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.