Book Reviews–August 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: 

Fitness Junkie

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza (Length: 306 pages).  Well, this one is kind of embarrassing to admit having read, but in my defense, I am a HUGE lover of fitness, and am currently obsessed with CrossFit (with past obsessions with BodyPump and yoga).  I thought I’d read about different types of fitness classes while reading a fun novels–two birds, one stone.  This book was NOT as fun as CrossFit.  Maybe it’s the copyright issues but the authors focused on more made-up types of fitness, and the plot was absolutely ridiculous and silly.  This is a fluff read, with zero substance and not much to redeem itself.  Pass.  

From the Publisher:  From the bestselling authors of The Knockoff, an outrageously funny novel about one woman’s attempt—through clay diets, naked yoga, green juice, and cultish workout classes—to win back her career, save her best friend, and lose thirty pounds.

When Janey Sweet, CEO of a couture wedding dress company, is photographed in the front row of a fashion show eating a bruffin—the delicious lovechild of a brioche and a muffin—her best friend and business partner, Beau, gives her an ultimatum: Lose thirty pounds or lose your job. Sure, Janey has gained some weight since her divorce, and no, her beautifully cut trousers don’t fit like they used to, so Janey throws herself headlong into the world of the fitness revolution, signing up for a shockingly expensive workout pass, baring it all for Free the Nipple yoga, sweating through boot camp classes run by Sri Lankan militants and spinning to the screams of a Lycra-clad instructor with rage issues. At a juice shop she meets Jacob, a cute young guy who takes her dumpster-diving outside Whole Foods on their first date. At a shaman’s tea ceremony she meets Hugh, a silver fox who holds her hand through an ayahuasca hallucination And at a secret exercise studio Janey meets Sara Strong, the wildly popular workout guru whose special dance routine has starlets and wealthy women flocking to her for results that seem too good to be true. As Janey eschews delicious carbs, pays thousands of dollars to charlatans, and is harassed by her very own fitness bracelet, she can’t help but wonder: Did she really need to lose weight in the first place? A hilarious send-up of the health and wellness industry, Fitness Junkie is a glorious romp through the absurd landscape of our weight-obsessed culture.

 

Book #2: 

The Quiet Game

The Quiet Game by Greg Iles (Length: 436 pages).  This is the first book in the series featuring Penn Cage, a former prosecutor turned novelist living in Natchez, Mississippi.  This is a fantastic legal thriller set in the South.  It reminded me of Grisham’s earlier novels in terms of plot and pacing, but this series is much better written.  Iles has a knack for drawing characters with depth, and his plots are a lot more realistic than most.  I highly recommend!

From the publisher: From the author of Mississippi Blood comes the first intelligent, gripping thriller in the #1 New York Times bestselling Series.

Natchez, Mississippi. Jewel of the South. City of old money and older sins. And childhood home of Houston prosecutor Penn Cage. 

In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, this is where Penn has returned for solitude. This is where he hopes to find peace. What he discovers instead is his own family trapped in a mystery buried for thirty years but never forgotten—the town’s darkest secret, now set to trap and destroy Penn as well.

Book #3: 

The Year of Living Danishly

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (Length: 389 pages).   Having visited Copenhagen, Denmark last summer, I was really excited to check out this first-hand account of a woman living in a city outside Copenhagen for a year.  Her husband was hired to work at Lego (!) so she joined him while working at home as a writer.  This was a fascinating look, month by month, of daily life in Denmark, with a detailed examination of the social mores and culture of Danes.  The author tries to get to the bottom of exactly why the country of Denmark has the happiest people in the world.  While the author shares quite a few funny insights, I did find her to be a bit whiny at times, which was off-putting, but I still recommend reading this breezy, enjoyable book.  

From the publisher: When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries.
What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made?

Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.
From childcare, education, food and interior design (not to mention ‘hygge’) to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.

Book Reviews–July 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!

July 2017 Books:

Book #1: 

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance (273 pages).  This book was so hyped up all over the Internet that I was afraid I’d be disappointed when I actually had a chance to read it. Nope–the hype is well-deserved, in my opinion!  This memoir of a boy/young man growing up in Appalachia and then a small town in Ohio is so well-written, well-researched and chock full of facts and statistics that just blew me away.  The writing is never dry, and is full of interesting anecdotes and stories that illustrate the author’s viewpoint about the problems facing our country’s working poor.   Two thumbs up!

