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.

September 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:    

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (Length: 302 pages).   I really enjoyed this collection of autobiographical essays after all was said and done.  Glennon Doyle is married to the former soccer player Abby Wambaugh, who she started dating after Doyle and her husband divorced.  I feel like I’ve read the essays in the first third of the book somewhere on social media before, so I wasn’t very impressed when I first began reading.  However the second half of the book the content and the quality of the writing began to pick up quite a bit.  Doyle is a very thoughtful and talented writer.  Her political and theological essays are my favorite in this collection.  I do think every reader will learn something from her, for sure.  

 

 

 

Book #2:

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Length: 304 pages).  This is a fascinating (fictionalized) account of the Chinese immigrant experience in New York City, told from the perspective of a young daughter of a widow.  This is very plot-driven as the reader is carried along on the pair’s journey from Hong Kong to New York, and then as the protagonist daughter navigates elementary through high school, all while working for pennies in a garment factory.   The writing is just okay here, in fact I think it’s almost juvenile, but I couldn’t put it down because I “had” to find out what happened to Kimberly Chang.  This might be an interesting book club pick, especially post the American Dirt fad.  

 

 

 

Book #3:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Length: 350 pages).   This is my book club’s September pick, and I was immediately intrigued with the premise of the novel.  Black twins separated from one another on the cusp of true adulthood, both with vastly different adult experiences.  The interesting twist here is that due to their skin color, the twins both can “pass” as Caucasian women, and one does.  So the one twin passing as white is literally eavesdropping on the racist attitudes of her community, and even acts racist herself to fit in.  The writing here is excellent, especially the character development of the twins.  Obviously the novel is also very plot-driven because the reader wants to find out if the twins are ever reunited.  This is a fantastic book club pick because it will generate interesting and very thought-provoking discussions on race in America.  

August 2020–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1

Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman (Length: 338 pages).   If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you are already aware of my obsession with the Appalachian Trail, and all first-person accounts written by people who’ve actually been able to hike this 2200 mile trail, which stretches north from Georgia to Maine. I enjoyed the parts of this book where the author focuses on the actual hike. He is a very strong hiker, has a likeable personality, and he’s able to meet a variety of interesting people on the trail. He shares a lot of good details about the hike such as what type of food he actually ate, which shelters he stayed in, and his equipment that he found to be helpful. The other parts of the book discuss his desire to “save” people by them finding Jesus. It’s not overwhelming throughout most of the book, however, because it’s relevant to his personal background (he’s a Mennonite). I will say by the end of the book it became too distracting for me as I’m only interested in the nuts and bolts of the through hike. I’d recommend this to anyone who is also interested in this amazing journey. (It’s often on $1.99 Kindle sale on Amazon).

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Book #2

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (304 pages). I really enjoyed this book! Such a fun read that is so different than what I typically read. It’s very spooky and dark, with a splash of melodrama. I could picture the scenery so well thanks to the author’s beautiful writing. The atmospheric writing is boosted by the setting, a remote estate in central Mexico, adjacent to an old silver mine. There are many supernatural elements, along with some eugenics, which makes for an interesting and unusual combination. Excellent character development, but this is also very plot-driven which makes it difficult to put down. This novel is currently being developed for a series (or movie?) on Hulu, and I will definitely be interested in watching. I highly recommend this read! (A good book club and a good travel/vacation read).

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Book #3

Love Lettering by Kath Clayborn (307 pages). I was excited to read this one because I thought the premise was an interesting one . . . a woman in New York City works as a hand-letterer, meaning she is paid to create planners and chalkboard walls and stationery for wealthy customers in the city. However, there is entirely too much navel-gazing in most of the book, and very little plot/conflict. I adore novels set in New York City, and the parts of the book where the author describes all of the little neighborhoods the protagonist visits are my favorite parts. The plot does pick up in the last quarter of the novel, with an interesting (albeit tangential) detour into the world of financial fraud, but it was a little too late for me. The protagonist is altogether too whiny and introspective, but perhaps my opinion is based on my perspective as a woman in middle age, and a twenty-something person can relate much better.

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Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins (366 pages). This is a memoir written by a Navy Seal (AND Army Ranger AND Air Force Tactical Air Controller), plus he’s also been called “The Fittest (Real) Man in America” due to his incredible performance in many endurance races. The purpose of his writing is to motivate the reader to excel in all areas of their lives, not just in areas of physical fitness, and I’d say he succeeds. I came away very impressed by his achievements given his very difficult childhood with almost-insurmountable obstacles, and his writing is relatively strong given the genre. His talent and sheer grit are astounding, but it’s his mental game that I think we can all learn from. Some of his achievements are a bit idiotic (ie, running a 100-mile race with zero training) but it’s a lot of fun to ride along with him as he recounts these exploits. I found many of his rules to be worth taking note of, especially the 40% rule (most of us only work to 40% of what we are capable of doing, and don’t tap into the remaining 60%). This would be an excellent book for anyone to have in their personal library.

