Book Reviews–June 2019 Part One

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: 

The Last RomanticsThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (Length: 368 pages).  This is an excellent read!  The writing is top-notch, the characters are well-developed and I wanted to keep reading.  This novel is told from the perspective of the youngest sibling of 4 (Fiona), and is primarily about the familial/sibling bonds of this group.  While it’s broad in scope and of time, the pace is quick enough to hold a reader’s interest (which I was very pleased about).  Book clubs would enjoy this book as there are opportunities to discuss your own bonds with your siblings.  (Note:  climate-change deniers, whoever you are, may want to skip this book because there is a somewhat intense and VERY realistic peek into our planet’s near future in the flash-forward scenes.)

From the publisher:

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.

It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.

Book #2: 

Packing for MarsPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (Length: 335 pages).   I’m not sure where I heard about this non-fiction pick, but I’m SO glad I read this book.  I’ve read the author’s “Stiff” and “Gulp” previously, so I knew I’d find this exhaustive account of the preparation that must occur before spacewalks and our eventual travel to Mars to be worth my time.  This book, as with her previous books, showcases the author’s wit.  (For example, the line, “‘They didn’t want the hot water cooking the skin flakes'”, he said, speaking four words together that have no business being so.”)  The author does get bogged down into the minutiae (as is her style) . . . for example, what is it like to go without washing for two weeks in space, what it’s like going to the bathroom, etc but the minutiae IS so very interesting, in my opinion.  I will say, this book is difficult to read in one go, but by chapter it’s fine.  Definitely do NOT skip the footnotes!  (If you’re reading this on a Kindle, just click on the asterisks within the text itself).  These often contain the most interesting (and funny) factoids!

From the publisher:

“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) explores the irresistibly strange universe of life without gravity in this New York Times bestseller.

The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule, Mary Roach takes us on the surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

Book #3: 

Fierce KingdomFierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (Length: 278 pages).  Whoa.  This book is INTENSE.  If you’re looking for a lightning-fast, thrill-ride of a read that you’ll finish in one sitting, this is it.   This novel is very well-paced, and the author is all about moving the plot (about some gunmen in a zoo at closing time) forward, but what characters there are, you absolutely understand them and their motivations along the way.  The main narrator, Joan, is a mom at the zoo with her young son.  She’s heroic at times, and shockingly not at others.  She’s very believable and makes you think about what you’d do in that same situation.  There is a secondary character of a retired third-grade teacher (who’s seen at least a dozen of her former students on the news in some capacity after they reach adulthood), and having been a substitute teacher for third-grade, I absolutely related to her character.  The novel’s ending is very sudden, and you can read what you want into it.  Love those types of endings–definitely worth a read.  This would be a fantastic book to read on a long airplane flight or car ride as the time will fly by!

From the publisher:

One of the New York Times Book Review’s Best Crime Novels of 2017

“Warning: you’ll finish this in one sitting.” —TheSkimm

“Expertly made thriller . . . clever and irresistible.” —The New York Times

An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.

The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.

Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.

A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself—from its tender moments of grace to its savage power—Fierce Kingdom asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another. For whom should a mother risk her life?

Book #4: 

Chasing FirefliesChasing Fireflies by Charles Martin (Length: 351 pages). I LOVE me some Charles Martin.  This is yet another great novel of his.  He does touch upon (briefly) some tough subjects such as child abuse (both physical and sexual) as well as HIV, but he’s never too graphic and it’s never gratuitous.  The narrator is a younger male (30 years old) who is a journalist.  He’s adopted and lives with an older couple he calls Uncle Willie and Aunt Lorna, and we learn about Uncle Willie’s very storied past.  As always, Martin does a fantastic job of painting a sense of place, in this case, the marshes of Georgia, with his always-beautiful writing style and a fantastically-paced plot.  You HAVE to keep reading to find out how it ends.  There’s a mystery within the plot, per usual, but Martin definitely doesn’t spoon feed it to you.  I LOVE this book!  

From the publisher:

On a stifling summer day, an old Chevy Impala ignored the warning signals and was annihilated by the oncoming train. What no one realized until much later was that the driver had paused just before entering the tracks and kicked a small boy out of the car. A small boy with broken glasses who is clutching a notebook with all his might . . . but who never speaks.

Chase Walker was one of the lucky ones. He was in foster care as a child, but he finally ended up with a family who loved him and cared for him. Now, as a journalist for the local paper, he’s moved on and put the past behind him.

