Book Reviews–September 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: 

A Better ManA Better Man  by Louise Penny (Length: 417 pages).  When one is obsessed with an author and a series, one often is simultaneously excited and nervous with each installment in the series, because what if it’s not as good as the previous books?  I was SO relieved to discover that this novel, the 15th in the series about the village of Three Pines and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is probably the best book written so far.  This is also the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a book, but I was that excited about this book.  The characters and the central mystery are as top-notch as ever in this mystery, which is actually mostly set in Three Pines (not all of the books have been).  I adore reading Penny’s Acknowledgements at the end of her novels, as they get better and better.  Finally, I was absolutely surprised by the resolution of the mystery in this novel, which I love!  This is a must read.  (I’d advise starting with her first novel, Still Life, which is a bit slow to start, but stick with it).  

From the publisher:

Catastrophic spring flooding, blistering attacks in the media, and a mysterious disappearance greet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he returns to the Sûreté du Québec in the latest novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny.

It’s Gamache’s first day back as head of the homicide department, a job he temporarily shares with his previous second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Flood waters are rising across the province. In the middle of the turmoil a father approaches Gamache, pleading for help in finding his daughter.

As crisis piles upon crisis, Gamache tries to hold off the encroaching chaos, and realizes the search for Vivienne Godin should be abandoned. But with a daughter of his own, he finds himself developing a profound, and perhaps unwise, empathy for her distraught father.

Increasingly hounded by the question, how would you feel…, he resumes the search.

As the rivers rise, and the social media onslaught against Gamache becomes crueler, a body is discovered. And in the tumult, mistakes are made.

In the next novel in this “constantly surprising series that deepens and darkens as it evolves” (New York Times Book Review), Gamache must face a horrific possibility, and a burning question.

What would you do if your child’s killer walked free?

Book #2: 

Harry's TreesHarry’s Trees  by Jon Cohen (Length: 432 pages).  After Louise Penny’s novel, this is honestly the best book I’ve read all year, and maybe even in the past two years.  I just adore this novel!   There are two parallel stories involving two different grieving widow/ers and the widow’s child who meet in a forest.  There are references to trees throughout, with lots of educational tidbits shared with the reader.  The storyline is a bit offbeat and fun, and interesting all around.  The writing is excellent, the character development is deep, and the author has created a beautiful sense of place.  There’s even a library!!!  The ending is satisfying, but not too perfect, which I appreciate.  This is a must read!!

From the publisher:

A grieving widower, a determined girl, a courageous librarian and a mysterious book come together in an uplifting tale of love, loss, friendship and redemption.

Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane works as an analyst for the US Forest Service. When his wife dies suddenly, Harry, despairing, retreats north to lose himself in the remote woods of the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She and her mother, Amanda, are struggling to pick up the pieces from their own tragic loss of Oriana’s father. Discovering Harry while roaming the forest, Oriana believes that he holds the key to righting her world.

Harry reluctantly agrees to help Oriana carry out an astonishing scheme inspired by a book given to her by the town librarian, Olive Perkins. Together, Harry and Oriana embark on a golden adventure that will fulfill Oriana’s wild dream—and ultimately open Harry’s heart to new life.

Book #3: 

Illumination NightIllumination Night  by Alice Hoffman (Length: 276 pages).  I really enjoyed this novel.  The author is known for her writing, and she doesn’t disappoint with this particular novel.  I enjoyed her vivid depictions of the main characters (about 6 total).  The plot is a bit slow-paced, but it’s worth it as this book is more about relationships (between parents/son, grandmother/granddaughter, lovers, etc).  Not all of the characters are likeable, but that’s okay here.  The storyline about the “giant” who lives nearby is my favorite.   This is very well-done, and would make a good book club book!

From the publisher:

Elizabeth Renny has only made two decisions of consequence in her seventy-plus years. While the first, marrying her husband, had adequate results, the second—deciding she could fly from her bedroom window—is less successful. But her flight sets in motion a series of events that will forever change the lives of six residents of Martha’s Vineyard: a young boy who refuses to grow, a wife stifled by her irrational anxiety, a husband tempted by the unknown, a girl flirting with disaster, a gentle giant tortured by his size, and an old woman with nothing to lose.

