Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

\This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh Ann Patchett! I just adore her voice and this book of essays was wonderful! She covers so much in this book – about writing, her family, her friends, her animals, her love of books and her marriage. I especially enjoyed the aspects where she wrote about opening her bookstore given my own ambition is to open my own independent bookstore one day in the near future. All in all, I really enjoyed dipping in and out of these essays over the last few months. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, don’t miss this collection!

Review: Besties by Leah Reena Goren

BestiesBesties by Leah Reena Goren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful little book that celebrates friendship! It's a perfect gift book for your best friend. It's fun and cute. The illustrations are fantastic and really make the book shine all the more! It's a very light look at friendship and all the special little details that constitute a great friendship! Reading it made me miss my own bestie who is 13 hours away! My daughter who is 12 loved it as well. I think this is a gift book that a girl or woman of almost any age over 10 will enjoy and appreciate. Really cute book that you should check out if you have a gift giving opportunity coming up for a close friend!

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond FearBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spent a few months dipping in and out of this one as I felt inspired to do so. I was mostly interested in it as someone who is starting a small business and looking for both inspiration and some help in terms of getting beyond some of the fears I’m having about taking the leap! And this book was a really good for that purpose. I felt like the ultimate message – do what you love, big magic will follow, don’t let your fears scare you from what you should and want to do – really resonated with me and where I am in my life. As a huge reader, I loved the stories that Elizabeth Gilbert told about her own books and writing life. I found the book to be light and a bit cheeky while also being motivational and interesting. I’m not sure I buy everything she talks about in the book but I do think it was a good and useful read. What I walked away with was that I need to continue to push through my fears and my uncertainties about what I want instead of focusing on the potential negative outcomes. That, alone, was worth the read! I definitely recommend this if you want to embrace your creativity and get beyond fear! It’s definitely self-help but it’s also so much more!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Our Short HistoryOur Short History by Lauren Grodstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And this book KILLED me … in the best of ways! What a wonderful and devastating book! This is a novel about motherhood like none other I’ve read. The basic premise is that there is a woman who has a six year old son and she’s recently found out she is going to die. The father was not part of their lives but her son wants to meet him. As she’s facing putting all of her affairs in order and making sure her son is well taken care of in light of her impending death, she’s also trying to manage her own feelings about her illness and how to manage allowing her son’s father become a part of her son’s life. It sounds morose and sad … and it is and yet it isn’t. It’s a wonderfully balanced story that is funny and sad and poignant and heart breaking.

The mother in the story is a political consultant so I really loved hearing about her work and getting a lens into a political campaign and its ups and downs throughout the novel. Between that and learning about how she’s balanced being a working single mother, it’s amazing how well she has done on her own. Having ovarian cancer has made the balance of her home and work lives start to fall apart a bit.

This story is about dying and cancer and yet it’s really about so much more – being a parent, trying to say goodbye, how wonderful and horrible motherhood can be, and how to help your child be OK despite the sorrow that is coming their way. The story is told via a letter from the mother to her son which I think was a really effective way to frame the story.

This is one of those stories that made me laugh and cry. By the end, I was sobbing … for her, for her son, for her friends and family and for this little boy’s father. The circumstances weren’t’ easy for anyone in the book but I definitely understood why they did some of the things they did (even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them). I don’t think it was the most groundbreaking or unpredictable story I’ve read BUT it was well written and beautifully expressed. It made me think and feel and think some more. It reminded me to be appreciative of every moment I have with my own kids and to do my best to help them become who they are. It reminded me to not be so stubborn about taking help when it is offered. It reminded me that you can find the humorous in the sadness.

I felt like the characters were well drawn in this one – they were flawed and often made decisions that were difficult to watch as a reader. I enjoyed the fact that the characters were ‘allowed’ to feel pain and anger and sorrow. The good and the bad of life … without qualms or qualifiers. I couldn’t stop reading this one. It grabbed me and didn’t let go until the last word. I highly recommend it … especially if you’re a mother or want to better understand being a mother (the good, the bad and the ugly). This is a beautiful and heartbreaking book that just wow’d me!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

American WarAmerican War by Omar El Akkad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a book! This is a very timely and well written exploration of a future American Civil war between the South and the North. It felt very timely given the divisiveness we’re experiencing in America today. The author tells the story of this war through the exploration of how the war impacts a family, while also exploring the impact of the war on the nation as a whole. The book vividly takes the reader to places that are difficult and ugly. The horrifying lengths at which people will go to protect what they believe or enact revenge for what has been done to them. I love how the author showed the reader how one of the characters, Sarat, developed into who and what she became during the war. Why she made the choices she made and how each decision she made affected her and those around her. It is this exploration that really made this book so impactful. I love that the author didn’t make the war in his book about race but rather about the environment and technology. I think making it about race would have been too easy. This made it very real to me … given the current problem of climate change and how many people have convinced themselves that climate change isn’t real (despite the breadth of scientific evidence that it is all too real).

