February Books from Our Tomato Readers

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Ready to curl up with a good book? Here are three novels from three of our avid Tomato book readers. Just a Girl in a Whirl tells the story of a daughter with a bi-polar mother. Ivory Shoals tells the story of he adventures of a 12-year-old boy who treks across the state in search of his father, a man who doesn’t know he exists. and The Washington Post calls The Kindest Lie “a layered, complex exploration of race and class.”

Just a Girl in a Whirl by Annie Wood

My reading habits tend towards Historical Fiction or Mysteries…OK…I’ll admit it…I’m obsessed with that genre of novels.  However, the brilliant Annie Wood, a friend, had just published her novel, “Just a Girl in a Whirl”, and knowing the range and depth of her talent, I gave it my full attention. I am so glad I did because, to put it simply, I loved it!  I always like to read in bed before my slumber and if the book is topnotch and to my liking, I will really, really, look forward to my nightly reading routine. For me, that says it all.  Plus, “Just a Girl in a Whirl”, regularly, kept me up reading much longer than I should have, passing another important quality test. I’m not a professional or qualified reviewer but there you have it. “Just a Girl in a Whirl” passes the mustard, big time.

I have to say that at first, I was very hesitant to start this novel because the lead character, Lauren, is a teenager…ugh.  I raised two teenagers…do I really want to read about a teenager?  Well… I was thoroughly and happily surprised by how engaging I found the storyline and how enamored I was by Lauren’s strong character and descriptive perspective.  As the daughter of a bi-polar Mother, I could also relate Lauren’s struggle and her sadness with the family’s situation. She is, of course, a mix of spunk, quirkiness, smarts, creative wit and profound wisdom beyond her teenage years with just a tad of typical teenager thrown in. But it is her complete devotion to helping her family get through the long bad patch that breaks your heart. Lauren’s story, in the midst of the novels wonderful pacing and emotional ride, poses the question; “Will she be able to grow up and flourish in her own life as a young woman outside of family or will the struggle to keep the family together and guide them hold her back?”

Rooting for Lauren, her parents and sisters is what keeps you turning the pages and the relatability of the characters, and the storyline is what makes “Just a Girl in a Whirl” so compelling. The portrayals of the mom and dad and the sisters were well drawn, nuanced, and fully realized, as well.  Lauren and the family’s journey, both individually and collectively, were built and written beautifully, realistically, and movingly throughout. In my humble opinion this is a novel that is so lovely, poignant and hopeful that I would definitely say that you should give “Just a Girl in a Whirl” … a go…and toss in a whirl while you’re at it. Get the book.

~Debbie Zipp, Chatsworth, California, The Three Tomatoes LA Life Editor





Ivory Shoals by John Brandon

With sumptuous descriptions of the Florida landscape in 1865, author John Brandon follows the adventures of a 12-year-old boy who treks across the state in search of his father, a man who doesn’t know he exists. Gussie Dwyer is determined to find him and return a gold watch that belongs to him.

When Gussie’s beloved mother dies, he visits the brothel where she worked to collect outstanding payment she is owed and is blatantly spurned by the proprietor. Having been raised with a strong sense of justice and moral decency, Gussie takes matters into his own hands, robs what is his, and escapes with monies she earned.

This sets the scene for a heart-pounding race through untamed natural wilds when Gussie takes off, trying to outpace the bounty hunter who comes after him. As he traverses the ruins of post-Civil War Florida, still smoldering in the aftermath of unsettled race relations, he encounters a cast of hardened Floridians with hearts as tender as their crusty exteriors.

This is a wonderful coming of age story, filled with colorful vignettes as Gussie navigates the passage out of childhood and across frontier Florida.  Against all odds, how will he survive the journey, locate his father, and find redemption? GET THE BOOK.

~Joan Pagano, New York, New York, owner of Joan Pagano Fitness, NYC

The Kindest Lie By Nancy Johnson

This story begins in 2008 on election night.  Barack Obama has just been elected the first Black president and the country is full of hope with better days ahead.  Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer is about to celebrate this historic time with her equally successful husband, Xavier.  Her husband is eager to start a family in their new townhouse on Chicago’s South Side.

We learn on page one that Ruth had a baby boy at age 17 and was  forced to give him up.  She has lived with this secret, which she has not shared with her husband. Ruth does confess to Xavier about having a baby many years ago, and he is very upset by her betrayal. He does not understand why she would not have told him about this life event now or before they were married.  She tries to explain to him that she did not have the courage to be honest with him.  She decides she must return to her family home in a small factory town in Indiana that she has shunned for years.  Ruth is determined to find out where her son is and how he is doing.  She knows she has to make peace with her past before moving forward in her future. As Ruth reunites with her grandmother and brother back in her hometown, she asks them to help her locate her son.  She makes friends with a young white boy, named Midnight.  Their friendship will draw Ruth closer to the truth about her son.

The Kindest Lie is a beautifully written book that I absolutely loved.  This is a debut novel by Nancy Johnson and I highly recommend it. GET THE BOOK.

~Francene Katzen, Richmond, Virginia, advocate for parents who have children with drug addictions


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  • The Three Tomatoes Book Shelf If you love books you've come to the right place. Here's where you'll find great books that our Tomato reviewers have read and think other tomatoes will love too. Enjoy.

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