Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay with MeStay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no expectations about this novel going in … I didn’t know what it was about or what to expect. But, I’m so glad that I read this one. It’s the fascinating story of Yejide and Akin who live in Nigeria. It’s about their marriage, their families and how things can unfold in unusual ways. I don’t know a ton about Nigeria so it was so interesting to learn more about the country as well as the culture itself. The customs and traditions that played out in this book were really interesting. This is literary fiction of the best kind – it explores so much ground such as parenting, secrets, grief, betrayal, anger, love, obligation … and more.

Seeing the intimate life of these people in the context of their cultural and familial expectations was simple beautiful. It’s not an easy story – it explores a lot of pain and suffering. Yet, the book didn’t feel dark to me. It felt very meaningful and heartfelt. Very intense yet extremely readable. At times, I was shocked that this is a debut novel. I cannot wait to see what Ayobami Adebayo has in store for us next! Highly recommend this one!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing a free copy of the book for an honest review!

Review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late Show (Renée Ballard, #1)The Late Show by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s work so I was thrilled to see the start of a new series, particularly one with a female protagonist! And boy did Connelly deliver! This is a great book – interesting, compelling and well written! The character of Renee Ballard was fascinating to me. I loved how different she is from most other fictional detectives in literature – she’s a unique and thoughtful character. I’m going to enjoy getting to know her as the series moves on. I liked that this novel covered several cases (rather than just one as many of these books do) which kept me on my toes as a reader. The story is so well plotted, as you’d expect from Connelly.

Great character development and I love the ‘realness’ of his characters. They feel like real people and often respond in non-traditional ways which I think is always interesting and one of the reasons I keep coming back for more of his novels!

I definitely recommend this for Connelly fans and people new to Connelly. It’s just a solid read. Engaging and compelling! Read this one … you won’t be sorry!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing a free copy of the book for an honest review!

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have DoneSee What I Have Done by Sarah  Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As soon as I heard that a novel was coming out that was based on Lizzie Borden, I was IN! Given that I’m fascinated by these sorts of crimes, I was eager to see what she made of the events. This novel is such an interesting take on a murder case that has fascinated people for YEARS! Although it doesn’t take a stand in terms of who committed the crime itself, this book really takes a close look at the Borden household and a family that was volatile and ugly. As a result, the book gives you more information about what could have been happening and how various pieces of the case could be looked at through a variety of lenses.

The story is told from four perspectives which shift throughout the novel – Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget and a stranger named Benjamin. From each of these perspectives, the reader gets to watch the events of the Borden story as they are unfolding through time. I loved how different each perspective was … yet Schmidt pulls all of the disseminated fragments together in the end in a satisfactory way.

The tone of the novel feels very odd, almost foggy and dreamlike. There is an ominous feel to the writing and the story which are reinforced by the details of each person’s experience. The images were so dreamy and yet vivid for me – for example, the mutton soup that is always on the stove, being eaten by the family each day despite it not being kept cold. Another reviewer called the book a fever dream which I think is the perfect way to capture how the book feels as you read.

The exploration of family and familial relationships through the Borden family was rather disturbing – such a ‘upstanding’ family yet they were extremely dysfunctional and unstable in so many ways. Once you better understand the family dynamics, it’s easy to understand why this family and the murder of the father and stepmother have captivated people for over 100 years.
All in all, this is a deeply unsettling novel that will feel as if it’s haunting you in a way. I kept thinking over the novel for days after finishing, thinking through my own theories of what may have actually taken place. Really great novel – well written, well imagined. Highly recommend this one!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing a free copy of the book for an honest review!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin

This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with DepressionThis Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really struggled when rating this book. There were parts that I think were a 5 and others that were more of a 2 so I’m splitting the difference and going with a 3. This is a really interesting account of clinical depression. There is a lot of pain expressed in this book. It’s not always easy to read. And as someone who suffers from major depression, I found myself relating to much of this book. It can definitely give the reader some visibility into the air of despair and immobility that is so key to understanding depression. The childhood of Daphne Merkin is also explored in this novel and I found her relationship with her parents and siblings to be fascinating and horrifying. This memoir is definitely raw and unflinching. She does not hesitate to be real and honest about the good and bad of her life with depression. Merkin’s experiences were very different from my own but it was interesting to see her experience through the prism of the financial and social advantages that she had in her life. As for my critique of the novel … at times the book felt pretty self-indulgent. It seemed at times to go to the same places over and over, not covering new ground. And perhaps that’s the point – depression goes to the same places over and over? There were times that the book felt bogged down and I found it to move very slowly. But, overall, I’m glad that I read it. I think it’s a good addition to the depression memoir as it, if nothing else, can remind us that we’re not alone in our struggles.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Do Not Become AlarmedDo Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The primary focus of this novel is fairly simple – families go on a cruise, go ashore for an adventure and a series of events change everyone’s lives forever. This book really explores some interesting themes – parental power, privilege, the illusionary aspects of safety, and the way events can change relationships in unexpected ways. I think this book really excelled as an exploration of privilege. It is a thriller in many ways and the action keeps the story moving along at a nice pace. There were a few spots where the story got stuck and didn’t move for a bit.

