Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

A Reunion of GhostsA Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wonderful novel! Such an interesting exploration of family and how actions in one time and place can impact future generations. I really found this entire novel to be quite different and compelling.

The exploration of this family is so thorough, so interesting ... the details that Mitchell includes are just fascinating. These men and women became so real to me as I read. Although there is a great deal of tragedy explored in the book, this novel is in no way maudlin or depressing. This is such a smart book, the exploration of this family and their experiences just surprised me with how fantastic it was!

I think this is a book that will work for so many people. There is so much to explore and think about. This would probably be a great book club book actually. I really enjoyed it and recommend it highly! Really unusual and compelling fiction! Definitely worth the read!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil WarLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is such a fascinating book - it covers four women who went undercover during the Civil War. The stories are fantastic and I really enjoyed getting to know these fascinating women. I also enjoyed the general history lesson that I got from reading this one. Very readable and interesting. I wouldn't say its dry at all.

I loved how much I was able to learn about what DC and Richmond, VA were like at this time in our history. Having grown up in Richmond and currently living in DC, it was nice to be able to place things in my mind as I read.

I love that these four women felt so strongly about their cause that they decided to DO something about it. So nice for us to be able to learn about their struggles and accomplishments. I also think this was a fascinating book to read given the current dialogue in America regarding race. Much of the dialogue in the book around the Confederate cause sounded very similar to things I see and hear in the media every day. Kind of sad to see how little we've grown since the abolishment of slavery. BUT, it did inspire me to keep fighting the good fight and not stop learning and trying to move things forward.

I highly recommend this if you're interested in narrative non-fiction, the Civil War, race, or women. It's really something everyone could get something out of! Such a great book - I won't forget these women!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Review: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

A Window OpensA Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that I initially heard about from Ann on the Books on the Nightstand podcast. I've since seen it get quite a bit of coverage in magazines. And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. It was a fairly easy read that also explored some very serious things that I could definitely relate to such as working full-time and being a mom. Trying to be a great employee while also effectively caring for family can be such a challenge. It was nice to see a book that focuses on a career woman and the challenges that she faces each day.

I really liked the characters and the overall story line. There is also a lot of content around books. Which I loved, of course. Good characters and lots of books ... yep, that's my wheelhouse!

I definitely recommend this one, especially if you're interested in all things books or working moms. It's a good read!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is such hard review for me to write because I seem to be one of the very few people who didn't love this novel. I've been hearing great things about it from so many different people so I was hopeful going in ... and the subject matter is fascinating as it takes a look at marriage. Unfortunately, the novel as a whole just fell flat for me. I liked it but it didn't blow me away.

Let me start with the positives - Lauren Groff can write! There were lines that blew me away. However, I will say that her plot writing can be a little off-putting sometimes. It's a blend of amazing writing and pacing that didn't quite work for me. I just had trouble really connecting with her writing as a whole - I could find beauty in some of the sentences or passages but then BAM I was frustrated by something. It was just a jarring reading experience for me. The actual exploration of a marriage was well done. There were surprises that were aptly handled by Groff. It's nice when a literary novel surprises you like this one does.

I think two things I never completely connected with the characters and since it was a character study of the inside of a marriage, it would have been nice to have connected in some way even if they were not so relate-able characters. I liked how Groff explored the interaction of these two people - essentially going into each of their experiences and looking at the marriage from both perspectives. But, when you can't find anything interesting about either character, it's hard to care that much. I don't need likeable characters - in fact, I like unlikeable characters - but I do need characters that I find interesting or fascinating. And I just never got there with this novel.