But when he’s assigned the story of this young boy, painful, haunting questions about his own childhood begin to rise to the surface.

And as Chase Walker discovers, learning the truth about who you are can be as elusive—and as magical—as chasing fireflies on a summer night.

Book #5: 

Good Morning MidnightGood Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton (Length: 274 pages).   This book is based on SUCH an interesting premise, even for a dystopian novel.  The main characters (in alternating chapters) are:  An elderly scientist who stays put after an evacuation of a research station near the North Pole, and a female member of a crew of 6 en route back to Earth from a study/exploration of Jupiter.  The female crew member, Sully, is estranged from her daughter, much like August, the research scientist on Earth.  The author creates a fantastic sense of place in both locales–and since I really enjoy reading about space AND the Arctic, this novel is really my jam.  While this is more about “the journey” and the meaning of life than the arc of the plot, it’s definitely worth a read.  Just a warning that the last two chapters are definitely a bit of a surprise (that I suspected but really didn’t see coming).  I’m okay with the (rather abrupt) ending but some readers may not be.   I absolutely will read whatever else this author publishes!

From the publisher: NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SHELF AWARENESS AND THE CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS • COLSON WHITEHEAD’S FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016 (Esquire)

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes that the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success. But when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crewmates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.


As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? Lily Brooks-Dalton’s captivating debut is a meditation on the power of love and the bravery of the human heart.

Book #6: 

Becoming OdyssaBecoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis (Length: 322 pages).  Fun fact:  I’m OBSESSED with the Appalachian Trail, and have read more than half a dozen books about this trail, and thru-hikers in particular.  This particular memoir is now in my top 3 primarily because the author’s writing is very good, and descriptive, and for a 22 year-old woman (at the time she hiked the trail), she isn’t whiny, but instead is very positive and empathetic to others.  She definitely encounters some difficult people and dangerous situation and endures physical trials, but she handles all of them with admirable strengthe and grace.  Her writing (and viewpoint) is a bit too religious for my taste in part, but not enough to put me off reading (and recommending) this book.  

From the publisher:

After graduating from college, Jennifer isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life. She is drawn to the Appalachian Trail, a 2175-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Though her friends and family think she’s crazy, she sets out alone to hike the trail, hoping it will give her time to think about what she wants to do next. The next four months are the most physically and emotionally challenging of her life. She quickly discovers that thru-hiking is harder than she had imagined: coping with blisters and aching shoulders from the 30-pound pack she carries; sleeping on the hard wooden floors of trail shelters; hiking through endless torrents of rain and even a blizzard. With every step she takes, Jennifer transitions from an over-confident college graduate to a student of the trail, braving situations she never imagined before her thru-hike. The trail is full of unexpected kindness, generosity, and humor. And when tragedy strikes, she learns that she can depend on other people to help her in times of need.

Book Reviews–August 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: 

MIracle CreekMiracle Creek  by Angie Kim (Length: 349 pages).  I really enjoyed this book!  It’s very well-written, the plot is paced perfectly and I think all of the characters are drawn very well.  There are some flashbacks throughout the novel, but the majority is centered around a criminal murder trial (regarding arson at a hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment center).  The trial is actually pretty realistic (important for this ex-trial attorney) except for the standard hearsay issues.  😉   This would be an excellent book club pick as there is lots to discuss regarding treatment of autistic children, and how far parents are willing to go for their children (autistic or not).  

From the publisher:

The “gripping… page-turner” (Time) hitting all the best of summer reading lists, Miracle Creek is perfect for book clubs and fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng

How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?

In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.

A powerful showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Chapter by chapter, we shift alliances and gather evidence: Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?

Book #2: 

L'appartl’appart  by David Lebovitz (Length: 370 pages).  This is a very interesting (albeit frustrating at times) account written by a renowned chef/cookbook author who buys and renovates an apartment in Paris.  I found myself getting frustrated with the author’s continued refusal to listen to his Parisian husband regarding how to act more French (ie, exert his authority over the general contractor and the sub contractors).  Instead, he’s the “nice American” and is taken advantage of throughout.  Still worth reading to learn about French culture, food and home renovations abroad.  The recipes at the end of each chapter are really fun to read, and I enjoyed the journey sufficiently enough to want to continue reading the author’s personal blog for the photos of the finished renovation as well as more stories about living and travelling in France.   

From the publisher:

Bestselling author and world-renowned chef David Lebovitz continues to mine the rich subject of his evolving ex-Pat life in Paris, using his perplexing experiences in apartment renovation as a launching point for stories about French culture, food, and what it means to revamp one’s life. Includes dozens of new recipes.