Praised as “an intelligent novel” by the New York Times and “achingly vivid” by Newsday, Illumination Night is a sparkling and heartbreaking narrative that explores marriage, friendship, youth, yearning, disillusionment, and desire, a book as bright and memorable as the festival of lanterns for which it is named.

Book #4:  

The Last House GuestThe Last House Guest  by Megan Miranda (Length: 352 pages).  I’ve read the author’s previous suspense novels so I was looking forward to this one.  It’s a fun and fast read, and is well-written, overall.  I enjoyed the setting on the coast of Maine, and the dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots.  The Loman Family owns the majority of the rental properties in this enclave, and the narrator/protagonist is their young property manager.  The mystery at the heart of this novel is well-crafted.  I suspected one part of the solution but didn’t see the other part coming at all.  The story is well-paced and plotted.  Would make an excellent vacation/travel read.  

From the publisher:

Littleport, Maine, has always felt like two separate towns: an ideal vacation enclave for the wealthy, whose summer homes line the coastline; and a simple harbor community for the year-round residents whose livelihoods rely on service to the visitors.

Typically, fierce friendships never develop between a local and a summer girl—but that’s just what happens with visitor Sadie Loman and Littleport resident Avery Greer. Each summer for almost a decade, the girls are inseparable—until Sadie is found dead. While the police rule the death a suicide, Avery can’t help but feel there are those in the community, including a local detective and Sadie’s brother, Parker, who blame her. Someone knows more than they’re saying, and Avery is intent on clearing her name, before the facts get twisted against her.

Another thrilling novel from the bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger, Megan Miranda’s The Last House Guest is a smart, twisty read with a strong female protagonist determined to make her own way in the world.

Book #5: 

The GrammariansThe Grammarians by Cathleen Schine (Length: 272 pages).  This is such a unique and fun read for anyone who loves words and language.  The novel follows the entire lives of word-obsessed twins, including their sibling rivalry, and their very different adult lives.  I enjoyed the wordplay and the definitions throughout.  If you love language and words as much as these characters do, you’ll enjoy this quick read.  

From the publisher:

An enchanting, comic love letter to sibling rivalry and the English language.

From the author compared to Nora Ephron and Nancy Mitford, not to mention Jane Austen, comes a new novel celebrating the beauty, mischief, and occasional treachery of language.

The Grammarians are Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins who share an obsession with words. They speak a secret “twin” tongue of their own as toddlers; as adults making their way in 1980s Manhattan, their verbal infatuation continues, but this love, which has always bound them together, begins instead to push them apart. Daphne, copy editor and grammar columnist, devotes herself to preserving the dignity and elegance of Standard English. Laurel, who gives up teaching kindergarten to write poetry, is drawn, instead, to the polymorphous, chameleon nature of the written and spoken word. Their fraying twinship finally shreds completely when the sisters go to war, absurdly but passionately, over custody of their most prized family heirloom: Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.

Cathleen Schine has written a playful and joyful celebration of the interplay of language and life. A dazzling comedy of sisterly and linguistic manners, a revelation of the delights and stresses of intimacy, The Grammarians is the work of one of our great comic novelists at her very best.

Book #6: 

Mrs EverythingMrs. Everything  by Jennifer Weiner (Length: 481 pages).  Ugh.  I’ve read some of this author’s previous novels and was looking forward to a light-hearted, witty fun book.  This was not my favorite, by far.  The author follows the lives of two sisters, from the 1950s on.  It seems to me like the author wanted to write a feminist commentary on society, so she made a list of every “shocking” thing that can happen to women (ie, molestation, date rape, gang rape, unsafe abortion, etc) and shoehorned them into the novel’s narrative.  I am in no way offended by any of the above topics, and think they are important and should be written about, but I just don’t appreciate when they are gratuitous (in my opinion) to the plot.  Moreover, the inconsistencies in details irked me (ie, the girls’ father was an accountant for the Ford plant and thus brought home a new Ford every few years.  Yet later one of the characters mentions the new Chevrolet models that were brought home.  She also constantly switches between the character’s names “Melissa” and “Missy” sometimes within the same few sentences).   I did like how the author wrapped everything up at the end, so there’s that.  Overall, however, I wouldn’t recommend this book.  I may be alone in my opinion, so if I am and you enjoyed this novel, please share why!  I’d love to know what I may have missed here.  

From the publisher:

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

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