Book Reviews–September 2019

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

Book #1: 

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book #2: 

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

Book #3: 

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

From the publisher:

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

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

Book #4:  

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

Book #5: 

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

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

Book #6: 

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

From the publisher:

Do we change or does the world change us?

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

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

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

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

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–October 2017

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

Book #1: 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo  by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Length: 401 pages).  This is a book that absolutely lives up to its hype!  The basic premise concerns a young biographer hired by a retired glamourous Hollywood star, who is telling her story bit by bit.  I was picturing the movie in my head as I was reading, and that speaks to the fantastic character development and attention to detail in this fantastic novel.   This is a true page-turner and it’s a not-to-be-missed read.

From the Publisher: In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Book #2:

Thanks Obama

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (Length: 320 pages).  I absolutely adored this book!  This is a junior speechwriter’s memoir of his 8 years working for both the DNC and President Obama.  The author is VERY witty, intelligent, well-read and literally LOL funny!  One of my favorite excerpts from this book illustrates both this author’s quick-witted writing as well as my personal sense of humor:  

Take prepositions.  Valerie [Jarrett] followed the rule that you could never use one to end a sentence.  I found this unnecessary.  In my own writing, preposition placement isn’t something I lose sleep over.  It belonged to Valerie, and the preposition rule was one about which I did not argue.  

Right?!  How clever is that?  If you get this humor, this book is for you.  I personally loved this book, and would recommend to anyone who appreciates good writing and who enjoys an insider’s look into the White House.   

From the Publisher:  More than any other presidency, Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House were defined by young people – twenty-somethings who didn’t have much experience in politics (or anything else, for that matter), yet suddenly found themselves in the most high-stakes office building on earth. David Litt was one of those twenty-somethings. After graduating from college in 2008, he went straight to the Obama campaign. In 2011, he became one of the youngest White House speechwriters in history. Until leaving the White House in 2016, he wrote on topics from healthcare to climate change to criminal justice reform. As President Obama’s go-to comedy writer, he also took the lead on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the so-called “State of the Union of jokes.”

Now, in this refreshingly honest memoir, Litt brings us inside Obamaworld. With a humorists’ eye for detail, he describes what it’s like to accidentally trigger an international incident or nearly set a president’s hair aflame. He answers questions you never knew you had: Which White House men’s room is the classiest? What do you do when the commander in chief gets your name wrong? Where should you never, under any circumstances, change clothes on Air Force One? With nearly a decade of stories to tell, Litt makes clear that politics is completely, hopelessly absurd.   

But it’s also important. For all the moments of chaos, frustration, and yes, disillusionment, Litt remains a believer in the words that first drew him to the Obama campaign: “People who love this country can change it.” In telling his own story, Litt sheds fresh light on his former boss’s legacy. And he argues that, despite the current political climate, the politics championed by Barack Obama will outlive the presidency of Donald Trump.

Full of hilarious stories and told in a truly original voice, Thanks, Obama is an exciting debut about what it means – personally, professionally, and politically – to grow up.

Book #3:

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill (Length: 427 pages).   True confession: I’ve always been fascinated with the mindset of those who join and belong to cults and evangelical-type religions.  I’m currently obsessed with Leah Remini’s “Scientology and the Aftermath” the Emmy-award winning show on A&E, so when this Kindle book popped up on an Amazon Daily Deal, I decided to check it out.  This is an incredibly interesting and detailed account of the life of someone born into Scientology, who also happens to be the niece of the “Chairman” of Scientology, David Miscavige.  The content of this book is fascinating, but fair warning that there are lots of spelling and grammatical errors (at least in the Kindle edition) which I found to be distracting at times.  Of course, the author never received formal schooling so maybe that explains it?  😉   Definitely worth your time if you’re interested in a unique perspective of this insane religious cult.

From the Publisher:  Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, was raised as a Scientologist but left the controversial religion in 2005. In Beyond Belief, she shares her true story of life inside the upper ranks of the sect, details her experiences as a member Sea Org—the church’s highest ministry, speaks of her “disconnection” from family outside of the organization, and tells the story of her ultimate escape.

In this tell-all memoir, complete with family photographs from her time in the Church, Jenna Miscavige Hill, a prominent critic of Scientology who now helps others leave the organization, offers an insider’s profile of the beliefs, rituals, and secrets of the religion that has captured the fascination of millions, including some of Hollywood’s brightest stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Book Reviews–September 2017

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

Book #1: 

Turning Angel

 

Turning Angel by Greg Iles (Length: 672 pages).   This is the second novel in the Penn Cage series.  The best friend of Penn Cage stands accused of the murder of a 17 year old high school student.  The author really does a fantastic job, once again, of painting very vivid scenes of this Southern town and culture, and the plot is fast-paced.  This page turner features some fantastic plot points, which kept me guessing as a reader.  I’d definitely recommend this book in the series.  

From the PublisherTurning Angel marks the long-awaited return of Penn Cage, the lawyer hero of The Quiet Game, and introduces Drew Elliott, the highly respected doctor who saved Penn’s life in a hiking accident when they were boys. As two of the most prominent citizens of Natchez, Drew and Penn sit on the school board of their alma mater, St. Stephen’s Prep. When the nude body of a young female student is found near the Mississippi River, the entire community is shocked—but no one more than Penn, who discovers that his best friend was entangled in a passionate relationship with the girl and may be accused of her murder.

On the surface, Kate Townsend seems the most unlikely murder victim imaginable. A star student and athlete, she’d been accepted to Harvard and carried the hope and pride of the town on her shoulders. But like her school and her town, Kate also had a secret life—one about which her adult lover knew little. When Drew begs Penn to defend him, Penn allows his sense of obligation to override his instinct and agrees. Yet before he can begin, both men are drawn into a dangerous web of blackmail and violence. Drew reacts like anything but an innocent man, and Penn finds himself doubting his friend’s motives and searching for a path out of harm’s way.