When David Lebovitz began the project of updating his apartment in his adopted home city, he never imagined he would encounter so much inexplicable red tape while contending with perplexing work ethic and hours. Lebovitz maintains his distinctive sense of humor with the help of his partner Romain, peppering this renovation story with recipes from his Paris kitchen. In the midst of it all, he reveals the adventure that accompanies carving out a place for yourself in a foreign country—under baffling conditions—while never losing sight of the magic that inspired him to move to the City of Light many years ago, and to truly make his home there.

 

Book #3: 

The Gifted SchoolThe Gifted School  by Bruce Holsinger (Length: 462 pages).  This was such a FUN read.  It reminded me of Big, Little Lies, and I could see this also being made into a TV movie or series.  I’m not a fan of the parents in this novel, but you’re not supposed to be, I don’t think.  I see people I know in this book which is interesting.  😉  There is a well-structured plot with a surprising twist, which I always enjoy.  I found the resolution to be satisfying as well.  This would be a GREAT book club book–lots to discuss and maybe even lots to learn from.  

From the publisher:

Smart and juicy, a compulsively readable novel about a previously happy group of friends and parents that is nearly destroyed by their own competitiveness when an exclusive school for gifted children opens in the community

This deliciously sharp novel captures the relentless ambitions and fears that animate parents and their children in modern America, exploring the conflicts between achievement and potential, talent and privilege.

Set in the fictional town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School is a keenly entertaining novel that observes the drama within a community of friends and parents as good intentions and high ambitions collide in a pile-up with long-held secrets and lies. Seen through the lens of four families who’ve been a part of one another’s lives since their kids were born over a decade ago, the story reveals not only the lengths that some adults are willing to go to get ahead, but the effect on the group’s children, sibling relationships, marriages, and careers, as simmering resentments come to a boil and long-buried, explosive secrets surface and detonate. It’s a humorous, keenly observed, timely take on ambitious parents, willful kids, and the pursuit of prestige, no matter the cost.

Book #4: 

The SilkwormThe Silkworm  by Robert Galbraith (Length: 465 pages).  I am already a true Cormoran Strike fan, just after reading book #1, and now I’m even more of a fan.  JK Rowling (the actual author) excels at creating exciting plots with many twists and turns, as well as well-drawn characters with depth and detailed backstories.  I love Cormoran and his assistant Robin even more now.  In this particular mystery I didn’t see the solution until it was revealed, which I love!  It’s very smartly done.  It IS a very long book (an 8 hour Kindle read!) but no pages, or even words, are wasted here.  This would be an excellent novel to read on a long plane ride, or even on the beach.  I couldn’t wait to pick this book up at the end of the day, and found myself thinking about it during the day–always a sign of a good read!  (I would definitely advise reading the first book in this series before starting this one, although it could be read standing alone).  

From the publisher:

Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo’s Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days–as he has done before–and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.
When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…
A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

Book #5: 

Maybe you should talk to someoneMaybe You Should Talk to Someone  by Lori Gottlieb (Length: 433 pages).  I’ve had this book on hold at my local library for ages, and it was worth the wait!  It’s SO good!  It’s a memoir of sorts, written by a psychologist, and she talks about both her life as well as a handful of her clients and their actual therapy sessions.  I enjoyed reading about the juxtaposition between what she was dealing with personally as well as professionally.  She also discusses and explains some psychology theories which I find fascinating.  This book is SO interesting, and very well-written.  I can absolutely see why it’s being developed into a TV show.  

From the publisher:

From a New York Times best-selling author, psychotherapist, and national advice columnist, a hilarious, thought-provoking, and surprising new book that takes us behind the scenes of a therapist’s world–where her patients are looking for answers (and so is she).

One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose of­fice she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives — a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys — she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.

Book #6: 

RecursionRecursion  by Blake Crouch (Length: 324 pages).  I was very excited to finally get my hands on this book, as I really enjoyed Dark Matter by this author.  This novel is similar to the previous novel as it’s got a fast-paced plot with lots of forward (and backward) movement.  It’s enjoyable so long as you don’t get bogged down into the “how” it’s all happening.  Lots of theoretical physics, time travel, neuroscience and wormholes . . . all of which is WAY above my head, but I was able to suspend any disbelief (of what I actually understand is possible) and just go along for the ride.  The two major characters in this book are pretty likeable but don’t read this for any major character development.  