This is a harrowing novel that I think is a sobering look at what our future could be if we don’t begin to think about America and its issues in new ways. The growth of Sarat throughout the book gives the reader an insider’s look at how war can change a person and how they see the world. I highly recommend this one … this is not for everyone but if you think you can handle the war/violence, I can’t recommend it enough. I think it’s worth taking the time to read this one!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: It's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

It's Always the HusbandIt's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am struggling a bit with rating this one. It may be closer to a 3 ½ than a 3. But, it definitely wasn’t quite a 4 for me. I think part of it is that I expected one thing based on the description and title but found something rather different upon reading it. This is the story of 3 college friends and their friendship over 20 years. It’s about social status, secrets, betrayal, corruption, and the ways we hurt the people we care about. There is suspense as well as a murder mystery at the heart of the novel but it felt, in many ways, like more of a study of friendship to me than a suspense novel. And it did have an effective ending – I thought I had it all figured out but ended up being wrong which was a nice surprise for me.

I did find it difficult to like most of the characters in this book but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story itself. I saw it more as a character study of three very different but very flawed people and how they have affected each other over time. Sure, they ended up being far from likeable but I didn’t mind that. Although I found most of their behavior towards each other to be despicable, I still enjoyed the ride. More than anything, I was taken by the narrative and what it said about friendship and how it can change into something very ugly. The effect these people had on each other made me a little sick to my stomach. How being close to someone can twist and change over time into something disturbing was an interesting thing to ponder coming out of this book. All in all, I’m glad that I read it but it’s not going to end up on my favorites list. But, if the exploration of friendship sounds interesting to you, I think you may like where this one takes you.

NOTE: Received an advanced reader's copy form the publisher for an honest review.

Review: Cheater's Regret by Rachel Van Dyken

Cheater's Regret (Curious Liaisons, #2)Cheater's Regret by Rachel Van Dyken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second in a series but I have not read the first. I don’t think I missed anything by not reading the first in the series before this one. I’m not typically a fan of a romance involving a cheater. I don’t have a high tolerance for cheating. But, this was a fresh take on the cheater, in my opinion, and I found myself enjoying it much more than expected. I really liked the characters in this one – Austin and Thatch are great characters with great chemistry. The whole love/hate dynamic between the two of them was fantastic. The cheating wasn’t the focus of the book and it was explained in a way that made sense given the context of the story. I enjoyed the story line overall. There were a few things that I found a bit far-fetched but I was able to overlook it because I liked the characters so much. Overall, this is a really great romance that I recommend, especially if you’re a fan of the light-hearted, fast paced read that has a nice balance of funny and sexy. I think I’ll go back and read the first one in the series as well as seek out some of her other books given how much I enjoyed this one!

NOTE: ARC received from the publisher for an honest review.

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.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse

The Idea of YouThe Idea of You by Amanda Prowse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve really struggled with rating this one. It’s one of those books that I have such mixed feelings about. I really enjoyed some aspects but had difficulty connecting with others. I do think it’s a nice, quick read and a fairly good book for the lover of women’s fiction. But, there were flaws that made it not such a great book for me.

This is the story of a woman who has it all … except the baby she’s desperately wanting. Getting pregnant isn’t as easy as they’d hoped and when her husband’s teen daughter comes to stay with them, it doesn’t go very smoothly since it just reminds her of what she doesn’t have herself … a child. I’ve read a lot ‘want to have a baby but can’t have one’ narratives and I think it’s difficult to do in a new and unique way. So, some of my frustration with the book had to do with it not bringing a lot of newness to this story. I had a horrible time getting pregnant so I could relate to those pieces – that felt very real and raw just as it does in ‘real’ life.