More dangerous yet is Shad Johnson, the black district attorney whose dream is to send a rich white man to death row in Mississippi. At Shad’s order, Drew is jailed, the police cease hunting Kate’s killer, and Penn realizes that only by finding Kate’s murderer himself can he save his friend’s life.

With his daughter’s babysitter as his guide, Penn penetrates the secret world of St. Stephen’s, a place that parents never see, where reality veers so radically from appearance that Penn risks losing his own moral compass. St. Stephen’s is a dark mirror of the adult world, one populated by steroid-crazed jocks, girls desperate for attention, jaded teens flirting with nihilism, and hidden among them all—one true psychopath. It is Penn’s journey into the heart of his alma mater that gives Turning Angel its hypnotic power, for on that journey he finds that the intersection of the adult and nearly adult worlds is a dangerous place indeed. By the time Penn arrives at the shattering truth behind Kate Townsend’s death, his quiet Southern town will never be the same.

Book #2:

Gods in Alabama

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (Length: 320 pages).   I’ve got conflicting feelings about this book.  While I don’t think I’m overly judgmental (and I’m as liberal as they come), I found myself absolutely shocked at the protagonist’s behavior as a high school girl (shown in vivid flashbacks), as I found it to be very disturbing.  The protagonist isn’t likeable at all, but the author’s writing did cause me to keep reading.  I particularly enjoyed the witty repartee between various characters and it’s this appropriately-paced and well-written dialogue that ultimately redeems the book to me in the end.  While I don’t wholeheartedly recommend it (and absolutely not if you’re particularly conservative), I am glad I took the time to read it and to finish it.  

From the Publisher:  For 10 years Arlene has kept her promises, and God has kept His end of the bargain. Until now.  When an old schoolmate from Possett turns up at Arlene’s door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene’s break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist) Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption.

Book #3: 

The Marriage Lie

The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle (Length: 352 pages).   I picked up this book because of the various reviewers’ comparisons of this novel to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl.   While neither of those books were favorite reads of mine (I’ll save those reviews for another day), I do enjoy a well-written psychological thriller or mystery, and I was really hoping this would be worth a read.  And it was!  This book was an absolute page-turner, and kept me guessing until the very end.  While this isn’t the best writing I’ve ever read, it wasn’t bad to the point of being distracting (ain’t no one got time for that!) and the author’s development of the main characters was excellent here.  I found the ending to be very satisfying (after my heart calmed down enough to process it).  Definitely worth a read! 

From the Publisher:   Everyone has secrets… Iris and Will have been married for seven years, and life is as close to perfect as it can be. But on the morning Will flies out for a business trip to Florida, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt: another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers. 

Grief stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. Why did Will lie about where he was going? And what else has he lied about? As Iris sets off on a desperate quest to uncover what her husband was keeping from her, the answers she finds shock her to her very core.

Book #4

Final cover.indd

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith (Length: 434 pages).   Full disclosure: this is a YA (young adult) novel.  I do try to preview some novels for my tween daughter, and often I get sucked in if the plot or characters are well-written enough.  This is one of those books that’s appropriate for tweens but it’s also fun to read for adults.  I really enjoyed the lottery winner angle of the book and I kept reading further to see how the characters were affected by such a huge windfall of money.  While the romance is a bit cheesy (as YA novel romances should be, in my opinion), the author does manage to make the main characters three-dimensional enough to be very interesting and to make the reader feel empathy for the events that affect the characters.  Pick this up for a tween or teen you know and read it too!

From the Publisher:  Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.

At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.

As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect. 

Book #5:

The Devils Punchbowl

The Devil’s Punchbowl by Greg Iles (Length: 594 pages).   Um.  This one is tough.  This is the third novel in the Penn Cage series, and it’s another extremely well-written thriller, with very interesting characters.  Having said that, the subject matter (dog-fighting and violence against women) make this one gruesome read.  While I think these are two issues that should be written about (and arguably are somewhat related), even as a retired criminal prosecutor, I didn’t have the stomach to read some passages of this book.  However, if you are able to handle these topics, they definitely are not gratuitous in any way to this novel, and in fact are part of what makes this novel such a page-turner.   Let me know what you think if you take a chance on this one!

From the Publisher:  From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Penn Cage series comes an electrifying thriller that reveals a world of depravity, sex, violence, and the corruption of a Southern town. As a prosecuting attorney in Houston, Penn Cage sent hardened killers to death row. But it is as mayor of his hometown—Natchez, Mississippi—that Penn will face his most dangerous threat. Urged by old friends to try to restore this fading jewel of the Old South, Penn has ridden into office on a tide of support for change. But in its quest for new jobs and fresh money, Natchez, like other Mississippi towns, has turned to casino gambling, and now five fantastical steamboats float on the river beside the old slave market at Natchez like props from Gone With the Wind.

But one boat isn’t like the others. Rumor has it that the Magnolia Queen has found a way to pull the big players from Las Vegas to its Mississippi backwater. And with them—on sleek private jets that slip in and out of town like whispers in the night—come pro football players, rap stars, and international gamblers, all sharing an unquenchable taste for one thing: blood sport—and the dark vices that go with it. When a childhood friend of Penn’s who brings him evidence of these crimes is brutally murdered, the full weight of Penn’s failure to protect his city hits home. So begins his quest to find the men responsible. But it’s a hunt he begins alone, for the local authorities have been corrupted by the money and power of his hidden enemy.