Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Svetlana Libenson | Fresh Fiction Reviewer Top Reads of 2019

December 30, 2019
Our final reviewer top reads list comes from Svetlana Libenson! You can check back and read our other favorite reads of 2019:
Debbie Wiley
Danielle Dresser
Jessica Grogan
Miranda Owen
Teresa Cross
Now, here’s Svetlana’s list:
It’s that time of year again: time to reflect on the last twelve months, to make resolutions, and to welcome in a new decade, 2020. I can hardly believe its 2020. It seems like only yesterday that 2019 had begun, and now in a couple of days we will walk into the 2020s.
When it comes to literature, my taste runs towards historical fiction, domestic suspense, multicultural fiction and contemporary fiction, and 2019 had its good moments in those categories.
 In no particular order, I will share eight of my favorite 2019 reads as well along with some honorable mentions.
MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim was a recent read for me, but it’s one that I’ll think of whenever I remember 2019. My favorite parts were the quotes Angie Kim wrote, and I also loved how she touched the interracial marriage between the characters as well as the struggles of identity and immigration in her character of Mary. Because I’m also a huge fan of South Korea, be it culture, music, or dramas, I loved learning tidbits about the country that I never knew before, namely about H-BOT, or the goose/penguin fathers. Truly, I was saddened to learn that MIRACLE CREEK lost the Goodreads Good Choices Awards because it truly deserved them.
Another one of my favorite books is LITTLE FAITH by Nickolas Butler. What I think first drew me to LITTLE FAITH is the promise of a tale about faith healing, which intrigued me because I always wondered why and how people renounce modern medicine to pray and trust a being that has a small guarantee of healing someone? In LITTLE FAITH, the author delivered a lot more than a simple tale of faith. He introduced the readers to a sweet and memorable grandfather/grandson relationship (I have never read a book that actually featured a grandparent/grandchild relationship!) and he also introduced the readers to the role faith plays in everyone’s lives. He also asks the reader to consider what is right and what is wrong.
One of my first post-pregnancy WW2 reads was THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY by Kelly Rimmer. Like a lot of readers, I loved BEFORE I LET YOU, Kelly Rimmer’s previous novel about sisters and what came between them. I am happy to say that with THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY, Kelly Rimmer doesn’t disappoint. The images Kelly Rimmer paints through words will long be a tattoo on my brain, causing me to realize how much I have changed since I had a child.
One of my other loves is THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD, a fantasy/historical fiction mix by Rena Rossner, and there is plenty I loved about that book too. I loved how at home I felt when reading THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD, like I was back in the Eastern Europe of my childhood. I also loved the alternating points of view and that one of the main characters was a practicing Jew instead of a Jew in name only. The whole book was reminiscent of a Russian painting for me, beautiful but frightening, (the best part is how she handled the atmosphere  throughout the tale)!
THE GOLDEN WOLF by Linnea Hartsuyker is one of the best historical fiction that I read this year. I had read the previous books in the Golden Wolf Saga: The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen. THE GOLDEN WOLF really felt as though it was the climax and the grand finale, and it certainly lived up to being the best book of the trilogy.
HER SECRET SON by Hannah Mary McKinnon was definitely one of my favorite suspense novels, namely because it’s well researched, intriguing, and I had no clue what was going to happen next. I also loved how the author presented many options but then explained why the protagonist chose the option he did.
QUEEN FOR A DAY by Maxine Rosaler is another winner in my book. First of all, reading from a caretaker’s point of view, especially for a child with special needs is rare, and I loved getting the glimpse of what it is like. I also loved watching the characters’ lives change as the years went on and the characters grew older.
While MOTHER COUNTRY by Irina Reyn was another immigration tale, it struck me closer to my heart because the protagonist is a mother and it dealt with an immigrant from Ukraine who is simply trying to survive and save money to bring her daughter overseas. I also loved learning a tradition about Grandfather Snow and am hoping to use it in the future with my son.
I also have a blog where I read and review a variety of books. Here are some of the five-star reads that I reviewed there:
Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein is truly a beautiful and emotional read of the years leading up to WW2 and of a friendship between half Jewish girl and a German girl and of how their friendship broke apart by secrets and lies.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing – what’s not to love about this book? A husband and wife that kill people for the thrill, then the suburbia aspects and then the constant tension as lies began to be revealed.
Goodbye Cafe by Mariah Stewart is the conclusion to Hudson Sisters Trilogy and I loved how the focus is on things important to the character of Allie and when romance happens to be either tertiary or secondary, it made sense for her.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib is beautiful and poetic; the sentences sear into the mind. Readers get to know a girl suffering from anorexia, and it definitely changed my perception of people who develop eating disorders.


Miracle Creek

How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?

In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.

A powerful showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Chapter by chapter, we shift alliances and gather evidence: Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?