The stepdaughter pieces of the story were interesting and I was hoping they’d bring the narrative to life but I think it fell flat for me. And I think that is because the main character was just difficult to understand and relate to – Lucy is very one-dimensional to me. And I was hoping to relate to her a little if not a lot. But, I just never did. Some of the things that she did or said when dealing with her stepdaughter didn’t feel very real to me. They felt artificial and made me uncomfortable.

I did like how the author brought Lucy’s story (past and today) and her stepdaughter’s stories together by the end. I thought the growth exhibited in that relationship was really quite good and probably my favorite thing about the novel.

All in all, it was a fine book but I don’t think I’ll remember it or think back on it much. I just didn’t connect with it or the characters as I’d expected given the subject matter. If you love women’s fiction or domestic dramas, this might be a book you’d enjoy. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite work for me.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for my honest review.

Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2)Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Themis Files series. I really enjoyed the first and this follow-up is definitely a great read. If you liked the first, I think you’ll be glad you read the second.

This is a story about human-alien contact. In the previous book, the story was laid out but there were many additional questions left at the end. This book did a great job of filling in some of those blanks as well as giving the reader additional information that makes the overall arc of the story that much better.

This book has a little bit of everything – action, drama, love, and even humor! I love the way the novel is formatted in transcripts and interviews. Such a unique way to tell the story and add to its depth.

I think this will be a hit with all the fans of Sleeping Giants but I encourage those of you who haven’t read the series to consider giving it a chance. I’m not much of a sci-fi fan generally, but this is that and so much more! It really exceeded my expectations and I think it’s just a great series regardless of genre. I highly recommend it! I don’t think you’ll be sorry if you pick it up!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for my honest review.

Review: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

Almost Missed YouAlmost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story if simple and engaging – a couple and their young child are on vacation. The husband takes the child into the hotel for a nap while mom enjoys time on the beach. When she returns to the room, they are GONE. Vanished as if they’d never been there. Only her things remain in the room. And thus begins a really interesting story that I found quite captivating!

The book explores this couple’s relationship as well as their own personal journey’s that led to that day. Interspersed with the historical part of the story is what’s happening today – for the wife, the husband and for a friend of the couple. I thought the author did a great job of weaving the today and the past together into a really nicely paced narrative.

Ultimately, this book is about deeply flawed people and what drives them to make the decisions they make. I found that the unfolding of the story was really well done – it kept things interesting and fresh.

This novel is a nice mix of women’s fiction, mystery and psychological thriller (without a ton of thriller). I highly recommend it!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for my honest review.

Review: Before This Is Over by Amanda Hickie

Before This Is OverBefore This Is Over by Amanda Hickie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting novel about what happens within a family as a viral epidemic begins to spread around the world, including in their community. This virus essentially traps this family of 4 in their home and this novel tells the story of how they cope with having such little control over what comes next. I found this fascinating … I’m always wondering what we’d do if this sort of epidemic started in our world today. I really enjoyed this novels exploration of this scenario.

I thought the author did a wonderful job covering the physical and emotional impact of this on each of the characters. The writing was well done and I felt like the author was able to weave a feeling of claustrophobia into each word. I kept feeling as if I was being forced into a small space and trying to survive as I read. I was at the grocery store and kept thinking about how this would not be an option … and how I’d feel if the shelves were empty and we were hungry. She made that aspect of fear and frustration come alive for me. The panic of trying to make your food and water last, trying to decide how to treat my neighbors who need help, etc. It just came alive in this book!

The characters aren’t particularly engaging, but they did feel real to me. But, I would guess that might be intentional since we’re seeing people at a desperate time, one that can change how they are and how they experience the world. Perhaps I’d have liked them better if I’d seen any warmth or something from them? I don’t know but they weren’t what I’d call likeable … yet they were understandable.

All in all, this is a good book that I recommend especially if you are interested in the idea of how people react to a worldwide epidemic as it comes closer to their own home and family.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for my honest review.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

The Twelve Lives of Samuel HawleyThe Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this novel. It is an interesting mix – one part literary thriller and one part coming of age novel. It tells the story of a man and his daughter – their relationship, their adventures, their pain. I really found myself swept up into this story about two very unforgettable characters.

