Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The LeaversThe Leavers by Lisa Ko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Yet another book that I wish every American could read. Given our current political environment, this should be required reading for the citizens of the WORLD.

Here is an overview of the book, from Goodreads:

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

This book is an exploration of what happens to Deming's mother when she disappeared as well as the impact of that disappearance and what results from it on the identity of Deming. It's such a moving story of identity, immigration and borders. I was so taken with this story of a mother and her child. The writing is beautiful ... there were passages that I read over and over because they totally spoke to me and deserved a more focused read. It's not a fast book. It slowly makes its way through time, showing you the impacts over and over and over. SO beautiful. So impactful. So moving.

Where the book really excels is it's examination of parenthood as well as it's hard look at the hardships faced by immigrants trying to assimilate to a new country. I loved how Lisa Ko shows you, in a multitude of ways, how identity is a struggle. It's not always easy to know your place, regardless of what happens to you. I found the sections about Deming and his adopted family to be especially interesting. Although well meaning, they completely obliterate everything about Deming's past and try to make him over as an "American."

All in all, I just loved this book. I highly recommend it to any and all! It's an important book that will make you think about identity and immigration in new and interesting ways.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a ARC of this book for an honest review!

Review: The Favor by Blaire Edens

The FavorThe Favor by Blaire Edens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this one. I loved the set up - a guy helps out a woman by showing up as a superhero at her son's birthday party. So cute! The plot flowed very effortlessly. I loved the struggle facing this heroine who needs help but hates to ask for help. I can definitely relate to that so it was nice to see it in a romance. I love how the heroine's child was incorporated into the story. It felt very natural and well done. Overall, I really enjoyed watching their relationship grow. It was a really sweet story. Their connection felt real to me. And I enjoyed the journey of the book. It's a solid romance that most fans of the genre will enjoy!

Release date: 5/22/17

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC copy for an honest review.

Review: The Doctor's Redemption by Victoria James

The Doctor's Redemption (Shadow Creek, Montana Book 3)The Doctor's Redemption by Victoria James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third book in a series and I have not read any of the previous books. I do plan to go back and read the previous two but I think this read fine as a stand alone.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The story did seem to get bogged down at some point but it did seem to pick back up. It felt like it took a little longer for the hero and heroine to get together than it should have. It felt a little like it was too much of the whole will they/won't they build up. I really liked the characters - both of them were interesting and complex. They fit together well and I felt that their story felt true to life. The big reveal was so slow to come that, honestly, it felt a bit
anticlimactic. I also felt like the results of the big reveal were underwhelming ... kind of like, well, ok. None of the fall out that I would have anticipated. After all the build up, it just seemed to fall flat.

But, overall, I really enjoyed the story. I liked the characters and how they connected. I enjoyed learning about the secondary characters (some of whom I assume were the subjects of the earlier books in the series. I really want to go back and read the first two books which based on the reviews I've seen on Goodreads were fantastic!

Release date: 5/22/17

This book was provided to me by the publisher for an honest review.

Review: A Country Love Song by Sinclair Jayne

A Country Love Song (Smoky Mountain Knights, #1)A Country Love Song by Sinclair Jayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this one. It's a very sweet romance - heavy on the sweet, not at all X rated which is kind of nice for a change of pace. A lot of romances are very heavy with the physical stuff but this was more about the relationship and the feelings. It was a little refreshing, to be honest. The town in this novel, Sweet Tea, is a perfect location for a romance like this one. The story itself is a 'girl comes home and has a second chance with her first love'. The story also has a great deal of country music, architecture, and fundraising aspects which were fun and unusual. I really liked the characters - the side characters, in particular, shine in this romance. It makes me wonder if they will show up in future installments of the series and I hope that's true! All in all, I really enjoyed this romance and look forward to the future books. If you like a good second chance romance story with more sweetness than heavy sex, then this is the one for you! It's really good and definitely worth the read!

