Amy’s Picks and Pans, Issue 28


Welcome to my Monthly Book Round-Up! This month, I dive into a vibrant selection of ten reads that promise to spark your curiosity and stir your emotions. From the latest bestsellers to hidden gems waiting to be discovered, some were standouts and others were duds, but the list aims to cater to a wide array of tastes and preferences. Whether you’re in the mood for a thrilling mystery, a heartwarming romance, or a deep dive into historical intrigue, there’s something here for everyone. Grab your favorite beverage and let’s explore these enticing titles that are sure to keep your pages turning and your imaginations soaring. Happy reading!


Drawn by the Current
by Jocelyn Green

“If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’d find that much of what we love has a lot to do with the memories we’ve attached to it.”—Jocelyn Green, Drawn by the Current.

Jocelyn Green’s Drawn by the Current takes you on a harrowing journey aboard the ill-fated SS Eastland, which capsizes while tied to a dock in 1915 Chicago. Olive Pierce, an insurance agent, takes her best friend on an excursion on the ship to celebrate her birthday when the unthinkable occurs.

With Claire missing amid the chaos, Olive’s escape is just the beginning. The wreckage is more than the twisted steel and the chilling waters of the lake—it’s the loss of hundreds of souls. Olive delves into the depths of the tragedy, not just to find answers, but to honor the memories of those lost.

As Olive pieces together the puzzle, she forms an unlikely friendship with Erik Magnussen, a newspaper photographer who loves amateur sleuthing as much as she does. Together, they unravel the mystery of the accident, despite being sabotaged at nearly every turn. Green’s skillful narrative avoids the complexity of jumping timelines, offering a straightforward, yet richly layered tale that keeps you anchored to the story’s current.

The tragic capsizing of the Eastland is not merely a backdrop—it is as much a character in this story as Olive and Erik. That 844 lives were claimed on that fateful day in 1915 lingers on every page, a ghostly reminder of the past reaching into the present. While the meticulously researched historical elements add a profound depth, at times, the author’s details were over the top.

As the last installment of a series, Drawn by the Current works equally well as a standalone. Green doesn’t just tell a story; she revives history, breathes life into it, and invites you to step aboard. Those who appreciate historical fiction with a strong female lead, and mysteries that pay homage to the past, will find themselves drawn to this book. I’m glad to have discovered this new-to-me author. I will certainly read more. 4.5 stars.


The Marriage Portrait
by Maggie O’Farrell

In Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait, the historical backdrop of Renaissance Italy leaps off the page, bringing us the tale of Lucrezia de’ Medici, third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany—a figure shrouded in obscurity and tragedy.

O’Farrell paints a vivid picture of young Lucrezia, who much prefers the strokes of her paintbrush and exploring the Palazzo over the harsh expectations of nobility. Lucrezia’s life takes a sharp turn at 12 when she’s promised to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara—her deceased sister’s once-intended.

Once she enters the duke’s world at age 15, Lucrezia faces the challenge of threading her way through the intricate politics of her new home—a place where her worth hinges on her ability to bear a son. Alfonso himself is a riddle—sometimes showing kindness, other times distant and cruel. This push and pull creates an interesting dynamic, stirring empathy for Lucrezia as she navigates her new life.

A year after moving to his home, Lucrezia is dead. What really happened to her is a mystery. Officially, she died of pulmonary tuberculosis, but rumors have circulated for centuries that her husband poisoned her. That suspicion inspired the English poet Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” in 1842.

O’Farrell is a master of atmosphere. Just like in Hamnet, her writing is a tapestry of historical detail and emotion. However, the pacing slows at points, and the restrained use of dialogue sometimes makes the narrative feel a bit too quiet. She develops tension (and some confusion) with a dual timeframe, opening in 1561 when Lucrezia is sure Alfonso wants to kill her, then circling back to depict her childhood in Florence.

The Marriage Portrait may not eclipse the triumph of Hamnet, but it’s a story rich in detail, emotional depth, and a whisper of mystery. A solid 4 stars.

** Thanks to the publisher for a comp of this book. The opinions are my own.


by Geraldine Brooks

“You have to know that bigots are unwittingly handing you an edge. By thinking you’re lesser than they are, they underestimate you. Lean on that. Learn to use it, and you’ll get the upper hand.”
—Geraldine Brooks, Horse.


I’ve been a fan of Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks since reading her first novel, Year of Wonders. She once proves once again why she’s a household name with her novel Horse. Based on a true story, this journey weaves through centuries, tying together the lives of people separated by generations but connected by the legacy of a record-breaking thoroughbred named Lexington.