I loved how the author wove the story together – structured through time and place as well as by the 12 bullet wounds of Samuel Hawley. I think it was ingenious to tell today’s story about Samuel and Loo while also interweaving these 12 bullet flashbacks into the narrative that fill gaps and answer questions. It was very effective! She brings everything together so wonderfully!

The characters are so raw and real. Samuel is not a particularly good guy – he has lots of scars (physical and emotional) and he’s made a lot of bad decisions. But, his relationship with Loo really shows the full complexity of this man. That relationship is one of the highlights of this book.
This is a gritty book with some violence so if that’s not something you’re interested in, you may want to skip this one. But, ultimately, it’s a beautifully crafted novel that I found heart breaking! I highly recommend it!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for giving me an ARC of this novel for an honest review.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Perfect Little WorldPerfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved his first novel and I think Kevin Wilson has done it again! This was such a fun and interesting read. This novel explores the meaning of family in a really interesting way by placing a group of people and their children into a communal parenting experiment. I found it fascinating to see how different people reacted to this planned ‘utopia’ and how the entire experiment was set up. I love how imaginative Wilson was in pulling this story together. The characters were really interesting and I enjoyed how they played together and against each other within the context of the story and the experiment. I love how Wilson is able to think outside the box and explore things close to us (family, parenting, etc) in a unique and interesting way. I felt it moved at a great pace – not too fast and not too slow! All in all, the themes weren’t particularly new – but they were explored in a new way. If you’re interested in exploring the concept of family and how biology isn’t always enough, this might be right up your alley. I really liked it and can’t wait to see what Kevin Wilson will bring us next!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yet another book that is so timely given the situation we’re experiencing in America around immigration. I think it’s one that all American’s should read before they make assumptions and decisions about how they feel about immigration. This book can help you see all sides of the issue, including what it must be like to live in a place at war and need to find a new home.
This is such an important book … and I think it’s timeless in its ability to give a reader insight into this issue AS WELL as the human dignity at stake in such situations. Hamid’s writing is just beautiful and the story he’s telling is so stark and believable. There is a magical realism component to the novel but it’s so well done and integrated into the story so well that it doesn’t even really feel magical, in the end.

This is definitely one that will land on my favorite books of 2017 list. It’s astounding and necessary. To help us understand what it must feel like to be displaced by upheaval in our native country and to perhaps think about immigration with more kindness and understanding. I hope everyone reads it and thinks about it and tries to challenge their own biases and assumptions as a result of it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Island of a Thousand MirrorsIsland of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew very little about Sri Lankan history or it’s Civil War before reading this novel. It did a beautiful job of telling the story of two families – one Tamil and one Sinhala – as they navigate war, migration, family, love, and more. The journey of these families as they navigate their country and culture during a devastating time was fascinating and difficult. I loved this author’s second novel and I also quite liked this one. Not quite as much as her second book but this is a solid debut novel that I really think should be read. It’s components about migration and immigration to America seem particularly relevant today given the state of immigration in the US. I think it helped give me a new perspective on what life is like for those coming to America from a place at war. The things that were endured by the Sri Lankan people during the Civil War will break your heart. This novel is beautifully written despite its brutal subject. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not much of a comic reader ... I typically prefer graphic novels to traditional comics. However, I kept hearing great things about Ms. Marvel so I picked a copy up at the library. Despite superheros not really being my 'thing,' I did enjoy this one quite a bit! I love this take on Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani Muslim girl! I'm eager to pick up the next one and keep going with the series. Always love a book about an amazing girl! I love the diversity here as well as the focus on a GIRL who is awesome!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in BetweenTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying that I adore Lauren Graham … I’m a huge fan of Gilmore Girls as well as Parenthood. I loved her novel. I love to see her in interviews and so forth. So, this book should have been my book kryptonite. And I liked it … but I didn’t love it. Which makes me so sad. Part of the issue is that I rarely find books funny. It’s really hard to translate humor to writing, in my opinion. There were moments where I chuckled but there were more moments where I saw her trying to be funny and found it to be unfunny. She seemed to be trying to write in the same way that she talks which isn’t always easy to do. What I did love? The stories about Gilmore Girls and Parenthood were standouts – I loved those parts. It’s great to get an insider’s view of something you love. In fact, I wish there was even more about that, particularly Parenthood. If you’re a fan of hers or of her work, you definitely should check it out. It’s a quick and easy read. It’s not complex or difficult in any way. It was a nice break between heavy fiction. I definitely think this is for her super fans!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