Perhaps this one was too literary for me (whatever that means) but I just didn't connect with it. I will acknowledge that Groff is a great writer but I just didn't love this one. But, I can't really recommend or not recommend it - so many others have loved it so if you're a Groff fan or the premise sounds interesting, I'd say go for it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh David Mitchell! I'm so glad I discovered you ... This man's mind is like no one else's and I mean that in the best way. I'm fascinated by his stories and his mind blowing creativity! Really enjoyed this book! It's such a quick but impactful read! Just because it's short doesn't mean it isn't insanely good! I just love how David Mitchell thinks about the world. His characters are so real and quirky and wonderful. OK, I'll stop gushing!

This is a really creepy and interesting story about a haunted house but that's an oversimplification. It's so much more than a haunted house. The great thing is that it isn't scary in any way ... it's just creepy and gets under your skin in a great way!

This novel is so readable, so compelling, and so creepy! I highly recommend it. It would make a great introduction to David Mitchell although I'd recommend reading The Bone Clocks first which takes place in the same world as this book. It will give you some context you'd miss if you went with this one first. But, again, it's definitely a stand alone novel and easily read without any prior knowledge of David Mitchell!

This one comes out on October 27th so I highly recommend that you pick this one up and read it ... it's a great Halloween read!

NOTE: Received e-galley from the publisher for an honest review.

Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake HouseThe Lake House by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may be my new favorite Kate Morton novel. It was such a compelling read! I think that she did a great job interweaving the story from the past with the story from the present.

Many of Morton's novels seem to be of a similar type (and this is no exception) - something tragic happens in the past and then it's somehow brought to the present and the stories come together into one. There is often an old home that the story centers around. She ticks all of those boxes with this novel. I can understand some of the reviews I've read that didn't like the fact that Morton's books all seem to follow a formula. There are enough similarities in the books that I've read of hers to see that there is some truth there. But, for me, I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Partly that was because I enjoyed the characters in this one so much. The formula didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the story because I was so intrigued by the specifics of this particular story. One of the characters is a novelist and I found it so fascinating to jump into her world for a bit!

As all her novels have been, I found this one to be really well plotted with lots of intrigue! Kate Morton is a master at using family secrets to create a multi-faceted story that keeps you on your toes! I definitely recommend this particular novel which I think is one of her best!

NOTE: Received e-galley from the publisher for an honest review.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Gemini by Carol Cassella

GeminiGemini by Carol Cassella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although I liked this book, it didn't quite live up to my expectations. The story was interesting but it didn't blow me away. I saw the ending coming which was a little disappointing. I enjoyed the weaving in and out of two narratives that ultimately come together. The writing was good - at times great - but there were times that the plot felt as if it was bogged down for me. Too slow or it needed to be edited a bit more. I'm not sure what it was but it wasn't what I'd describe as a quick read. Although the characters were all fine, I did feel like everything came together a little too easily, to the point that it felt unrealistic to me. I had to suspend belief a few times during this one. Which isn't a problem but given the nature of the story, I was expecting a bit more realism.

All in all, a solid book. I recommend it especially if you have an interest in medical related stories or stories that tell a complex and overlapping narrative. I was so hopeful that I'd love this one so I was disappointed but that doesn't mean it's not a solid read!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Review: Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes: A Novel by Jules Moulin

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes: A NovelAlly Hughes Has Sex Sometimes: A Novel by Jules Moulin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fun little book! Immensely readable and engaging! It was a fairly light read but so much fun. I really liked the characters and how the story played out. This one is a little quirky and a little funny ... and definitely a little sexy! But, in the best way! I love books that capture my imagination and make me not want to put the book down and this was one of those. So light and fun!

I loved Ally - she is such an interesting and compelling character. I loved following her life and seeing her view of the world play out in this novel. She's such a fantastic character. The pacing is fast, the writing very quick and concise. I read somewhere that the author wrote for television which totally makes sense to me. This book really reads like a well written TV show but in novel form.

I really found this book to be a delight! I am looking forward to seeing what Jules Moulin brings us next! Definitely recommend!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

In the Language of MiraclesIn the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to this novel after hearing rave reviews from a number of people that I trust. And it was good ... but it didn't quite live up to my expectations. I'm not going into the plot much since this is one of those books best read without a lot of information. In essence, it's about family, community, religion, grief and connection. And it's definitely worth reading.