Miracle Creek uncovers the worst prejudice and best intentions, tense rivalries and the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. It carefully pieces together the tense atmosphere of a courtroom drama and the complexities of life as an immigrant family. Drawing on the author’s own experiences as a Korean-American, former trial lawyer, and mother of a “miracle submarine” patient, this is a novel steeped in suspense and igniting discussion. Recommended by Erin Morgenstern, Jean Kwok, Jennifer Weiner, Scott Turow, Laura Lippman, and more– Miracle Creek is a brave, moving debut from an unforgettable new voice.

Fiction | Mystery | Thriller [Sarah Crichton Books, On Sale: April 16, 2019, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780374156022 / ]

Four Days to discover the truth…can it be done?


LITTLE FAITH by Nickolas Butler

Little Faith

In this moving new novel from celebrated author
Nickolas Butler, a Wisconsin family grapples with the power and limitations of faith when one of their own falls under the influence of a radical church

Lyle Hovde is at the onset of his golden years, living a mostly content life in rural Wisconsin with his wife, Peg, daughter, Shiloh, and six-year old grandson, Isaac. After a troubled adolescence and subsequent estrangement from her parents, Shiloh has finally come home. But while Lyle is thrilled to have his whole family reunited, he’s also uneasy: in Shiloh’s absence, she has become deeply involved with an extremist church, and the devout pastor courting her is convinced Isaac has the spiritual ability to heal the sick.

While reckoning with his own faith–or lack thereof–Lyle soon finds himself torn between his unease about the church and his desire to keep his daughter and grandson in his life. But when the church’s radical belief system threatens Isaac’s safety, Lyle is forced to make a decision from which the family may not recover.

Set over the course of one year and beautifully evoking the change of seasons, Little Faith is a powerful and deeply affecting intergenerational novel about family and community, the ways in which belief is both formed and shaken, and the lengths we go to protect our own.

Thriller Psychological [Ecco, On Sale: March 5, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062469717 / eISBN: 9780062469731]

A story of the love and faith of ordinary people being challenged to their core!

What role does faith play in our lives?



The Things We Cannot Say

In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just
beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny. . . and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it.

Women’s Fiction Historical | Women’s Fiction Time Slip [Graydon House, On Sale: March 19, 2019, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781525823565 / eISBN: 9781488096785]

Nazi invasion of lives of Polish citizens brought to life.

Kelly Rimmer has done it again…



The Sisters of the Winter Wood

Captivating and boldly imaginative, with a tale of sisterhood at its heart, Rena Rossner’s debut fantasy invites you to enter a world filled with magic, folklore, and the dangers of the woods.

In a remote village surrounded by vast forests on the border of Moldova and Ukraine, sisters Liba and Laya have been raised on the honeyed scent of their Mami’s babka and the low rumble of their Tati’s prayers. But when a troupe of mysterious men arrives, Laya falls under their spell – despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And this is not the only danger lurking in the woods.
As dark forces close in on their village, Liba and Laya discover a family secret passed down through generations. Faced with a magical heritage they never knew existed, the sisters realize the old fairy tales are true. . . and could save them all.

Fantasy [Redhook, On Sale: June 18, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780316483360 / eISBN: 9780316483292]

Will their bond as sisters prove stronger than a curse?


THE GOLDEN WOLF by Linnea Hartsuyker

Golden Wolf Saga #3

The Golden Wolf

The fates of Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild unfold to their stunning conclusion in this riveting final volume in The Golden Wolf Saga, a trilogy that conjures the ancient world with the gripping detail, thrilling action, and vivid historical elements of Game of Thrones and Outlander.

Ragnvald has long held to his vision of King Harald as a golden wolf who will bring peace to Norway as its conqueror–even though he knows that Harald’s success will eventually mean his own doom. He is grateful to have his beloved sister, the fierce and independent Svanhild, once more at his side to help keep their kingdom secure. Free from the evil husband who used her, she is now one of Harald’s many wives.

While Svanhold is happy to be reunited with her beloved brother, and enjoys more freedom than ever before, she is restless and lonely. When an old enemy of Ragnvald’s kidnaps his niece, Freydis, his sister follows the daughter she has neglected to Iceland, where an old love awaits. This strange new land offers a life far different from what each has left behind, as well as unexpected challenges and choices.

Ragnvald, too, must contend with change. His sons–the gifted Einar, the princely Ivar, and the adventurous Rolli–are no longer children. Harald’s heirs have also grown up. Stepping back from his duties as king, he watches as his sons pursue their own ambitions. But Norway may no longer be large enough for so many would-be kings.

Now in their twilight years, these venerable men whose lives have been shaped by war must face another battle that awaits. A growing rebellion pits Ragnvald and his sons against enemies old and new, and a looming tragedy threatens to divide the hardened warrior from Harald and all who care for him. Across the sea, Svanhild, too, wrestles with a painful decision, risking the dissolution of her fragile new family as she desperately tries to save it.