From the publisher:

“A time-twisting, mind-bending novel, perfect for summer reading.”—The New York Times Book Review

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Book #7:

The White DarknessThe White Darkness  by David Grann (Length: 142 pages).  I’m not sure where I first heard about this novella but I’m glad I picked it up.  I’m a sucker for any type of adventure memoir, and this one fits the bill.  I remember reading (and loving) Endurance by Alfred Lansing, about Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to reach the South Pole.  This is a modern-day version of that journey.  While not written by the adventurer himself, this author does an excellent job of sharing Worsley’s story of why he wanted to finish the cross-Antarctica journey started by Ernest Shackleton all those years earlier.  This book ends with Worsley’s solo attempt to cross Antarctica in 2015.  Definitely worth a read if you’re an armchair adventurer like me!

From the publisher:

Henry Worsley was a devoted husband and father and a decorated British special forces officer who believed in honor and sacrifice. He was also a man obsessed. He spent his life idolizing Ernest Shackleton, the nineteenth-century polar explorer, who tried to become the first person to reach the South Pole, and later sought to cross Antarctica on foot. Shackleton never completed his journeys, but he repeatedly rescued his men from certain death, and emerged as one of the greatest leaders in history.

Worsley felt an overpowering connection to those expeditions. He was related to one of Shackleton’s men, Frank Worsley, and spent a fortune collecting artifacts from their epic treks across the continent. He modeled his military command on Shackleton’s legendary skills and was determined to measure his own powers of endurance against them. He would succeed where Shackleton had failed, in the most brutal landscape in the world.

In 2008, Worsley set out across Antarctica with two other descendants of Shackleton’s crew, battling the freezing, desolate landscape, life-threatening physical exhaustion, and hidden crevasses. Yet when he returned home he felt compelled to go back. On November 13, 2015, at age 55, Worsley bid farewell to his family and embarked on his most perilous quest: to walk across Antarctica alone.

David Grann tells Worsley’s remarkable story with the intensity and power that have led him to be called “simply the best narrative nonfiction writer working today.” Illustrated with more than fifty stunning photographs from Worsley’s and Shackleton’s journeys, The White Darkness is both a gorgeous keepsake volume and a spellbinding story of courage, love, and a man pushing himself to the extremes of human capacity.

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.

 

Book Reviews–June 2019 Part Two

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: 

Whose BodyWhose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (Length: 208 pages).  This novel is the first in the Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery series.  To be honest, I only made it 25% of the way in and I gave up.  The prose is VERY British, which I normally adore, but I think there is just too much slang which slows me down too much.  I also found the book to be way too long-winded, especially in terms of the dialogue.  Apparently this series gets much better a few books in (like Louise Penny and her Three Pines series–my all-time favorite mystery series), but with so many books waiting for me and so little time, I can’t waste reading time on books I’m not really getting into.  Have you enjoyed this book or this series?  Let me know and maybe I’ll give it another shot.  

From the publisher:

The first novel by one of the greatest mystery writers of the twentieth century, in which she introduced her popular amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey.

A famous London financier vanishes from his bedroom, leaving no trace. Across town, a corpse is found in an architect’s bathtub, wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez. The body is not that of the missing financier, so–whose body is it? When Lord Peter Wimsey is asked by his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, to help clear her architect of suspicion, he eagerly obliges. With the assistance of his valet, Bunter, a skilled amateur photographer, he quickly becomes convinced that the two cases are linked, despite the skepticism of the police. But what begins as an amusing puzzle takes on darker overtones, as Lord Peter wrestles with intrusive memories of his traumatic service in the trenches of World War I–and as his own life is endangered by the murderer he is about to unmask.

Book #2: 

The Mysterious affair at stylesThe Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Length: 208 pages).   After not enjoying Whose Body, I was still in the mood for a British mystery so I turned to the Queen of Mysteries.  I’ve never read a Hercules Poirot so I started at the beginning with the first in the series, and I really enjoyed it.  I adore Christie’s writing style and I do like Poirot as a central character.  I enjoyed how unfailingly polite he is (even to the doltish narrator, Mr. Hastings).  Poirot is always sharp and thinking 10 steps ahead, which appeals to the lawyer in me.  This particular novel is a quick read, with a solid mystery at its center, and as a reader you get to know all of the potential suspects sufficiently, yet all of the clues are laid out very efficiently and not laboriously.  Christie gets to the point!

From the publisher:

Hercule Poirot solves his first case in the Agatha Christie novel that started it all.

Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorp and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary—from the heiress’s fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary.

With impeccable timing, and making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case.

Book #3:  

Class Mom

 

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman (Length: 302 pages).  This is a FUN, light-hearted book.  It’s a quintessential “beach read” written by a Hollywood insider mom (the wife of TV producer Michael Gelman).  It’s definitely not an academically classical novel by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s well-written and worth your time.  The emails written by the narrator as the class mom of her kindergarten son cracked this recovering class mom up.  (My tone as class mom was definitely similar but I never had the nerve to go as far as the narrator does in this novel.)  I agree with other reviewers that the plot line, such as it is, is think and a bit cheesy, but the novel is redeemed, in my opinion, by the strength of the writing.  The narrator is 46 with two college-aged daughters and a son (from her second marriage) just starting kindergarten, so she has an interesting perspective as an older and “second-time around” mom, which I found refreshing.  She’s not annoying or whiney, but is snarky with a good and empathetic heart.  Worth a read!  (I’ve already reserved the sequel to this one!)

From the publisher:

Laurie Gelman’s clever debut novel about a year in the life of a kindergarten class mom—a brilliant send-up of the petty and surprisingly cutthroat terrain of parent politics.

Jen Dixon is not your typical Kansas City kindergarten class mom—or mom in general. Jen already has two college-age daughters by two different (probably) musicians, and it’s her second time around the class mom block with five-year-old Max—this time with a husband and father by her side. Though her best friend and PTA President sees her as the “wisest” candidate for the job (or oldest), not all of the other parents agree.

From recording parents’ response times to her emails about helping in the classroom, to requesting contributions of “special” brownies for curriculum night, not all of Jen’s methods win approval from the other moms. Throw in an old flame from Jen’s past, a hyper-sensitive “allergy mom,” a surprisingly sexy kindergarten teacher, and an impossible-to-please Real Housewife-wannabe, causing problems at every turn, and the job really becomes much more than she signed up for.

Relatable, irreverent, and hilarious in the spirit of Maria Semple, Class Mom is a fresh, welcome voice in fiction—the kind of novel that real moms clamor for, and a vicarious thrill-read for all mothers, who will be laughing as they are liberated by Gelman’s acerbic truths.

Book #4: 

The Complete Guide to FastingThe Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung (Length: 304 pages).  Snuck in this book to read up about the science of fasting (to rebut the skeptical comments of a few family members).  I’ve had some incredible luck with intermittent fasting–it’s a Godsend to regulate blood sugar levels in people who get “hangry”.  This book was recommended to me as an excellent resource and read, and I’d agree that this is worth a read.  There are relevant anecdotes, summaries of the solid, legitimate science behind all of the types of fasting.  (With 2/3 of Americans being classified as obese, all fad diets, surgeries and pills would be redeemed irrelevant if people just stopped eating around the clock, causing their insulin levels to remain elevated and stockpiling fat storages.)  The last 1/3 of this book covers how to try fasting safely and effectively, which is a nice bonus.    

From the publisher:

Fasting is not about starving oneself. When done right, it’s an incredibly effective therapeutic approach that produces amazing results regardless of diet plan. In fact, Toronto-based nephrologist Dr. Jason Fung has used a variety of fasting protocols with more than 1,000 patients, with fantastic success. In The Complete Guide to Fasting he has teamed up with international bestselling author and veteran health podcaster Jimmy Moore to explain what fasting is really about, why it’s so important, and how to fast in a way that improves health. Together, they make fasting as a therapeutic approach both practical and easy to understand.

The Complete Guide to Fasting explains:

  • why fasting is actually good for health
  • who can benefit from fasting (and who won’t)
  • the history of fasting
  • the various ways to fast: intermittent, alternate-day, and extended fasting
  • what to expect when starting to fast
  • how to track progress while fasting
  • the weight loss effects of fasting
  • how to ward off potential negative effects from fasting

The book also provides tools to help readers get started and get through their fasts, including a 7-Day Kick-Start Fasting Plan and healing liquid recipes.

Book #5: 

Ladies Who PunchLadies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of the View by Ramin Setoodeh (Length: 316 pages).   Even as a non-viewer of “The View” TV talk show (I’ve only watched a handful of episodes ever), this is such a fascinating, well-written and well-researched book about this seminal talk show that is a cultural touchstone of our political and social lives.  I’ve been a fan of Barbara Walters since my college days when I was a journalism major (for one short semester) and the behind-the-scenes gossip about her and her cohosts over the years is so well done in this book.  Never trashy, and very comprehensive and well-written, this book is an excellent read!