It's a story about a family trying to raise their family and find their place within their community. I loved the insight into Egyptian culture. In fact, I wish there had been even more of that. I completely understand all of the rave reviews that I've read but I just wasn't as taken with this novel as I'd hoped. I never felt completely connected to the characters and I found that it was quite slow at times. I think the point was to move the plot along slowly but it made me less engaged as a reader.

The thing this book does better than anything is tackling the complex emotions at the center of grief. Hassib brings the many faces of grief alive and handles it with poise and sensitivity.

Don't take my 3 star review as a negative ... I did quite like this one but I didn't like it nearly as much as others have. So, if the premise is of interest to you, definitely pick it up. But, be careful not to read too much about it. I think it's better to come to the story with little information.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review: Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights BattleSomething Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book tells the compelling (and appalling) story of Prince Edward County, Virginia, which shuttered its public schools in the 1950s, rather than integrating them. I think this book was especially good, given the context of what America is facing right now in terms of race. Much of the commentary in the 1950s are things I still hear today via social media. It's amazing how little has changed with relation to race in America in 65 years.

I spent 2 years at Longwood College which is in Farmville, VA so this book was particularly interesting to me as someone who spent quite a bit of time in Prince Edward County in the early 1990s. The references to what was happening in Richmond (where I'm from) during this time were also fascinating. It makes me sad to know that the place that I come from, a place that I love, was the epicenter of so much hatred and bigotry.

The level of hatred and ignorance explored in this book really is appalling. But, I think Kristen Green does a great job of exploring those things while acknowledging the positive things in this community. It's a dichotomy that I struggle with on a daily basis. My beliefs are VERY different from much of my southern family and it can be difficult to love someone who is so full of hate for anyone different from them. I found Green's book to be helpful in terms of putting some of that in perspective for myself.

Green does a compelling job of weaving history and memoir in this book. It reads like a novel - so easy and effortless yet extremely thought-provoking.

Another reviewer (Elizabeth Hall Magill) put together such an eloquent review that I thought I'd share just a snippet that really sums up my own feelings about this book.
For her history is our collective history—and acknowledging that at this historical moment, as black churches burn throughout the South and we continue to speak about racism as if it is both debatable and long gone, is a vital step in our journey toward a future that doesn't repeat our past.

This is a book that everyone should read ... to help open our eyes to the fact that racism is still strong all these years after the civil rights movement and to help us try to understand how we can learn from the past and try to do (MUCH) better in the future!

I highly recommend this book to any and all - it's a powerful book that will give you a great deal to think about ...

Review: Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

Pretending to DancePretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find that Diane Chamberlain consistently provides strong storytelling, books that impact me emotionally, make me think and feel. And this one is much the same. I found the story in this novel to be quite good - very engaging, interesting and unique. I love how Chamberlain can weave such a good tale, build complex characters and ultimately make me FEEL a part of the story.

I really enjoyed how the chapters alternate between Molly's present and her past. The slow burn of learning pieces about her childhood and how they have made her who she is today. The exploration of family, loss and forgiveness were superb. I really liked how things came together even if the ending felt a bit quick. I felt like it tied things up a little more quickly than I'd expected. This wasn't bad ... just surprising to me.

I definitely recommend this one, especially if you love Chamberlain's other novels or if you enjoy a good family drama. Really enjoyed this one. This novel is released on October 6, 2015 so I would recommend you get it on your library hold list! Her books are usually quite popular!

NOTE: the publisher provided me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since Ready Player One was one of my favorite books in the year that it was released, I had truly high hopes for this one. I think Ernest Cline has a really unique voice and I was eager to fall into the world he creates again. And this is a good book ... but it's no Ready Player One and it suffers from the comparison. I think that many of the less than positive reviews I've seen seem to be focusing on how this book wasn't Ready Player One. I really tried to see this book on it's own but it's difficult to do. I really struggled to not compare it to Ready Player One.