Thank you to the publisher for providing a free ARC of this book for an honest review!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The Last NeanderthalThe Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the moment that I heard about this book, I knew that I had to read it. I’m fascinated by the Neanderthals so a fiction story built around them sounded perfect for me! And it was so good. I was worried it would be too focused on the science part of the story but it has such a great balance. The story centers around two women – one who is a member of the last Neanderthal family 40,000 years ago and one who is an archaeologist who is working to excavate new Neanderthal artifacts. The stories of these women just captivated me. The way that Claire Cameron creates the world of the Neanderthal – the detailed aspects of their lives, although mostly fiction, was so well done and captivating to me. I enjoyed seeing what Clair Cameron imagined life to be for these Neanderthals and how they made their way through life.

One of the things that I think stands out most to me is the characterization of motherhood from both women’s perspectives. The experience, the sacrifices, the challenges. I found these views into motherhood to be very realistic and raw. Unflinchingly honest, frank. Motherhood is in no way easy but many novels suggest that it’s all love and rainbows. I really appreciated the realistic perspective that this novel gives to motherhood and it’s overwhelming love and fear.

All in all, I found this to be a very moving novel that gave me a new perspective on humanity and how it changes (and doesn’t) over time. It’s a very interesting look at two very different yet closely connected women. I loved the interesting view into the lives of the Neanderthal population. Overall, this is a fantastic novel that I definitely recommend due to it being very unique and thought provoking. It’s a moving novel that I suspect will stick with me for some time.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with the ARC for an honest review!

Review: Falling for the Hometown Girl by Shelli Stevens

Falling for the Hometown Girl (Marshall Ranch, #2)Falling for the Hometown Girl by Shelli Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was so pleasantly surprised by this romance novel. It’s the second in a series but I hadn’t read the first one and don’t think I missed anything much. I do, however, want to go back and read the first one! This is a really sweet story of a man who returns to his hometown and connects with the girl he couldn’t forget from high school. Nothing earth shattering about the story but I think Shelli Stevens really excelled at the characters and the sense of place in this one. It gave this book that something special that made it stand out to me. I really liked Katie and Hunter. There was something very sweet about their relationship and how their story comes together. I loved learning about the ranch that the story takes place on and the peripheral characters were really well done. All in all, I really liked this one and can’t wait to go back and read the first in the series. Definitely recommend to those of you who love a good romance!

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with the ARC for an honest review!

Review: Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

BurntownBurntown by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giving a Jennifer McMahon novel a 3 star rating is really hard for me as I’m usually such a fan of her writing. But, this one just didn’t quite work for me. It felt very different in tone from her other novels, perhaps due to the insertion of some fantasy/supernatural aspects to her usual mystery/thriller aspects. But, it just never came together for me. I didn’t connect well with the characters and the story just never captured me in the way her stories usually do. I found that the ending tied things up a bit quickly and too easily for me. I was expecting more given the flights of fancy that I saw glimpses of during the narrative. I’d say this is fairly outside the realm of her previous novels for the most part so if you love her work, this might be a great addition for you. If you’re new to her, I’d suggest starting elsewhere (The Winter People, for example) and coming to this a bit later. I don’t regret reading it, it just didn’t connect with me as much as I’d expected. I do enjoy seeing authors take a risk and trying something new (which I definitely think this is for Jennifer McMahon) but I just wish I’d resonated a bit more with it.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with the ARC for an honest review.

Review: Hot Shot by Kelly Jamieson

Hot Shot (Last Shot, #2)Hot Shot by Kelly Jamieson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second in the Last Shot series. I really loved the first in the series and have been eagerly awaiting the release of this one! I was so curious what Kelly Jamieson would do with the story of Marco and Carrie who I loved from the first book. The thing I enjoyed most about this book was how it explored the characters struggles with confidence and self-esteem in a way that you rarely see in a romance novel. It was interesting to follow each of their journeys towards each other and towards finding peace with their own insecurities. This felt, in many ways, to be more than ‘just a romance’ to me and I really loved seeing a romance that contained a little more substance and was about the character’s journey as individuals as well as a couple. Really strong romance series that I highly recommend!

Note: this book will be released on May 16th so be sure to remember to check it out!

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with the ARC for an honest review.

