley because she was a woman.

    From the start four women had quite the strong relationship:

    ” …one of the things we Ms. Bradwells had in common pretty much from the start: we may laugh at ourselves or at our own chances, but even when we didn’t know each other very well yet–when we might have mistaken light tones for lack of seriousness–we never did laugh at each other’s dreams.” (p. 33)

    These feelings, this attitude, lasted long after law school and into their adult years.

    The women are now in their fifties and Betts is going through a trying Senate confirmation hearing to confirm her Supreme Court appointment. Ginger is now a wealthy poet, Mia is a journalist who has recently lost her job and Laney is running for political office. They all come together to support Betts during the hearings.

    During the questioning, Betts is asked about an incident that took place at a summer home on Cook Island decades earlier, an incident that forever changed the lives of these four women. They are forced to confront a past long hidden, full of lies, jealousy, guilt, and resentment. Decades later, even the women themselves don’t know what really transpired that fateful summer evening.

    The Four Ms. Bradwells is told in chapters alternating between the four women, their stories told in first person narrative. At first, these alternating viewpoints are a bit confusing and I found myself referring to the front of the chapter to learn which character was speaking, but the author differentiates the language and style of each woman so that its quite easily apparent which character is speaking.

    The alternating first person point of view allows the reader to get inside the heads of each of the women, to experience their pain and sorrow. I truly felt as if I knew each of the characters, as though they were sitting in front of me, talking like old friends. At several points in the book, I quite literally had to put the book down and take a breather, the emotions so real and vivid that I experienced them myself.

    I’ve been a fan of Meg Waite Clayton’s since reading The Wednesday Sisters. Meg has the uncanny ability to realistically and accurately portray the relationships of women, including friendship, motherhood, and marriage. Unlike The Wednesday Sisters, The Four Ms. Bradwells also has the element of mystery woven into the storyline.  Admittedly, when I learned this was the case I was quite skeptical but the author’s skilled writing didn’t fail to prove my “instincts” to be false. 

    Additionally, this book reflects on achieving not what one is expected to achieve, but one’s own personal dreams:

    “It’s the weight of the dreams, the feeling you’re meant to do what your mamma and daddy couldn’t do, that the path you choose will complete their lives, or not.” (p. 57)

    Without giving away too much, other reviewers have found the ending scene to be too unrealistic, not typical of the actions of these four women. These “scene” is foreshadowed earlier on in the book, so I found it to be completely plausible and characteristic of Mia, Lainey, Betts, and Ginger.

    The Four Ms. Bradwells is a wonderfully written story of four extremely intelligent women who, despite it being decades after the feminist movement, continue to have to work harder to prove themselves not only as women, but strong individuals. Highly recommended.

    Stay tuned! Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a reading and signing by the author.  I have written a post about this wonderful experience which really allowed the audience to see inside the characters of The Four Ms. Bradwells.