It’s the story behind the story that really interested me. The exploration of privilege was quite well done. The adult characters were frustrating given their narcissistic, obsessive tendencies. They were very difficult to like or relate to. I had a difficult time respecting them. I did enjoy the younger characters. Watching them deal with the various aspects of the events surrounding them was interesting.

I think one of the things that made the book feel a bit off for me is it almost felt like it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be – a thriller, a family drama or a satiric look at privilege. As a result, it felt a little uneven as a whole book. But, it kept my attention and was actually quite a good read so I do recommend it if the synopsis of the book sounds interesting to you!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering by David A. Kessler

Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental SufferingCapture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering by David A. Kessler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really interested in the description of this book – Why do we think, feel and act in the ways we wished we did not. It focuses on the idea of capture which is “a process by which our attention gets hijacked and our brains commandeered by forces outside our control.” There are definitely interesting things explored in this book around the whys of mental illness, addiction, unhappiness, etc. I think my favorite part of the book was the exploration of each topic through the story of a person, many of whom are famous/well known. There was a great deal of information here about David Foster Wallace, for example. Given my curiosity about his life and his work, I found those sections to be very interesting.

I think that the author does a good job writing about the scientific concepts in a way that anyone can understand them. Yet, I was hoping for more than just a description of how we focus on things and how that focus can be obsessive and hurt us. It was case study after case study about how this happens. The concept of capture isn’t something I was unaware of … I was hoping this book would take the idea to the next level. And I feel like it never made it over the ‘here it is hump’. There is a great deal of theory here but it never goes beyond what I see as the obvious.

All in all, I enjoyed this book for what it was but I was hoping it would be of greater scope than it was in reality. Perhaps that’s just a matter of it not meeting my personal expectations but I really think it fell short of what it could have been. I wish there had been more than an introduction of the concept and a series of case studies. I wish there was more in terms of how to break free from capture, techniques or strategies to help, etc. The pacing felt a bit sluggish at times but the case studies is where this book excelled for me. They were so readable and interesting.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Suddenly Engaged by Julia London

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book had a lot of the things I love in a romance – a grumpy guy with a heart of gold, a single mom and a precocious little girl. Yes, please! Based on the description, I was expecting a marriage of convenience trope but that’s not what’s really going on here. It’s a little more nuanced than that. I really loved watching the relationships in this book grow. Dax and Kyra are such an interesting couple. And Dax with Ruby just slays me! They are some of the best parts of the book. I really enjoyed this one and definitely recommend it.

NOTE: Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book to me for an honest review.

Review: Don't Call Me Sweetheart by Codi Gary

Don't Call Me Sweetheart (Something Borrowed #1)Don't Call Me Sweetheart by Codi Gary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this story was quite fun. I liked the hero a lot and thought he was everything you’d want in a hero – funny, passionate, charming and relentless. Marley was also an interesting character – although I didn’t love her quite as much as Luke. The side characters were well fleshed out and I did enjoy seeing their stories come alive as well. I was not a fan of the villain in this one – she was too much. I know that was the point but she was so too much that it was almost annoying. The journey of Luke and Marley was a really good read. Very charming and heart-warming!

NOTE: Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book to me for an honest review.

Review: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane YoungYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really taken with this book that explores something that’s always fascinated me – how a person survives a scandal, especially a woman. This story is about how a young woman makes mistakes and everyone throws all the blame at her. It explores gender bias and how double standards abound in modern life. It makes you think about how to own your mistakes and move beyond them. Ultimately, it has much to say about modern culture that I found really interesting.

This book is very well written, it’s pacing is great and it’s told in an interesting way. There are many perspectives guiding the story along. The narrative will shift in time and place which was interesting to see come together. I really loved the way Zevin incorporated a “Choose Your Adventure” section to the novel which was a fun and smart way to tell part of the story.
This is probably a book that would be labeled ‘women’s fiction’ and that is accurate but I also think it’s so much more. It’s such a smart book that moves fast and was just a nice reading experience. It takes on so much more than it seems to on the surface. There is charm, comedy, family strife, political intrigue, cultural commentary, and more. It’s a really good book and I definitely recommend it!

NOTE: Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book to me for an honest review.

Review: Roadfood by Jane and Michael Stern

RoadfoodRoadfood by Jane Stern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you travel a lot in America and love to try new restaurants, this is the book for you!It lists the local hot spots and hidden gems across the country! I will definitely be dipping into this as I travel in the future! It was interesting to see what was included for Virginia and Missouri (both places I've lived). All in all, a great reference book for travelers who love to eat! There are no recipes in this one, it's simply a book with names, addresses and descriptions of various restaurants for each state!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts, #1)Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a bit to get into the story here – it felt like it started abruptly or something. But, it quickly came together for me after a slow start. I loved the diversity here – not everyone in the story is white, and the cover actually MATCHES the diversity in the book (which is surprisingly rare these days). This novel felt a bit like a new take on Romeo and Juliet to me which was a nice touch. But, what I loved most about this is how it’s so much more than ‘just a romance’ given the depth of the emotional journey the characters take together. It’s all wrapped together so beautifully with each page offering more and more depth to the characters and their relationships. There are also plenty of the things you want in a romance – great sex, interesting personal dynamics, etc. Yet, it’s the emotional depth of the story that really wow’d me. This is a great romance and I can’t wait to see what’s coming with the future books in the series (this is book 1 in a new series).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