The ArrangementThe Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A novel about open marriage is not one that I’d normally pick up but I’m actually quite glad that I read this one. A normal couple opens their marriage up to see if it works at making things better. It felt a little like fiction about a social experiment. What could go wrong? After 15 years of marriage myself, I understand how complicated the marriage relationship is and I can’t even begin to imagine bringing in the open marriage piece. So, in some ways, this book was interesting in that it explores this fascinating idea of whether or not monogamy is best in a marriage. Some of the narrative about raising children was SPOT ON. It’s hard and it does impact a marriage. I found those aspects to be pretty interesting, particularly how they were explored in concert with monogamy. There is such humor in this novel, alongside the drama and darkness. The author has such wit and it really gives the book a nice punch. At times, I didn’t feel like the book was entirely sure what it was … humor, satire, family drama, parent drama, women’s fiction … but, overall, I really enjoyed the read and am glad that I picked it up, especially since it’s not something I’d normally pick up.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on FireGirls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really intense novel about adolescent female friendship and how that relationship affects each teenager, their friends, families and their entire small town. There is nothing sweet or simple about this novel. It packs a punch from page one until the very last moment. There is a level of tension that permeates the novel – that makes you feel uncomfortable throughout the reading experience. There are so many things covered – friendship, alcohol/drug abuse, bullying, suicide, Satanism, and being a girl/woman. There are sections about parenting through adolescence that hit quite close to home as I’m struggling to raise my 12 year olds through this very volatile time.

The description of a friendship that almost borders on obsession felt very real and honest to me. Adolescent relationships can feel so very dramatic and intense in a way that can change your entire life. And this book did an excellent job of outlining that and making it feel real yet never contrived. That very feeling gave this novel something fresh and honest. I found myself bound up by the story and the characters in a way that felt very powerful to me. The overall tension plus great writing really served this one well.

I’ve seen a number of reviewers make reference to Megan Abbott and I can definitely understand the comparisons. However, I felt this one was much more impactful than most of the Abbott novels I’ve read. Both authors have a way with adolescent voice but this one just resonated a little more with me. Perhaps because it was set in a time that I related to as it took place in about the same time I was in high school/college? All in all, I really enjoyed it but it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely a dark and intense read.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Ill WillIll Will by Dan Chaon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fascinating novel … two unsolved crimes – one from today and one from the past – converge in unusual and interesting ways. First, Dan Chaon is such an interesting writer. His skills are amazing! This book is so much more than it appears to be at first glance. The choices that Chaon makes during the writing of the novel – rambling passages, paragraphs/chapters ending abruptly in the middle, transitions between time that don’t flow well, etc. – are interesting and make the reading experience all the more unsettling. And I think that’s one of the things I ultimately appreciated most about this one. It was a bit discombobulating but it also infused the novel with darkness and an atmosphere of haze … which was ultimately perfection given the themes and the story. The interplay of time and space, the exploration of memory and rootedness. It’s all so fantastically done in this novel. The story is told from multiple perspectives which I also think added to the overall feeling of fogginess that embeds the prose. I’m not always a fan of writing that plays with structure but I think this was done so effectively that I can’t find anything negative to say about that aspect of the novel. I don’t think the structure is for everyone – you may not appreciate this one if you don’t like books that play with structure but if you go with this one, I think it’s worth the read. The sense of chaos that takes such a central role in the prose makes the reading experience pretty frustrating and ultimately rewarding (for me). I loved what this piece of fiction said about memory and how to be sure that what we ‘know’ is in fact real and factual. I definitely think this is worth the read and hope that you will take the time to give it a shot!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Review: Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Taking Charge of Your Life, Your Career, and Your Business by Nicole Lapin

Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Taking Charge of Your Life, Your Career, and Your BusinessBoss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Taking Charge of Your Life, Your Career, and Your Business by Nicole Lapin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with this review because I wanted to love it given my own current focus on starting my small business. And it definitely offers a lot of advice on how to be a boss (of your own company or within someone else’s company). That advice and honest discussion was really what struck me as most useful about this one. I did, however, struggle a bit with the tone and voice of the book. It felt very cheesy in places and it took away a bit from her overall credibility. I wish she’d found a better balance between her wanting to be hip and her wanting to be a mentor. I just didn’t resonate with the tone of the book. I did really find quite a bit of guidance, especially relevant as I’m in the process of starting a business. I did like the suggestions and the stories but I wish there was less of the more cheesy stuff. It would have made more of an impression on me if that was the case. However, it could also be a generational thing … perhaps the ideal audience is someone in their 20s or 30s? I’m in my early 40s and just didn’t find this one to be the best fit for where I am in my life. But, overall, the content is there if you can get past the voice.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Review: Stripped by Piper Lawson