August 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Rage Against the Minivan by Kristen Howerton (Length: 226 pages).   This is a combination of a memoir with essays on parenting. As a parent of two teenage girls, most of the essays are not relevant to my current parenting life, but I would have enjoyed reading these even five years ago. The author is a good writer, and I did identify with many of her parenting philosophies, so this book was enjoyable to read. If you are a parent of younger children (10 and younger), this would be a great read for you, or a new parent as a gift.

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Book #2:

All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover (321 pages). I really enjoyed this romance novel. I had read that this was the favorite of many readers who enjoy Hoover’s books, so I was excited to finally read it. It is definitely a romance novel, but it’s not cheesy at all. The construction of the plot makes it a little more interesting as the author alternates the past and present in chapters, switching between the start of a romantic relationship and the demise of that same relationship years later. As the chapters progress, the reader sees how this happens at the same time the characters themselves are being developed. I really enjoyed this writing technique. I wasn’t crazy about the female protagonist as I found she was unbelievably dense and out of touch with the crux of the issues of the relationship, but overall I would definitely recommend this book. This would be fabulous to read on a raft, in a pool, with a fruity drink.

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Book #3:

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple (335 pages). I’ve had this book on my Kindle FOREVER. I finally picked it up because I wanted a light, easy to read novel, and this fit the bill. I found the format to be interesting, as it is comprised of emails, report cards, letters, all of which tell the entire story of the mother, Bernadette, who leaves her husband and daughter. They journey to find her, and we join them for the ride. I’m not a fan of Bernadette at all, as a mother or a person, but I adored the character of Bee, her daughter. The resolution of the plot is excellent here. This is a fast, easy read, that isn’t too deep. But, sometimes, that’s just what we need!

July 2020–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons by Mary Alice Monroe (Length: 464 pages).   This book is the 3rd book in the Beach House series (which I reviewed in June).  I mistakenly skipped the 2nd book, but it turns out it wasn’t  necessary to read that one first.  This novel has the same great storytelling and decent character development as the initial novel in the series.  I was happy to see the same super-interesting (to me, anyway) secondary plot thread regarding the rescue and rehab of loggerhead turtles.  Most of the characters from the first book are mentioned here, which is nice for the sake of continuity and for satisfying my curiosity.  However, there were over a dozen grammatical and spelling errors (which were not typos only present on a Kindle edition).  This was very annoying as the multitude of dumb mistakes (ie, “Prize” possession instead of “prized” possession) interrupted the flow of reading.  Overall, I would recommend this as an easy poolside read if you are a fan of the first book.  

From the publisher:

Toy Sooner has dealt with enough rough waves in her troubled past. It’s only been through the enduring love of a close-knit group of women on this tiny island that she’s finally started to find her footing. But as new challenges in her career arise for this young single mother, the choices and demons of her past will catch up to her. Soon Toy will learn that, like the steadfast sea turtles she cares for, a mother must find the strength within herself to make it safely to shore.

Book #2:

testamentsThe Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Length: 381 pages).  This book is AMAZING!  I would even venture to say it’s better than the first book (The Handmaid’s Tale which I reviewed earlier this month).  Like its predecessor, this novel is also very plot-driven, which makes it an incredibly fast read.  This is written from three different perspectives (an Aunt, a young Canadian citizen and the “daughter” of two Gilead residents), which can get confusing at times.  The writing is excellent, especially the pacing of the plot, and the foreshadowing of what is to come.  This would make an excellent book club pick, especially given that its dystopian elements unfortunately are reminiscent of what we are dealing with in our country today.  

From the publisher:

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE

The Testaments is a modern masterpiece, a powerful novel that can be read on its own or as a companion to Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaid’s Tale.

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia.  Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways.

With The Testaments, Margaret Atwood opens up the innermost workings of Gilead, as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Book #3:

defending jacobDefending Jacob by William Landay (Length: 431 pages).  This was my CrossFit book club’s choice for August.  I thought it was just okay, honestly.  Perhaps because I was a criminal prosecutor I found the legal aspect to be pretty inaccurate and thus, hard to believe.  The mystery at the heart of the plot is decent, but it’s a bit too easy to figure out what is going to happen, which ruins the thrill for me.  The characters aren’t very deep, but that is part of the central mystery, so that can be forgiven.  The resolution is a bit abrupt, which is odd, given the long build up to the end.  This was made into a TV series on Apple TV (starring Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery) and in my opinion, the TV series is a lot better than the book, even with the noticeable differences between the two.  You can watch the series without reading the book, which is what I’d recommend.  

From the publisher:

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for two decades. He is respected. Admired in the courtroom. Happy at home with the loves of his life: his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob. Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a shocking crime: a young boy stabbed to death in a leafy park. And an even greater shock: The accused is Andy’s own son—shy, awkward, mysterious Jacob.

