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.