Stripped (Travesty, #2)Stripped by Piper Lawson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although this is the second in a series, I found this to be a really solid stand alone novel and I don’t feel like I missed anything by not reading the first in the series before picking this novel up. Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I loved the hero and heroine as well as the secondary characters of the novel. I loved Ava’s spirit and her voice was fantastic! Nate was very serious and more difficult to connect to until he finally opens up and you can’t help but like him. The way they came together for each other was quite sweet! The pacing was well done! There were even a few laugh out loud moments which is always a nice surprise! I loved watching Ava and her business partner navigate their new business and how that business played a bit role in the overall story. Really nice little novel that I quite enjoyed!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke GirlsThe Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What a book! This is very dark and twisty sort of novel with very difficult themes. It’s not for everyone – trigger warnings all over the place. If you can get past the darkness, it really is an intriguing and interesting story. The entire novel revolves around a very dark family secret (don’t read reviews or they’ll spoil it for you) that is the heart of the novel. The characters and the storytelling are stellar here! There is an authenticity to the story that surprised me. And I think the exploration of family secrets and how they play out for various members of a family made this one a really great read for me. I didn’t find myself too focused on the secret but rather the family dynamics that contribute to the secret. And I think they were well done. I really appreciated how well the author handled a very uncomfortable and taboo subject while also creating a wonderful story full of complex and interesting characters. As I said, this is NOT for everyone but if you can get past the darkness, I think it’s so worth the read. I really appreciated with the author did here and, despite its darkness, I think it was a very good story!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review: #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giving this book 3 stars is killing me. The idea of the book and some of the content is closer to a 4/5 but most of it was just OK so I am having to give it the lower score. I'm in the midst of starting a new small business and kept hearing that this was THE book I needed to pick up. And it definitely had some gems that made me think. But, it wasn't nearly as in depth as I would have expected nor did it offer a lot of concrete information that I could truly implement in my own business or life as a #girlboss. Is Sophia Amoruso a great lady? Sure - she's funny and interesting ... without a doubt. She's accomplished SO much. Which is one of the reasons that this book fell a little flat for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high? Ultimately, I just never connected with the book the way I'd expected to given all of the raves I've heard about it. The book felt a bit jumpy to me ... all over the place and just disorganized or something. I was never bored but I was also never super engaged. I was really hoping for more! I'm not saying don't read it ... it's worth a read. Especially if you're interested in her story. But, know going in, that it's got some pretty major flaws. That should help set expectations a bit.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope by Artisan Press

Why We March: Signs of Protest and HopeWhy We March: Signs of Protest and Hope by Artisan Press
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such an important and valuable book. I liked it so much that I went to my local bookstore and bought a copy for my personal library so I could revisit it when I was feeling down and in need of inspiration! This book contains more than 300 signs from the Women's Marches that took place around the world on January 21st, 2017 to champion equality and justice for ALL. This is a powerful book. One that really paints a picture of this time in our history and what so many of us are feeling at this time in our political and cultural history. The best part for me? All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Planned Parenthood. I'm IN. Which is why I purchased a copy for myself and will probably also purchase one for our oldest daughter and others who I think could benefit from the message of hope and resistance. I highly recommend this one.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for my honest review.

Review: Social Media for Writers by Joanne Mallon

Social Media for WritersSocial Media for Writers by Joanne Mallon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I'm not a writer, I am someone in the midst of starting a new small business so I was interested in this book which helps writers of all kinds better utilize and manage social media. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was a really good overview of the various social media platforms and offered very concrete and interesting advice and tutorials. I came away with a number of things that were new to me, particularly around the options that I don't use as actively as others. There is great advice, tips and tricks as well as specific tutorials all packed into this book! It covers managing Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads and more! It'd definitely a beginner's guide to social media and it packs a punch! If you're already actively using these platforms to help manage your business or career, some of it may be repetitive. But, if this is a whole new world to you, this is a fantastic resource full of great information!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This is How It Always IsThis is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although this book takes on an issue that is fairly timely given it’s prominence in the media these days, I don’t think it’s in any way a preachy book. It does a good job of exploring the issue without making the whole book about convincing someone to change their mind about the issue. Have you noticed that I’m not telling you much about the issue … that is intentional. I think this book is better without knowing much going in; to experience the issue via the story unfolding is priceless here. But, this book is about much more than just the issue … it’s about parenting, family, identity, nature vs nurture, working parents, etc.