From the publisher:

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES AND WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER

Like Fire & Fury, the gossipy real-life soap opera behind a serious show.

When Barbara Walters launched The View, network executives told her that hosting it would tarnish her reputation. Instead, within ten years, she’d revolutionized morning TV and made household names of her co-hosts: Joy Behar, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But the daily chatfest didn’t just comment on the news. It became the news. And the headlines barely scratched the surface.

Based on unprecedented access, including stunning interviews with nearly every host, award-winning journalist Ramin Setoodeh takes you backstage where the stars really spoke their minds. Here’s the full story of how Star, then Rosie, then Whoopi tried to take over the show, while Barbara struggled to maintain control of it all, a modern-day Lear with her media-savvy daughters. You’ll read about how so many co-hosts had a tough time fitting in, suffered humiliations at the table, then pushed themselves away, feeling betrayed—one nearly quitting during a commercial. Meanwhile, the director was being driven insane, especially by Rosie.

Setoodeh uncovers the truth about Star’s weight loss and wedding madness. Rosie’s feud with Trump. Whoopi’s toxic relationship with Rosie. Barbara’s difficulty stepping away. Plus, all the unseen hugs, snubs, tears—and one dead rodent.

Ladies Who Punch shows why The View can be mimicked and mocked, but it can never be matched.

 

 

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Book Reviews–May 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: 

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller (Length: 353 pages).  I LOVED this book!  After hearing about this book for months, I finally was able to read it.  I could.not.put.it.down.  It really does tell the ultimate story where you cannot wait to find out what happens next.  I possess a basic knowledge of Greek mythology, and I was somewhat familiar with many of the secondary characters in this book, but this novel really sparked an interest in mythology (and this author).  Incredibly detailed characters, an engaging and gripping plot and fantastic details which set the scene so well.  The female perspective of the narrator really makes this book a must read!  

From the publisher:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

Book #2: 

Girl SleuthGirl Sleuth:  Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (Length: 387 pages).  I’m a HUGE Nancy Drew fan (as are most women of my generation), so I was excited to finally read this book.  It’s VERY slow in the beginning (in fact, I’d recommend you skim the first 5 chapters).  My love of this seminal mystery series was absolutely re-ignited after reading this excellent peek into the authors who created this series, as well as the world of ghost-writing and publishing.  I recommend this as a library book, and only for true fans of this sweet series.  

From the publisher:

An Edgar Award Winner for Best Biography and a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year

The plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930—and eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women’s libbers) to enter the pantheon of American culture. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers’ lives. Here, in a narrative with all the page-turning pace of Nancy’s adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?

The brainchild of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over her father’s business empire as CEO. In this century-spanning, “absorbing and delightful” story, the author traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman (The Wall Street Journal).

Book #3: 

Tell me three thingsTell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum (Length: 332 pages).  This is the second YA novel by this author I’ve read.  (I read and reviewed What to Say Next in February of this year.)  I think I loved this novel even more than the first one I read.  I really enjoy this author’s writing style, which is good because I have yet another one of her novels ready to go on my Kindle.  She excels in snappy dialogue, cute plots, and a well-developed narrator who is actually both relatable AND likable.  I think this novel is appropriate for ages 13 and up, if you’re considering this for a teen.  

From the publisher:

Funny and romantic, this tug-at-your-heartstrings contemporary YA debut is perfect for readers of Rainbow Rowell, Jennifer Niven, and E. Lockhart.

Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week as a junior at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Book #4: 

The RiverThe River by Peter Heller (Length: 273 pages).  Wow.  Just wow.  This is a fantastic book!!  It’s a very fast-paced adventure (I read it in 2.5 hours, just one sitting), and your heartrate will absolutely increase as you read it.  😉  The author paints an incredible scene (on a river in Canada) and a very vivid sense of place, between the river and lakes, as well as the surrounding nature.   However, he develops the two main characters just as carefully, and you immediately respect and care about them.  This would make an excellent movie!  A must read this summer.    

From the publisher:

From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars, the story of two college students on a wilderness canoe trip–a gripping tale of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence

Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in Colorado where sleeping under the stars and cooking on a fire came as naturally to him as breathing. When they decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries, and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman? From this charged beginning, master storyteller Peter Heller unspools a headlong, heart-pounding story of desperate wilderness survival.