You’ll meet Jarret in the 1850s, bound by the chains of slavery, yet his bond with Lexington offers a poignant glimpse into the human-equine connection. Then there’s Martha, the 1950s gallery owner, whose love for horse paintings captures the mid-century art scene’s vibrancy. Jump to Jess, an osteologist (bone specialist) at the Smithsonian and Theo, the art history graduate student whose discovery of a long-lost painting in 2019 opens doors to a forgotten chapter of Lexington’s legacy.

Brooks sculpts characters with depth and intricacy and the way she braids multiple narratives together shows off her exceptional skill, although Martha’s narrative was less compelling than the others.

Her descriptions of rural Kentucky, New Orleans, and New York City are immersive. And the foreshadowing? She’s a master, dropping hints so subtly you’ll flip back pages to see what you missed.

It’s clear Brooks dove headfirst into a sea of research to bring authenticity to every element—from the ins and outs of horse racing to the intricacies of painting and the Smithsonian’s secrets. This novel stands as a testament to her dedication and intelligence as a writer. 4 stars (my book club’s average rating was 3.8).


Killers of a Certain Age
by Deanna Raybourn

“Just then Fogerty emitted an unpleasant noise accompanied by a smell I knew too well. The human body has over sixty sphincters, and every one of them relates in death.”
—Deanna Raybourn, Killers of a Certain Age.

 Killers of a Certain Age sweeps readers away on a wild, action-packed adventure that defies the typical portrayal of women over sixty. The novel introduces us to Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie—the first all-women assassin team of the secretive organization known as the Museum. After forty years of eliminating the worst of the worst, these formidable ladies are forced into retirement, deemed too old-school for modern times. However, their send-off—an all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise—turns deadly when they discover they’re targets for elimination by their own organization.

Raybourn combines suspense with humor, creating a riveting story that’s as entertaining as it is suspenseful. The characters are delightfully fleshed out, bringing a refreshing depth to the tale with their rich backgrounds and sharp wit. The narrative shifts between their illustrious pasts and the tense present, weaving a tale that’s both a nod to their legacy and a race against time.

Fans of the Thursday Murder Club series will find familiar joy in these pages. While the book carries its weight in heavier moments, these are balanced with humor. Readers will root for these badass senior ladies.

Killers of a Certain Age proves that age is nothing but a number for settling scores and surviving the deadliest of games. It earns a solid 4 stars for its originality, spirited characters, and the empowering message that life’s third act can be just as thrilling as the first two.

** I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All opinions are my own.


The Lioness
by Chris Bohjalian

The Lioness is an enthralling tale of glamor, danger, and survival. Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Serengeti in 1964, the novel follows Hollywood elite Katie Barstow and her new husband, David Hill, as they embark on a honeymoon safari with their closest friends. What starts as an idyllic adventure quickly spirals into a horrifying ordeal when Russian mercenaries hijack their camp.

Author Chris Bohjalian masterfully intertwines the allure of 1960s Hollywood with the raw beauty of Africa, crafting a narrative rich in historical detail and description. The African scenes are so vividly portrayed you can almost feel the oppressive heat and see the majestic wildlife. However, the true heart of the story lies in its exploration of human nature under duress, depicted through the eyes of a diverse cast of characters.

While the novel excels in action and descriptive prowess, its structure may not appeal to all. The multiple narrators and frequent shifts between past and present sometimes slow the pacing and lessen the suspense. The detailed backstories set in Los Angeles, although essential, drag.

Readers should also be prepared for intense scenes of violence and carnage that are as gripping as they are gruesome. This book might keep you on the edge of your seat, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Despite these hitches, The Lioness offers a potent blend of history, suspense, and drama, making it a satisfying read and a potential hit as a movie or miniseries. A 4-star rating for its ambitious scope and vivid storytelling.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a comp of this book. The opinions are my own.


Prayers for Prodigals
by James Banks

“Prayer combined with a believing mother’s or father’s love is powerful. When placed in Jesus’s hands, it is invincible. Obstacles may come when you least expect them, but perseverance in prayer will lead to a breakthrough.”—James Banks, Prayers for Prodigals.

Prayers for Prodigals offers a heartfelt guide for parents grappling with a child’s departure from their faith. The premise resonates deeply with Christian parents facing this painful challenge, aiming to fortify their perseverance through structured, scripture-based support. Pastor James Banks draws from his personal experiences with prodigal children, aiming to bolster readers’ faith and trust in God through this trying time.

The book’s structure comprises scriptural prayers, words of encouragement, and practical prayer tips, which aid parents in navigating their emotional and spiritual turmoil. The added meditations are insightful, emphasizing the power of persistent prayer and divine intervention.

However, while the book starts promisingly with engaging prayer prompts and thoughtful meditations, it becomes repetitive. The rephrasing of Scripture sometimes simplifies complex passages, which might not satisfy all readers seeking depth in theological study or scriptural interpretation. The content, though rich in spirit, feels stretched thin for a 90-day devotional.