As a parent, this book really spoke to me and that idea that we’re always trying to do our best for our kids but that we make mistakes and go down the wrong path sometimes … that we are never doing this parenting thing perfectly … that there really is no perfect. I loved this aspect of the novel – the exploration of parents doing the best they can for their family, the exploration of working both inside & outside of the home and trying to be true to your family’s needs. It all spoke to me so deeply.

I found this particular family to be so well drawn. I felt their pain, their sorrow, their joy and their love for one another in every single word. Exploring a hot button issue within that context gives this story that much more weight.

Although not a perfect book, I really loved this one and was able to overlook what I consider to be small issues (mostly things/components wrapping up a little too easy for me). I don’t think those small issues outweigh the impact the story and the characters had on me. I won’t forget this book for a long time. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

The Mother's PromiseThe Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those beautiful, heartfelt novels that make you feel something as well as explore various situations that can make you think about life in a new way. In this novel, there are several things happening – a single mother facing a horrible health prognosis, a teenager facing crippling anxiety, a nurse struggling with infertility and a social worker facing her own demons. As these four come together in this novel, they are all changed by each other and their experiences. It’s ultimately a story about community, finding your way, and how connection can change your life in a myriad of ways. The physical and emotional health issues were handled quite well – particularly the social anxiety piece which I think came alive in this novel. The way all of the pieces and parts of the story came together was well done. It isn’t a complex novel in terms of story composition but the overall story was heartfelt and impactful. I think there were moments that came together almost too effortlessly when I’d expect a bit more difficulty but I was able to overlook that since I enjoyed the overall story so much. If you’re looking for something that will touch you, something with heart, then this is the novel for you! It is probably something that would be classified as women’s fiction so if that’s a genre that you typically like, please give it a try! I thought it was very sweet and quite a good read!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader, #2)The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Brunonia Barry’s first two novels (and I met her during her tour for her second novel) so I was eager to read this one. And it was rather good. I would say the rating would fall between 3 and 4 but I’m rounding up because I really did enjoy the book quite a bit. There is character overlap between this one and her first novel, The Lace Reader. If you read that one, this is a nice revisit to some of the characters. If you didn’t, this one is perfectly good as a stand alone! This is a mystery that plays with the historical witch trials and current life in Salem, MA. I really like the subtle magical touches that are at play throughout the book. Those touches gave the book a little something special for me. Overall, the mystery (well, mysteries) were really well done and I thought the conclusion was thoughtful and satisfying. I will say that the pacing was imperfect. It felt like it took me a longgggg time to get through this novel. It wasn’t fast paced. I was never bored but it didn’t fly by or anything. That’s not a big issue for me but if you need something with fast pacing, this might not be the right book for you. If you love a good mystery, especially one that is connected to witches and the witch trials; this is definitely one you should pick up!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Review: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The AnimatorsThe Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing in the description of this novel really spoke to me … a story about animators? Not really in my wheelhouse. However, several of my friends recommended it so I went with it and I’m so glad that I did! This is a wonderful novel about friendship, art and overcoming the obstacles of life. Yes, it’s about animation and art but it’s so much more! It’s not a fun or particularly nice story – there is quite a bit of darkness in the narrative. Each of the main characters, through their art and friendship, find a path out of their own histories and into a new life. The characters are extremely well written – multi-faceted and `complex in all the best ways. They aren’t always likable but they are always believable. The story is also complex but in a very readable way. The author doesn’t take the easy way out with the story or the characters. It’s dark with quite a bit of content around addiction and health issues. I was very taken with the story and how these characters used their art to find themselves and heal what’s broken. This is in some ways a love story, a story about friendship and how it can change your life. There is a lot of redemption and passion in this novel. And it’s such a great read! I highly recommend it! It truly packs a punch!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm struggling with reviewing this novel. On the one hand, it's really good in terms of suspense and movement. On the other hand, the ending kind of killed it for me. I don't really get the whole comparison to Gone Girl ... in my opinion, Gone Girl is much better executed than this one. This one felt as if the author gave up much of the very things that could have helped her to keep the reader guessing too early. Although the overall suspense was great, there were a number of areas that could have been used more effectively. However, I think the ending just killed the entire novel for me. It just didn't connect in that way an ending should. Was is successful? Probably. But, it didn't feel solid to me. And I don't think it would be possible for anyone to figure out the ending from the content of the novel which I guess is a good thing with this type of book. And perhaps that is exactly why it didn't work for me. I'm glad that I read it but it won't be one that I'll be recommending all over the place
like I did with Gone Girl. If you're a suspense fan, you should pick this up. If you're looking for the next Gone Girl, you may be disappointed. Many are loving this one so give it a shot if it sounds appealing.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Review: Always by Sarah Jio