Book Reviews–April 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.  (Disclosure I use Amazon affiliate links to help pay for the costs of this website.  Any and all posts on this site may contain affiliate links (which will not affect your cost).  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: 

The Library at the Edge of the WorldThe Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes McCoy (Length: 368 pages).  I really, really wanted to love this book more than I did.  Libraries, Ireland, a bookmobile, fixing up a dilapidated cottage on the coast),  . . . this has all of the makings of my ideal novel.  The first half of this book is glacially slow, with too many extraneous details about characters that we don’t even read much about.  (Although because this is the first book in the series, perhaps the author is using this book to introduce characters to come?)   Also, I was not a fan of the protagonist.  I found her to be sullen, whiny and a bit spoiled.  The novel did pick up a bit in the second half, and the plot piqued my interest enough to continue reading, but I have to admit that would only continue reading this series if I was desperate for more books to read.

From the publisher:

In the bestselling tradition of Fannie Flagg and Jenny Colgan comes Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s U.S. debut about a local librarian who must find a way to rebuild her community and her own life in this touching, enchanting novel set on Ireland’s stunning West Coast.

As she drives her mobile library van between villages of Ireland’s West Coast, Hanna Casey tries not to think about a lot of things. Like the sophisticated lifestyle she abandoned after finding her English barrister husband in bed with another woman. Or that she’s back in Lissbeg, the rural Irish town she walked away from in her teens, living in the back bedroom of her overbearing mother’s retirement bungalow. Or, worse yet, her nagging fear that, as the local librarian and a prominent figure in the community, her failed marriage and ignominious return have made her a focus of gossip.

With her teenage daughter, Jazz, off traveling the world and her relationship with her own mother growing increasingly tense, Hanna is determined to reclaim her independence by restoring a derelict cottage left to her by her great-aunt. But when the threatened closure of the Lissbeg Library puts her personal plans in jeopardy, Hanna finds herself leading a battle to restore the heart and soul of the Finfarran Peninsula’s fragmented community. And she’s about to discover that the neighbors she’d always kept at a distance have come to mean more to her than she ever could have imagined.

Told with heart and abundant charm, The Library at the Edge of the World is a joyous story about the meaning of home and the importance of finding a place where you truly belong.

Book #2: 

The Mountain Between UsThe Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin (Length: 338 pages).  I have come to think of Charles Martin novels as junk food books that actually make you feel good after reading them.  Whenever I want a quick read that I can’t put down, I’ll be turning to a Charles Martin book.  This pick is no exception.  The first 100 pages are a bit slow-going, which is unusual for Martin’s books, but then my reading pace picked up rapidly thereafter.  There is a bit of a twist at the end, but with this novel, it really is more about the journey.  The characters are well-developed, and I could actually picture it as a movie while reading (it actually is!), which is always a good sign of vivid imagery and excellent word choice.  Would make a great beach read this summer.  Check this one out! 

From the publisher:

When a blizzard strands them in Salt Lake City, two strangers agree to charter a plane together, hoping to return home; Ben Payne is a gifted surgeon returning from a conference, and Ashley Knox, a magazine writer, is en route to her wedding. But when unthinkable tragedy strikes, the pair find themselves stranded in Utah’s most remote wilderness in the dead of winter, badly injured and miles from civilization. Without food or shelter, and only Ben’s mountain climbing gear to protect themselves, Ashley and Ben’s chances for survival look bleak, but their reliance on each other sparks an immediate connection, which soon evolves into something more.

Days in the mountains become weeks, as their hope for rescue dwindles. How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever? Heart-wrenching and unputdownable, The Mountain Between Us will reaffirm your belief in the power of love to sustain us.

Book #3: 

Kitchens of the Great MidwestKitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal(Length: 312 pages).   This is a collection of short stories, essentially, which I didn’t realize when I purchased it for my Kindle.  It came highly recommended (although I can’t remember by who), so I was disappointed to not enjoy this book.  One common character is a part of each short story, and each story has a bit of a culinary theme.  The characters are not very likeable, and I honestly only liked one of the stories.  I made it halfway through this book, but I ultimately gave up . . . and I really, really dislike not finishing any book I read. 😦   Life is just too short to waste on books that aren’t your jam.  I may go back and finish this someday, but I doubt it. 

(I have since started Circe by Madeline Miller, and I’m already looking forward to picking it up and reading it each day.  I’ll post my final review in my May post).  