Yet as old heroes fall, new heroes arise. For years, Ragnvald and Svanhild pursued the destinies bestowed by their ancient gods. Though the journey has cost them much, their sacrifices and dreams will be honored by the generations that follow, beginning with Freydis and Einar. Emerging from their parents’ long shadows, they have begun to carry on the family’s legacy while pursuing their own glorious fates.

This compelling conclusion to the Golden Wolf trilogy recreates Viking-age Scandinavia in all its danger, passion, power, and glory–a world of brutality and myth, loyalty and betrayal, where shifting alliances and vengeance can build kingdoms . . . and can tear them down.

Historical [Harper, On Sale: August 13, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062563743 / eISBN: 9780062563798]

Will they uphold the legacy, or destroy it?


HER SECRET SON by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Her Secret Son

How far would you go to protect the ones you love. . . when they may not be yours to protect?

When Josh’s longtime partner, Grace, dies in a tragic accident, he is left with a mess of grief–and full custody of her seven-year-old son, Logan. While not his biological father, Josh has been a dad to Logan in every way that counts, and with Grace gone, Logan needs him more than ever.

Wanting to do right by Logan, Josh begins the process of becoming his legal guardian–something that seems suddenly urgent, though Grace always brushed it off as an unnecessary formality. But now, as Josh struggles to find the paperwork associated with Logan’s birth, he begins to wonder whether there were more troubling reasons for Grace’s reluctance to make their family official.

As he digs deeper into the past of the woman he loved, Josh soon finds that there are many dark secrets to uncover, and that the truth about where Logan came from is much more sinister than he could have imagined. . .

Tightly paced and brimming with tension, Her Secret Son is a heartbreakingly honest portrait of a family on the edge of disaster and a father desperate to hold on to the boy who changed his life.

Thriller Domestic [MIRA, On Sale: May 28, 2019, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780778351269 / eISBN: 9781488088629]

Her death opens up a Pandora’s Box…

Where does he belong?


QUEEN FOR A DAY by Maxine Rosaler

Queen for a Day

After Mimi Slavitt’s three-year-old son, Danny, is diagnosed with autism, she finds herself in a world nearly as isolating as her son’s. It is a position she shares only with mothers like herself, women chosen against their will for lives of sacrifice and martyrdom. Searching for miracles, begging for the help of heartless bureaucracies while arranging every minute of every day for children who can never be left alone, they exist in a state of perpetual crisis, normal life always just out of reach.

In chapters told from Mimi’s point of view and theirs, these women emerge as conflicted, complex individuals, totally unsuited for sainthood, often dreaming of the day they can just walk away. Taking its title from the 1950s reality TV show in which the contestants–housewives living lives filled with pain and suffering–competed with one another for deluxe refrigerators and sets of stainless steel silverware, Queen for a Day portrays a group of imperfect women coping under enormous pressure.

In her impressive debut, Rosaler tells their stories in ironic, precise, and vivid prose, with humor and insight born of firsthand experience, and offers readers “the gut-heaving, throat-choking, darkly comic truth–about parenthood, marriage, love, rage, and hard-won survival” (Eileen Pollack, author of The Bible of Dirty Jokes).

Women’s Fiction | Women’s Fiction Contemporary [Delphinium, On Sale: June 5, 2018, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781883285753 / eISBN: 9781504054577]

An intimate portrait of parents with autistic children



Mother Country

Award-winning author Irina Reyn explores what it means to be
a mother in a world where you can’t be with your child. . .

Nadia’s daily life in south Brooklyn is filled with small indignities: as a senior home attendant, she is always in danger of being fired; as a part-time nanny, she is forced to navigate the demands of her spoiled charge and the preschooler’s insecure mother; and as a ethnic Russian, she finds herself feuding with western Ukrainian immigrants who think she is a traitor.

The war back home is always at the forefront of her reality. On television, Vladimir Putin speaks of the “reunification” of Crimea and Russia, the Ukrainian president makes unconvincing promises about a united Ukraine, while American politicians are divided over the fear of immigration. Nadia internalizes notions of “union” all around her, but the one reunion she has been waiting six years for – with her beloved daughter – is being eternally delayed by the Department of Homeland Security. When Nadia finds out that her daughter has lost access to the medicine she needs to survive, she takes matters into her own hands.

Mother Country is Irina Reyn’s most emotionally complex, urgent novel yet. Hopeful and full of humor, it is a story of mothers and daughters and, above all else, resilience.

Women’s Fiction [Thomas Dunne Books, On Sale: February 26, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250076045 / eISBN: 9781466887374]

What is the meaning of mother and motherhood in a tale of immigration?

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