AlwaysAlways by Sarah Jio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked the premise of this novel - I'm always a fan of stories of lost love. The premise of this one was right up my alley - a soon to be married woman encounters someone she used to love on the street ... and he's homeless. As she tries to understand how he came to be on the street, she uncovers a lot of interesting information. This is a novel of suspense as well as a romance. You learn about her past relationship as well as her current relationship and watch her as she begins to try to put all the pieces together. I found it to be sweet and it kept me interested. It's not what I'd call great literature but it was a quite nice story with interesting characters. I love how it took place in the 1990s in Seattle. Definitely a time frame that I can relate to as I came to age in the 1990s. I'm seeing a lot of mixed reviews among friends but I think I particularly related to this one given the time frame and the fact that it focuses on someone coming to terms with a previous relationship. Personally, I really enjoyed this story and these characters. I think it was pretty interesting and I enjoyed my time in the world that Sarah Jio created with this novel.

NOTE: I received this novel in e-galley format from the publisher for an honest review.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

The SleepwalkerThe Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a love/hate relationship with Chris Bohjalian. I either love his novels or I just don't get them. This one was a bit in the middle for me. I liked it but I didn't love it. I loved the concept of the novel - the description sounded fascinating. My primary issues with the novel are two-fold. One thing is the pacing of the novel overall. It felt like a slow burn ... it unfolded very quietly. Which isn't always a bad thing but it didn't work for me in this novel. In some ways, it almost felt like I was sleepwalking through the book. It felt sleepy and hazy in some way. Secondly, the big mystery wasn't such a mystery to me. I suspected 'who done it' long before it was revealed. And it wasn't a far jump to identify the perpetrator. It didn't feel as intricate as it could have been to make the reader feel something about what happened. If you have any interest in sleep disorders, this might be an interesting read for you. I think the exploration of sleep issues was one of the bright spots in this novel. If you're a big Bohjalian fan, I also think this one is worth picking up. However, if you need a ton of action and fast pacing, this might not work as well for you.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #3)The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that I may have enjoyed this Louise Penny novel the most of the three I've read in this series. It almost felt like this one went a little deeper than the two previous novels. I also found the actual murder mystery to be a bit more compelling with this one. I still didn't find this one to knock it out of the park BUT I do think it was very readable and makes me want to continue with the series. I keep hearing that it starts to pick up at book 4 so I'm eager to see if that's the case. I did enjoy getting to know the various characters a bit more - the character development aspect was stellar and I found myself connecting with them more than in the earlier books. I'm eager to see how things go with the next book.

Review: Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter

Break in Case of EmergencyBreak in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a solid read but I wouldn't call it a favorite. It's well written and there were definitely some laugh out loud moments - especially in the context of today's working world. There is a strong mix of workplace comedy/satire and family/friend complex relationships. Jessica Winter did an amazing job of portraying an unhealthy work place as well as the difficulty of infertility. I really appreciate the way she portrayed friendship and marriage in this novel. It felt very real to me. It was certainly a well-written novel but, at times, it felt a bit too show-offy in terms of language. That gave it a bit of a less realistic feeling at moments. I wish the characters, especially the supporting characters, had more dimension. In the end, I felt as if the novel tried to be too many things at one time - a workplace satire, an intense exploration of marraige and friendship, the struggle of being an artist, and more. Although I liked it, I do think it's going to be a novel that isn't going to stick in my mind for the long term.