From the publisher: When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

Book Reviews–March 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.  (Disclosure I use Amazon affiliate links to help pay for the costs of this website.  Any and all posts on this site may contain affiliate links (which will not affect your cost).  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: 

The DreamersThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Length: 304 pages).  This novel has such an interesting premise . . . a sleeping disease infects a small college town (called Santa Lora, interestingly enough) in California.  Several people die because it’s an airborne virus that spreads quickly.  The writing in this novel is excellent, almost lyrical in parts, and the author paints vivid portraits of the characters throughout the novel.  However, the plot is a little disjointed, so that may be annoying to some readers.  Overall I found this book to be very readable, and I was satisfied by the ending; however, I do agree with other reviewers that this book feels a bit unfinished.  (Perhaps the author is setting us up for a sequel?)  This quick, fun read is a perfect beach book pick, if you don’t mind a bit of death with your fun in the sun.  😉

From the publisher:

One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.

Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life—if only we are awakened to them.

Book #2:  

Death at breakfastDeath at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon (Length: 293 pages). I wanted to love this mystery much more than I ended up liking it.  I thought it would center around the two middle-aged female characters who were acting as amateur sleuths at a bed and breakfast.  However, the author goes off on long-winded tangents on every other character, giving short shrift to Maggie and Hope.  Plus, there were two more private detective type characters called in, randomly.  These diversions and extraneous characters made the plot a bit confusing to follow, which is unfortunate.   I may continue with this series in the hopes that it becomes more focused on Maggie and Hope (because this series comes highly recommended and is award-winning), but honestly, there are many other series (such as Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike) that I’d prioritize first in my reading life.  

 

From the publisher:

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing, More Than You Know, and Gossip comes the first entry in a stylish and witty mystery series featuring a pair of unlikely investigators—a shrewd novel of manners with a dark heart of murder at its center, set in small-town New England.

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.

 

Book #3: 

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean (Length: 310 pages).  I really enjoyed this non-fiction book!  The author delivers a well-written account of the 1986 fire in the LA Public Library as well as the history of this library, and public libraries in general.  I will say this book is a bit odd in places (for example, she sets a book on fire as an experiment) but it’s incredibly well-researched and very readable.  This book has absolutely increased my appreciation for libraries, which I didn’t think was even possible.  I should have been a librarian! 

From the publisher: 

A WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR * A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018

A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

Book #4: 

FreefallFreefall by Jessica Barry (Length: 356 pages).   This is a very fast, fun read, and sometimes I’m in the mood for a compulsively readable book where I can let my brain run on autopilot.  Definitely a great beach, vacation read!  However, I will say that there are very obvious clues to the mystery which eliminated the element of surprise entirely.  Moreover, there were a few editing/context errors which were very distracting (and rudely interrupted my autopilot reading mode).  For example, a character opens a drawer for an address book and then pulls it down from a shelf.  What?  (Publishers:  I love to edit–call me!)  

From the publisher:

They say your daughter is dead.

You know they’re wrong.

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, everyone assumes Allison Carpenter is dead.

But Maggie, Allison’s mother back home in Owl Creek, Maine, refuses to believe them. Maggie knows her daughter – or she used to, anyway. For the past two years, the two women have been estranged, and while Maggie doesn’t know anything about Ally’s life now – not even why she was on a private plane to begin with – she still believes in her girl’s strength, and in their love for each other.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers about the world Allison has been involved in. What was she running from? And can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a heart-stopping, propulsive thriller about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and the ones they love.

 

Book #5: 

HeavyHeavy by Kiese Laymon (Length: 257  pages).  Whoa.  This memoir is heavy in more ways than one.  This account of the author growing up as a black boy in Mississippi is gripping, and eye-opening in all of the ways we need right now.  This book is written as a letter to the author’s mother, a brilliant woman in academia who is in the throes of an addiction (that isn’t what you think it is).  Laymon’s weight issues are a running theme throughout, but it’s the author’s brilliant writing that will (and should) make you squirm.  In today’s political, and social climate, this book is a must-read.  

From the publisher:

Named a Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed (Nonfiction), The Undefeated, Library Journal (Biography/Memoirs), The Washington Post (Nonfiction), Southern Living (Southern), Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times Critics*

In this powerful, provocative, and universally lauded memoir—winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and finalist for the Kirkus Prize—genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon “provocatively meditates on his trauma growing up as a black man, and in turn crafts an essential polemic against American moral rot” (Entertainment Weekly).

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a “gorgeous, gutting…generous” (The New York Times) memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon’s experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.