Review: Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is PossibleAnything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This new book is a series of nine short stories that are closely connected to the world Stout created in her novel My Name is Lucy Barton. If you loved that novel, you don’t want to miss this book! These stories expand on the world of My Name is Lucy Barton by expanding on the characters we met in that book, including Lucy herself. As I’m not a fan of short stories most of the time, I was nervous that I wouldn’t love this one but I need not worry. Strout has done what she did with Olive Kitteridge by providing readers with a series of interrelated stories that ultimately read like a novel. The emotional depth of these stories is so wonderful! There is something about an Elizabeth Strout book that just wow’s me! She is able to weave together these stories in a way that felt comprehensive and yet distinctive. Her prose is so impactful yet concise. She brings to live the Midwestern town that these characters inhabit. I found it to be a beautiful exploration of complicated people and relationships. I highly recommend it to any and all! It’s simply wonderful!

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with the ARC for an honest review.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

The River at NightThe River at Night by Erica Ferencik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have really struggled with rating this book. In some ways it was a 4 and in others a 3 but, ultimately, I think it leans more to a 3. The book really has two focuses – one on the women who are on this trip and one once they begin their trip down the river. It’s essentially the story of a vacation gone badly and how it affects each woman. The author did an excellent job of setting the stage – the location and it being remote was quite well described. I felt like the river was a key part of the story.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters. I never felt they were truly unpacked which meant I didn’t really understand who they were and how they were friends. The background was very thin. I wish I’d known them more and understood their connections a bit more. I ultimately felt that they were each a cardboard copy of characters – no depth, no realness. I think the story would have been served well with a little more character development.

The adventure itself was effective. The difficulties experienced by those on this trip came alive on the page for me. At times, I felt that I was there in the water with them. But, that wasn’t something that I felt was effective much beyond the ‘big’ accident that causes the entire adventure. I was hoping for more excitement and more of a sense of danger and foreboding. It just felt a bit anti-climactic to me. I was wishing there was more. More danger, more intensity, more fear. It just didn’t pan out for me.

And so this is one that I doubt will stay with me for long. If you have a big interest in rafting adventures, this might be a good fit. But, I’d recommend staying focused on that and not expecting much in terms of character development. I wish it had delivered the high-stakes drama that it promised in the descriptions. It was good but definitely not great!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Yes, the story sounds fascinating … and it is. A man lives alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years. The details of what he did and how he did it were definitely fascinating. But, what I loved most was the exploration of solitude and hermits. The exploration of why someone might want to be alone, completely alone. The examination of community is spot on and really gave me so much to think about. As an introvert, I found this entire theme to be fascinating and illuminating.

The story will definitely wow you but the exploration of the why and how really what I think makes the book excel. I couldn’t help but to feel for Christopher Knight – a man searching for contentment, a way to live in the world that felt true to him. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to him and how he’ll find his way in the world. This isn’t a difficult or dense book – it’s a fairly quick read. I definitely think it’s worth the read and recommend it!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that stay with you for a while. It haunted me for a few days after I finished it. I think that is partly because the author has done such a great job of invoking a sense of claustrophobia to the narrative. It felt almost suffocating to me. It left me unsettled. The people, the setting, and the atmosphere – it all added up to a distant and remote feeling that I was ultimately left with.

The narrative of this novel moves around quite a bit, as does the story itself. There are several threads that twist around one another throughout the novel – one about a teacher, one about the family across the lake and one about the protagonists’ upbringing. One fault I found was that the threads didn’t come together as well as I’d hoped. They all felt very separated and siloed in some way. I wish they’d come together a bit more cohesively. Although not cohesive, the threads were each really well written and explore that thread exceedingly well. The weaving of time could be confusing at times but it’s worth it to keep pushing through. I think the author did a great job at exploring how the past can haunt a person so deeply.

I’m not telling you much about the storyline as I think many reviewers area giving away too much. I think this is a good one to go into with little knowledge of the plot. I do think this is a beautiful novel, particularly given that it’s a debut. I’m eager to see what Emily Fridlund has in store for us – she’s a great writer who has so much promise.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: The Unprotected: A Novel by Kelly Sokol

The Unprotected: A NovelThe Unprotected: A Novel by Kelly Sokol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know it going in but this book takes place in my hometown of Richmond, VA and that made it all the more special to me. I could envision each and every thing in an entirely different way because I could see the places and things she describes. Yay, Richmond!

This is a very in depth exploration of motherhood – the quest for motherhood as well as the reality of motherhood. I resonated a lot with this story in part due to my own difficulty getting pregnant and my own experience after giving birth to my twins. This book did a great job at describing those experiences in a way that felt real to me as someone who has experienced them myself. It is brutal, raw, and real.