The Wildling SistersThe Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book really surprised me. It’s a gothic tale that shifts from the 1950s to present day. It centers on Applecote Manor in the English countryside. There are all the elements of a gothic novel – an estate with a mysterious history, strange rumors, and interesting characters that leave you guessing. Eve Chase’s writing is beautiful and she’s able to so effectively weave a plot of suspense with this novel. The sense of intrigue combined with an air of foreboding just permeates the book, page after page. I didn’t want to put it down. It just kept drawing me deeper and deeper into the narrative. The characters are interesting and thoughtfully written. I enjoyed how the weaving of time was handled. It really effectively helped keep the sense of unease going throughout the novel. The primary focus of the novel is ultimately around family relationships and dynamics. How these things play out and impact everyone so differently. The characters were all well drawn but the way that Chase made Applecote Manor a character in its own right was done brilliantly. It felt as real to me as any of the characters. All in all, a wonderful novel with suspense, mystery and a family saga all rolled into one! Highly recommend this one particularly if you’re a fan of the gothic novel!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a free ARC of this novel for an honest review.

Review: Drilled by Opal Carew

DrilledDrilled by Opal Carew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella is not for the fainthearted. It’s very steamy. Like extremely steamy. If you prefer sex on the sweeter side of the spectrum, this might not be your cup of tea! The sex here is definitely a bit more ‘porn lit’ than ‘romance lit’. Given that it’s a novella, I think my primary issue with the book is that it was just too short. The book didn’t give the characters much time for development. It felt very forced at first because there was no development between them. It was hard for me to imagine that things developed as they did given how little there is about them as individuals. They just came to feel more cardboard than I’d like to have seen. It’s a really quick read … and very, very HOT. I just wish there were a bit more depth to the characters and the story which would have made this one feel more cohesive.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a free ARC of this novel for an honest review.

Review: The Nix by Nathan Hill

The NixThe Nix by Nathan Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m really struggling with this review. I’m going back and forth between a 3 and a 4 … but I’m settling into a 3. This is such an interesting novel. It reminded me in many ways of a favorite of mine … The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. However, it didn’t quite deliver 5 stars for me like that one did. Please don’t take my rating to mean that I didn’t like this one. I really did … and I totally understand the mass of 4 and 5 star ratings that I’m seeing. I just didn’t quite connect with this novel as I’d hoped.

I love BIG, literary fiction – that is so in my wheelhouse. This book should have been a 5 star for me. And yet, it never surpassed a 4. There were SO many wonderful things in this novel – an exploration of social media, online gaming (so much funny there) and how it’s changed the world we live in. And the exploration of the mother/son relationship was also outstanding. The political exploration was also a stand out for me. These were all the best of the novel for me.

I think where I struggled is with the length … it felt at times as if it just needed more editing. I don’t know that I’d call it self-indulgent but I can understand why that word comes to mind for me when I think of this novel. I think it could have been edited a bit in places. There was so much in this one that I am worried I didn’t always grasp the connective tissue between the pieces and parts as well as I could have if it were pared down slightly by an editor. There were sections that felt very disconnected with others. There were essentially 3 novels within this one book but I didn’t think they flowed together as well as they could have. I kept wondering if I’d have loved this one more if this book had been broken up into multiple novels. I see that a few of my bookish friends wondered the same thing so perhaps I’m on to something! Sometimes the various parts overwhelmed the pure genius in the rest of the book for me.

In many ways, I’m shocked that this is a debut novel … it’s such a complex narrative with so much promise! I’m really interested in seeing where Nathan Hill goes next. If this book is any indication, I would bet that he’ll only get better and better! I do recommend this to those who love to read BIG, literary fiction with a bit of satire. And I hear it’s being made into a TV series made by JJ Abrams, starring Meryl Streep. Now that sounds AMAZING!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: Every Little Kiss by Marina Adair

Every Little Kiss (Sequoia Lake, #2)Every Little Kiss by Marina Adair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 2nd in a series but I don’t feel like I missed anything by not reading the first. This can definitely be read as a standalone novel.

I really enjoyed this contemporary romance. It’s the first book I’ve read by Marina Adair but I don’t think it will be the last. She has such a way of balancing the emotional wallop of the story with the quirkiness of the characters and the town. It never felt overdone or underdone. It was all just right. This romance centers around loss and its impact on a number of people.

I LOVE Bullseye (the hero’s canine partner) and what a fun part of the story he is for the characters. I thought the journey of healing for both Liv and her son was so well done. The relationship between Liv and her son’s grandmother also really resonated with me – it felt real and honest. All in all, I really enjoyed this story and how it all came together. The community in this novel (Sequoia Lake) is really sweet and I can’t wait to read more about the characters I’ve met in this novel. Definitely recommended!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a free ARC of this novel for an honest review.