Book Reviews–July 2019

Welcome!  I have large stacks of books TBR (To Be Read) on my nightstand, plus electronic stacks of books lined up in my Kindle, as well as books on hold at the library.  As I read these books, I love to share my thoughts and opinions of what I’ve read here in this space, because I enjoy sharing my passion for books with 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.  Finally, the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.  Thank you!)  I hope you enjoy this series.

Book #1: 

Tell Me MoreTell Me More  by Kelly Corrigan (Length: 225 pages).  This author, and memoir, came highly recommended by a few book bloggers I follow, so I finally checked this out.  This memoir of essays was a slow-starter for me, but about halfway through, I couldn’t put this book down.  (The essay/chapter entitled “I Love You” got the waterworks going for sure.)  Then, the chapter entitled “Onward” regarding the death of the author’s best friend, Liz, is essentially a letter she wrote to Liz after her death.  Incredible writing, and a talent for making the reader feel all the things without being trite, equal an author whose books are worth reading.  This is a must read!

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A story-driven collection of essays on the twelve powerful phrases we use to sustain our relationships, from the bestselling author of Glitter and Glue and The Middle Place

It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here. In her New York Times bestselling memoirs, Corrigan distilled our core relationships to their essences, showcasing a warm, easy storytelling style. Now, in Tell Me More, she’s back with a deeply personal, unfailingly honest, and often hilarious examination of the essential phrases that turn the wheel of life.

In “I Don’t Know,” Corrigan wrestles to make peace with uncertainty, whether it’s over invitations that never came or a friend’s agonizing infertility. In “No,” she admires her mother’s ability to set boundaries and her liberating willingness to be unpopular. In “Tell Me More,” a facialist named Tish teaches her something important about listening. And in “I Was Wrong,” she comes clean about her disastrous role in a family fight—and explains why saying sorry may not be enough. With refreshing candor, a deep well of empathy, and her signature desire to understand “the thing behind the thing,” Corrigan swings between meditations on life with a preoccupied husband and two mercurial teenage daughters to profound observations on love and loss.

With the streetwise, ever-relatable voice that defines Corrigan’s work, Tell Me More is a moving and meaningful take on the power of the right words at the right moment to change everything.

Book #2: 

Lillian BoxFish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (Length: 302 pages).  This novel features a really interesting plot and premise . . . the entire life of the first highly-paid woman in advertising is told during one walk through New York City on New Year’s Eve in 1984, as she is 85 years old.  (This novel is partly based on the life of the actual woman).  I adored this book, partly because of the life the narrator lived, which is revealed warts and all, and partly because of the way that Lillian really gets to know everyone she meets on her walk in present-day 1984 in some small way (even a mugger).  The author’s writing style is engaging, and she displays a very deep well of vocabulary which I love!  (The Kindle’s dictionary feature was very welcomed during this read).  I will remember the plot of this novel for a long time, which is a plus for someone who is a voracious reader. 

From the publisher:

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now—her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl—but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed—and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.

Book #3: 

Water from my heartWater From My Heart by Charles Martin (Length: 369 pages).  Funny story about this.  I recently went on a much-needed two week beach vacation, and as any fellow book lover knows, one of the best parts about a beach vacation is choosing which books to take.  I had compiled a stack of books over the previous three months, saving the best ones for vacation, but in a last-minute switch of suitcases, accidentally left ALL of them at home.  😦  I did have my Kindle with me, of course, and was able to switch gears and read what I already had on my Kindle, which of course, included some Charles Martin novels (typically available in a 3 pack on Amazon).  

Anyway, when I first heard about this author, this particular novel was mentioned quite a bit so I figured I’d finally read it.  This is quite an intense read!  The main plot point involves drug-dealing (which I didn’t expect), with a bit of violence and an unlikeable protagonist.  I did feel a bit manipulated by Charlie Finn’s internal dialogue (ie, I’m a really bad guy.  Except others don’t really think I am, so I must be a good guy deep inside).  But, overall, I felt Finn was likeable “enough” to keep reading, and the plot is admittedly fascinating.  I did really enjoy learning about Central America/Nicaragua and coffee plantations as well . . .  deep-diving into subjects is an area where the author Martin truly excels! 