Overall, Prayers for Prodigals is a solid attempt at addressing a need within the Christian community. My personal journey through the book brought a sense of solidarity, knowing I’m not alone in this struggle. Yet, I desired more variety and depth as the days passed. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


Peach Blossom Spring
by Melissa Fu

“Within every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.”—Melissa Fu, Peach Blossom Spring.

Melissa Fu’s Peach Blossom Spring is a mosaic of survival and identity, stitching together a story across oceans and generations. Through the eyes of Meilin and her son Renshu, later known as Henry Dao, we experience the upheaval of war and the tension between embracing the future and honoring the past.

Meilin charts a course through a China inflamed by war and political upheaval, her resilience leaping off the page. Fu paints Meilin with a masterful touch—she’s not just a character but a force, carving out safety in a world where security is as fleeting as the wind. The narrative doesn’t just recount her journey; it immerses you in the very pulse of her life’s rhythm, beat by beat.

Henry’s tale in America is one of silent battles—a man shaped by the history he yearns to forget, yet one that defines every silent space between him and his daughter. The withholding of his past is a second exile, a barrier as formidable as any ocean. Henry embodies a struggle known to many: the desire to shield the next generation from past horrors while inadvertently leaving them unanchored to their heritage.

This novel doesn’t simply traverse the physical distances between China and America; it explores the internal landscapes of its characters. It’s an exploration that sometimes moves at a breakneck pace, perhaps at the cost of deeper suspense and intricacy. Yet, this rapid progression mirrors the turbulence of the times, a life where moments and decisions come as swiftly as they go.

Peace Blossom Spring resonates with the dissonance of Meilin’s staunch survivalism against Henry’s self-imposed cultural amnesia. It speaks to the immigrant experience not as a single event but a continual process of negotiation, with identity, with history, and with the notion of home. Fu crafts a narrative that’s not only a reflection of a family’s lineage but also a commentary on the complexities of assimilation and the indelible imprint of one’s origins.

While the novel’s tempo can sometimes outpace its narrative depth, it remains an interesting exploration of what people endure in the name of hope and the silent legacies they carry. Fu’s Peach Blossom Spring is a debut that is both a witness to history and an intimate family portrait. So interesting! 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a comp of this book. The opinions expressed are my own.


Gold Mountain
by Betty G. Yee

Tam Ling Fan, a young woman who grew up in 1860s China, lived in comfort thanks to her father’s wealth. Unlike most girls of her status, her father spares her from painful foot-binding. However, her life takes a tragic turn when her brother dies of influenza and authorities falsely imprison her father. Refusing to accept a marriage of convenience for his release, Ling Fan disguises herself as a boy and takes up her brother’s contract to work on the Central Pacific Railroad in America.

Her journey to the “Gold Mountain” proves harsh and perilous. Along with other Chinese laborers, she builds the railroad connecting the East and West coasts, braving cave-ins, avalanches, blizzards, and racism from White Americans. When work accidents increase, it becomes clear sabotage is at play.

Yee’s narrative vividly portrays the challenges and dangers of constructing the railroad, when racism, classism, and drug abuse are common. Ling emerges as a powerful female protagonist, making immense sacrifices to save her family. The impact of the railroad extends beyond Chinese laborers to the indigenous people in its path, a testament to the book’s thoughtful exploration of history and adventure.

Beautifully written and well-paced, the story captivates readers from beginning to end, offering insights into history, mystery, and adventure. Although marketed as a young adult novel, it resonates with readers of all ages. I give it 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


When the Last Rose Blooms
by Ashley Clark

Ashley Clark’s third installment in the Heirloom Secrets series, a dual-narrative historical novel, intertwines the lives of two women bonded by loss and a hidden language of flowers. The suspenseful story flips between post-Katrina New Orleans and Civil War-era Charleston, focusing on Alice, a florist who stumbles upon an embroidered mystery, and Clara, a Confederate general’s daughter, turned abolitionist spy. The women, separated by centuries, share a common determination and depth of spirit as they face challenges including slavery, societal prejudices, and personal demons.

The novel shines with its well-crafted female protagonists, both embodiments of resilience and faith. The historical fabric of the narrative, particularly Clara’s journey, is richly woven, though sometimes strays into territory that feels less authentic, with modern sensibilities occasionally seeping into a past setting. The contemporary storyline, while integral, leans towards the sentimental, veering into territory that might remind one of a formulaic TV movie.

Readers may find that knowledge of the previous books in the trilogy would enhance the experience. Despite a few stumbles, the book offers a heartfelt look at the enduring human spirit and the timeless nature of love and courage. 3 stars.

** Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this novel. The opinions are my own.







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