Andy believes in Jacob’s innocence. Any parent would. But the pressure mounts. Damning evidence. Doubt. A faltering marriage. The neighbors’ contempt. A murder trial that threatens to obliterate Andy’s family. It is the ultimate test for any parent: How far would you go to protect your child? It is a test of devotion. A test of how well a parent can know a child. For Andy Barber, a man with an iron will and a dark secret, it is a test of guilt and innocence in the deepest sense.

How far would you go?

July 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

A Hundred SummersA Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (Length: 369 pages).   I loved this book!  This is another novel that I was always thinking about when I wasn’t reading it, and I couldn’t wait to pick it back up (my favorite types of books!).  This is definitely a beach/summer read.  The setting is “Seaview, Rhode Island”, based on an actual island of a different name, which was the actual location of the 1938 hurricane. This is a romance which bounces between 1932 and 1938.  It’s fast-paced, a love triangle with well-developed characters, with a bit of a mystery plotline in the background.  The New England society setting, plus New York City and an island, with surprise twists makes this a definite yes!  Let me know if you’ve read it.  I’m going to be checking out Williams’ other novels based on how much I liked this one.  

From the publisher:

Lily Dane has returned to Seaview, Rhode Island, where her family has summered for generations. It’s an escape not only from New York’s social scene but from a heartbreak that still haunts her. Here, among the seaside community that has embraced her since childhood, she finds comfort in the familiar rituals of summer.

But this summer is different. Budgie and Nick Greenwald—Lily’s former best friend and former fiancé—have arrived, too, and Seaview’s elite are abuzz. Under Budgie’s glamorous influence, Lily is seduced into a complicated web of renewed friendship and dangerous longing.

As a cataclysmic hurricane churns north through the Atlantic, and uneasy secrets slowly reveal themselves, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional storm that will change their worlds forever…

Book #2:

The JetsettersThe Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward (Length: 318 pages).   This was my CrossFit book club’s choice for July.  It is VERY reminiscent of The Floating Feldmans which I have already reviewed on this blog.  (I preferred the latter book for sure).  There are similar characters, similar family dynamics, but The Floating Feldmans is much funnier and well-written.  I did enjoy the various ports of call in this novel, including Rome, Malta, Florence, etc.  The adult children (and the mother) in this novel are very unlikeable overall, and it’s very obvious how the various plotlines will resolve.  I will say this is a VERY fast read (I read it in one afternoon) so this would be a perfect poolside read, if you’re not expecting much.  My book club universally felt the same way.  

From the publisher:

When seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the Become a Jetsetter contest, she dreams of reuniting her estranged children: Lee, an almost-famous actress; Cord, a handsome Manhattan venture capitalist who can’t seem to find a partner; and Regan, a harried mother who took it all wrong when Charlotte bought her a Weight Watchers gift certificate for her birthday. Charlotte yearns for the years when her children were young, when she was a single mother who meant everything to them.

When she wins the contest, the family packs their baggage—both literal and figurative—and spends ten days traveling from sun-drenched Athens through glorious Rome to tapas-laden Barcelona on an over-the-top cruise ship, the Splendido Marveloso. As lovers new and old join the adventure, long-buried secrets are revealed and old wounds are reopened, forcing the Perkins family to confront the forces that drove them apart and the defining choices of their lives.

Can four lost adults find the peace they’ve been seeking by reconciling their childhood aches and coming back together? In the vein of The Nest and The VacationersThe Jetsetters is a delicious and intelligent novel about the courage it takes to reveal our true selves, the pleasures and perils of family, and how we navigate the seas of adulthood.

Book #3:

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Length: 325 pages).   I’ve FINALLY picked up this excellent dystopian novel, and I’m so glad I did.  This is very well-written, almost lyrical at times.  It’s compulsively readable, in my opinion, as I kept wanting to find out how the major plot line is resolved.  I can absolutely see parallels with what is happening to women and society today, in this novel, specifically with regard to women and Evangelical Christianity.  The ending is a bit mysterious, but that’s okay as I’m able to read The Testaments next.  I found it fascinating that the author based Gilead (the fictional town in this novel) on Cambridge and the university in this novel is based on Harvard.  This would be a fantastic book club choice.  Please read if you haven’t already–you will not regret it.  

From the publisher:

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.

 

Book #4

\My Grandmother Asked MeMy Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman (Length: 385 pages).   I’m clearly obsessed with this author, from A Man Called Ove to Beartown to Us Against You.  I’ve read that readers who also loved Backman, count this book as their all-time favorite.  I’d have to agree–this novel is absolutely delightful!  I adore Elsa, the seven year old narrator, and her relationship with Granny, her maternal grandmother.  This book is so witty and I actually laughed out loud in parts.  I was smiling as I was reading so much of this, which is rare.  I enjoyed the fairy tale angle as well.  (I didn’t enjoy how she kept feeding the dog chocolate throughout–but maybe that’s just me.)  A double thumbs up for this charming novel!  

From the publisher:

A charming, warmhearted novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller A Man Called Ove.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.