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin’s breathtaking novel of love and redemption.

Charlie Finn had to grow up fast, living alone by age sixteen. Highly intelligent, he earned a life-changing scholarship to Harvard, where he learned how to survive and thrive on the outskirts of privileged society. That skill served him well in the cutthroat business world, as it does in more lucrative but dangerous ventures he now operates off the coast of Miami. Charlie tries to separate relationships from work. But when his choices produce devastating consequences, he sets out to right wrongs, traveling to Central America where he will meet those who have paid for his actions, including a woman and her young daughter. Will their fated encounter present Charlie with a way to seek the redemption he thought was impossible–and free his heart to love one woman as he never knew he could?

Book #4: 

The Mother in LawThe Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth (Length: 347 pages).  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book!  It’s well-written, and I thought the author’s narration style is well done here with the narration shared by the two main characters (MIL and diL) alternating chapters and jumping from past to present.  The plot resolution is surprising, which I appreciate, as the author absolutely keeps the reader guessing throughout.  The mother-in-law’s work with immigrants is an interesting angle (and very timely given our current political climate).  I do wish the character of the daughter-in-law (Lucy) was a bit more developed, but overall, I did enjoy Hepworth’s writing here.  This would be a good choice for a book club, if only for the discussions it will prompt about familial relationships.  

From the publisher:

A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago. Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.  But the autopsy finds no cancer. It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone? Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every page in this twisty, captivating new novel from Sally Hepworth.

Book #5: 

The Most Fun We Ever HadThe Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo (Length: 533 pages).  I adore family sagas, and boy, is this a LONG and meaty book.  I really enjoyed reading this book and didn’t want it to end!  The author writes about four daughters and their parents who happen to have an incredibly strong and romantic marriage, which sets an impossibly high standard of love for the daughters.  Not all of the characters are likeable, but that’s the same as in life, so it didn’t bother me.  The author skillfully teases out the plot with certain major life events briefly hinted at, and ultimately they are all filled in later with more detail, resulting in more fully-drawn characters.  Two thumbs up!!!  (Another great book club selection, in my opinion, as members will enjoy discussing which characters they loved to hate, and who, if anyone, they related to most.)

From the publisher:

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that’s to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents’.

As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt–given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before–we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.

Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo’s debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family’s becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.

Book #6: 

I miss you when I blinkI Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (Length: 289 pages).  This memoir is SO good!!!  The author has been compared to Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron, and I absolutely agree with these comparisons.  Similar to Kelly Corrigan’s memoir I reviewed above, this book of personal essays is incredibly well-written.   And best title ever!!  If I were to write a memoir, I’d like to believe it would be similar to this one as I related on SO many levels to what Philpott has written here.  I felt like she was describing me to a “T” in so many of the essays . . . a Type A student, a liberal arts major who applied to law school because what else is there to do with that degree?  Bad relationships.  First jobs post-college (with cute coordinating suits/outfits, down to wearing one black and one navy shoe– in my case, during my first felony trial).  Even if you’re not a Type A, you’ll find something to relate to in everything she writes.  The author’s sense of humor is fantastic.  Loved lines such as:  “If I think hard enough, I can almost understand why Judas betrayed Jesus at the Last Supper . . .and why some men wear short-sleeved button-down shirts.”  Read this!  You’ll be glad you did.  

From the publisher:

Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy.

But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She’d done everything “right,” but she felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?

In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?

Like a pep talk from a sister, I Miss You When I Blink is the funny, poignant, and deeply affecting book you’ll want to share with all your friends, as you learn what Philpott has figured out along the way: that multiple things can be true of us at once—and that sometimes doing things wrong is the way to do life right.

 


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