Book Reviews–July 2017

I often post short reviews of books I’ve read in my personal social media pages, as I love to share my passion for books with others.  I’m listing the books I’ve read each month here on this blog, with my thoughts on each as well as whether I’d recommend them to others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Most, if not all, of the books below include links to the Kindle store on Amazon, and the page numbers reflect the number of Kindle pages).  I hope you enjoy this series on my blog!

July 2017 Books:

Book #1: 

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance (273 pages).  This book was so hyped up all over the Internet that I was afraid I’d be disappointed when I actually had a chance to read it. Nope–the hype is well-deserved, in my opinion!  This memoir of a boy/young man growing up in Appalachia and then a small town in Ohio is so well-written, well-researched and chock full of facts and statistics that just blew me away.  The writing is never dry, and is full of interesting anecdotes and stories that illustrate the author’s viewpoint about the problems facing our country’s working poor.   Two thumbs up!

From the Publisher:  

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Book #2: 

 Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch (Length: 354 pages).  This sci-fi thriller is absolutely fantastic!  While sci-fi isn’t typically my preferred genre, this book will make ANYONE love sci-fi.  The character of Jason Dessen is crafted with fantastic details, the plot twists will keep you on the edge of your seat while you’re turning pages (up until all hours of the night–fair warning!) and the subject matter is sufficiently brainy that you feel like you’re actually learning something.  I made both of my parents read this immediately after I finished it–and I can’t remember the last time I recommended a book to my retired architect dad.  He loved it too, so it’s dad-approved.  😉

 

From the Publisher: A mindbending, relentlessly surprising thriller from the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy.

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.
 
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.
 
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.” 
 
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
 
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
 
Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Book #3:  

Leave Me

Leave Me by Gayle Forman (Length: 353 pages).  Wow.  Not sure what to think about this one.  The plot is a bit disturbing in that a mom leaves her babies/toddlers and husband after she has a heart attack and returns home to little assistance.  While the story and the characters develop sufficiently for the reader to understand why the protagonist leaves her family to figure out her life, I personally had a hard time empathizing with the main character.  However, it’s a very quick read and it’s well-written.  So there’s that.

From the Publisher: Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention–meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.

Surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: she packs a bag and leaves. But, as is often the case, once we get where we’re going we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from herself and those she loves.

With bighearted characters–husbands, wives, friends, and lovers–who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature. She has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head on and asks, what happens when a grown woman runs away from home?

Book #4:  

The Nest

The Nest by Cynthia Sweeney (Length: 373 pages).  This blockbuster best seller definitely lived up to the hype!  I devoured it in one afternoon, thanks to the richly-drawn characters.  While I didn’t actually like any of them, their interactions with one another and their uber-complicated family dynamics made this novel such an interesting read.  I couldn’t wait to see how the central conflict resolved itself, but in the end, I didn’t care about that as much as I did about the family itself.

From the Publisher:  A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

Book #5:  

One Perfect Lie

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline (Length: 366 pages).   The main plot line is about an ATF agent who goes undercover as a high school baseball coach in a small town.  While I wanted to finish the book to see what happened, I was a bit “meh” about this.  The plot in the second half of this novel felt too forced and rushed, and the characters didn’t always act in ways that are believable.  I’m a Lisa Scottoline fan, but this novel didn’t meet the mark for me.

From the Publisher: On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.  But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.
Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.
Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan’s baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.
Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.
At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it

Book #6:  

Upstairs at the White House

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by JB West and Mary Lynn Kotz (Length: 381 pages).  Wow!  What an interesting memoir written by one of the chief ushers at the White House who worked there for almost 30 years.  His level of detail about the inner goings-on of the presidents and their families from FDR to the Nixons is incredible.  His anecdotes are fascinating as is his perspective as someone serving the various occupants of the White House during his tenure.  This isn’t a quick read, but it’s definitely worth reading!

From the Publisher: J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and, with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, as well as their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state.
 
J. B. West, whom Jackie Kennedy called “one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met,” provides an absorbing, one-of-a-kind history of life among the first ladies. Alive with anecdotes ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt’s fascinating political strategies to Jackie Kennedy’s tragic loss and the personal struggles of Pat Nixon, Upstairs at the White House is a rich account of a slice of American history that usually remains behind closed doors.

 

 

 


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