The character, Lara, isn’t particularly easy to like in many ways. She is definitely flawed and we explore every facet of those flaws throughout the book. Although I wouldn’t say that I related to her, I did understand where she was coming from and why she reacts the way she does. I didn’t need to like her to find her story compelling. In many ways, her inner arrogance about everything is what we see unfold as the story moves forward. I mostly felt sad for her, to know how disappointing it can be to finally get your wish and find that it’s nothing like you’d dreamed. There is a real rawness to this character and her experiences.

If you want to read a book that will help you understand what it is to yearn for a baby when your body isn’t cooperating, this book will deliver. If you want to read a book that will give you a realistic view of how life changes when a baby arrives, this book will deliver. If you want a book about how lovely it is to have a baby and how wonderful it all is, this book will disappoint. All in all, I definitely recommend this one. I was surprised by just how real it felt and how much it made me FEEL.

** Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. **

Review: Intercepting the Chef by Rachel Goodman

Intercepting the Chef (How to Score, #1)Intercepting the Chef by Rachel Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is such a fun book! It is the first book in a new series called “How to Score.” This one had so many of the things I love in a good romance – funny, quirky, and a little sexy (but not too much). The chef and football player main characters – yes, please! I like that the main character, Gwen, is a little sassy and holds back. It gave her a bit of toughness that I liked. The hero, Logan, is the All American quarterback with a heart of gold.

I loved the side characters and how they were integrated into the overall romance. I think Gwen and Logan had great chemistry and I enjoyed seeing them find what they needed in each other. This is a really great start of a series. I can’t wait to read the upcoming books!

** Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.**

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy DaughterRosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

This is going to be an unusual review for me because this book really hit me hard and I’m going to do a rant/book review for this one … so bear with me -

I was fascinated by this story and of Rosemary's life. I'm ultimately sad for her and how her family made decisions about and for her that were so selfish. I am sad she wasn't born into a family who could appreciate her for who she was instead of needing her to be something particular in order to fit into their social ideal. And the saddest part for me was how much she wanted to please the very people who ultimately hurt her so bad. She just wanted them to love her and I find it so sad that they ultimately seemed to only truly love her if she fit into some stupid ideal they had in their mind. I found that I came to the end feeling more compassion towards her mother and siblings than to her father. He just came across as an ass quite honestly - one who cared about no one but himself and his standing in the world. As long as his children fit in the box he needed them to be in, they were great. If they didn't fit into the box, they were problems to be fixed. SO SAD and INFURIATING for his family.

I don't understand how you can give your child a lobotomy and then just never see her again. I felt like her father was such a coward ... to put her through that and then not even visit her again? Who does that to their child?

Frankly, I feel sorry for ALL the Kennedy children after reading this book. The constant need to be 'on' in the world and fit into your family's expectations. So many secrets and hidden things and not talking about what's actually happening. What an unhealthy way to live your life!

And I have to say that if my parents just hid my sibling and she disappeared from our lives, I'd be MAD. And my family would know I was mad. It feels like they all just abandoned her. Oh she's in the Midwest, OK, hope she's OK. Who treats their sister like that? Who just goes with that? I'm sorry but I'm struggling with how anyone could do that and feel OK about it. Perhaps that was just their family dynamic but I just don't get it.

I've always been a bit fascinated by this family but this book didn't do much to make me care more for them. In fact, I'm sad that no one stood up for Rosemary in this whole mess. Or that it took them so long to do so. I know Eunice and other siblings have made a difference as a result but I can't help but feel like it's a little too late for their sister who suffered so much. And I think that's SAD. Not to say that the changes they've made haven't been great, because of course they have changed so much with their attention and advocacy. But, I can't help but feel bad that so much had to go wrong for Rosemary in order to make those changes a reality. She just deserved better.
I am most sad about the fact that she was OK. She wasn't perfect but she was doing OK. With support, she could have continued to be OK. And instead her father made a decision that changed her life forever because she wasn't OK enough for him. She deserved so much better.

OK, I'm going to stop ranting. I just think that a book that affected me and made me feel so much, deserves a higher rating than the actual writing of the book would usually get from me. So, I'm giving it 4 stars.