The story here was interesting - essentially a compilation of a bunch of different pop culture references. I enjoyed seeing how Cline put those pieces together. There is still a lot of gaming, Star Wars, etc. All of that is great. But, what's missing is that something that makes the reading experience sing. I'm not sure what it is but this book just didn't have that sense of awe that I had reading Ready Player One. It was quite good but just not everything I'd hoped.

I still highly recommend this one, especially if you have a love for 80's pop culture and gaming. But, don't go in expecting Ready Player One because this book is not that. It's definitely a good book in its own right but I do think it suffers from comparison. I still love Ernest Cline and can't wait to see what he has in store for us next!

(I struggled with rating this one. It's more a 3.5 than a 3 but not quite a 4).

NOTE: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

DocDoc by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me start with the fact that I'm not a western girl ... I have no interest in anything western or in the wild west. The only other book about the west that I've read is Lonesome Dove which is an amazing book. But, a number of people who I trust have said they enjoyed this one so I decided to give it a shot. Plus, it's written by Mary Doria Russell who is an amazing writer. If anyone could interest me in the wild west, she can!

And I so enjoyed this novel ... I know almost nothing about Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday other than the very basics. This book was really good at getting me up to speed on life in the west at that time in history as well as grounding me in the people and relationships surrounding these men. Doc is a fascinating character and I love how Russell shows us the good and bad of this really interesting man. Her depiction of the west was also quite interesting ... for the first time, I was interested in thinking about what life was like at that time in history. I love how this novel gave me insight into a time and place in history that I was sure that I didn't care about. She ultimately made me care much more than I'd ever have thought possible!

This isn't a fast book to read. The pacing is slow and the descriptions are thorough. The pacing is primarily what I'd describe as leisurely. It won't be for everyone but I really enjoyed this one! I'm looking forward to reading Epitaph which continues this story by following Wyatt and Doc to Tombstone, AZ. I definitely recommend this one ... if you enjoy historical fiction, this is really more of that than a western!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic book that I would suggest should be read by almost everyone. It explores justice in the context of Bryan Stevenson's legal work on behalf of those who are in prison (particularly the children, mentally ill, poor, and minorities who have not been given fair treatment via the justice system). It is an extremely compassionate and unflinching look at the justice system. America has become so focused on punishment and all but ignores the possibilities of rehabilitation, that we are a nation of prisons. The stories that Stevenson shares in this book will outrage you, make you sad, make you feel powerless and make you want to do something to change things. It's a beautiful book and I highly recommend it. I am in awe of the work that Bryan Stevenson does for those who need help. His work is so important to so many people. I highly recommend this book to any and everyone. It's such an important book for all of us.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first David Mitchell and I suspect that I will quickly be moving through his back list. I now completely understand the buzz that I always hear about David Mitchell. I found this entire novel to be fantastic! The writing was beautiful - let's just say that Mitchell can write! The plotting and how he put the story together was amazing. There were times when I had no idea what was happening and yet I couldn't stop reading. That always tells me I'm reading something fantastic. The characters were unlike any I'd ever read before - complex, realistic, funny, interesting, and more. Mitchell seems to see the world in a really interesting way and I loved reading his vision for this book.

I loved the exploration of time and mortality. I found the pulling together of the bits and pieces to be done quite well. I enjoyed reading about Mitchell's view of the human condition. I felt transported by this story and loved thinking about everything that Mitchell explores here.

Although not a perfect book, I did enjoy the storytelling enough to rate it pretty high despite it's flaws. I'm really glad that I finally read Mitchell and I look forward to following up with more of his work, especially since I understand that he views his novels as part of an overarching novel he's writing. I think I'll go back and read from the beginning.

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