From the Publisher:  

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Book #2: 

 Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch (Length: 354 pages).  This sci-fi thriller is absolutely fantastic!  While sci-fi isn’t typically my preferred genre, this book will make ANYONE love sci-fi.  The character of Jason Dessen is crafted with fantastic details, the plot twists will keep you on the edge of your seat while you’re turning pages (up until all hours of the night–fair warning!) and the subject matter is sufficiently brainy that you feel like you’re actually learning something.  I made both of my parents read this immediately after I finished it–and I can’t remember the last time I recommended a book to my retired architect dad.  He loved it too, so it’s dad-approved.  😉

 

From the Publisher: A mindbending, relentlessly surprising thriller from the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy.

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.
 
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.
 
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.” 
 
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
 
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
 
Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Book #3:  

Leave Me

Leave Me by Gayle Forman (Length: 353 pages).  Wow.  Not sure what to think about this one.  The plot is a bit disturbing in that a mom leaves her babies/toddlers and husband after she has a heart attack and returns home to little assistance.  While the story and the characters develop sufficiently for the reader to understand why the protagonist leaves her family to figure out her life, I personally had a hard time empathizing with the main character.  However, it’s a very quick read and it’s well-written.  So there’s that.

From the Publisher: Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention–meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.

Surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: she packs a bag and leaves. But, as is often the case, once we get where we’re going we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from herself and those she loves.

With bighearted characters–husbands, wives, friends, and lovers–who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature. She has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head on and asks, what happens when a grown woman runs away from home?

Book #4:  

The Nest

The Nest by Cynthia Sweeney (Length: 373 pages).  This blockbuster best seller definitely lived up to the hype!  I devoured it in one afternoon, thanks to the richly-drawn characters.  While I didn’t actually like any of them, their interactions with one another and their uber-complicated family dynamics made this novel such an interesting read.  I couldn’t wait to see how the central conflict resolved itself, but in the end, I didn’t care about that as much as I did about the family itself.

From the Publisher:  A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

Book #5:  

One Perfect Lie

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline (Length: 366 pages).   The main plot line is about an ATF agent who goes undercover as a high school baseball coach in a small town.  While I wanted to finish the book to see what happened, I was a bit “meh” about this.  The plot in the second half of this novel felt too forced and rushed, and the characters didn’t always act in ways that are believable.  I’m a Lisa Scottoline fan, but this novel didn’t meet the mark for me.

From the Publisher: On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.  But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.
Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.
Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan’s baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.
Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.
At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it

Book #6:  

Upstairs at the White House

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by JB West and Mary Lynn Kotz (Length: 381 pages).  Wow!  What an interesting memoir written by one of the chief ushers at the White House who worked there for almost 30 years.  His level of detail about the inner goings-on of the presidents and their families from FDR to the Nixons is incredible.  His anecdotes are fascinating as is his perspective as someone serving the various occupants of the White House during his tenure.  This isn’t a quick read, but it’s definitely worth reading!

From the Publisher: J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and, with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, as well as their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state.
 
J. B. West, whom Jackie Kennedy called “one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met,” provides an absorbing, one-of-a-kind history of life among the first ladies. Alive with anecdotes ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt’s fascinating political strategies to Jackie Kennedy’s tragic loss and the personal struggles of Pat Nixon, Upstairs at the White House is a rich account of a slice of American history that usually remains behind closed doors.

 

 

 

Book Reviews-June 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!

June 2017 Books:

Book #1:  

Woman in Cabin 10 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Length: 384 pages).  Having read Ruth Ware’s previous books In a Dark, Dark Wood as well as The Lying Game, I was really interested in reading another mystery novel from this best-selling author.  This novel primarily takes place on a small cruise ship, and reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in the sense that the reader needs to eliminate potential suspects within a small space to solve the mystery.  While I did enjoy the suspenseful build-up in the plot, I did find that I had to suspend my disbelief to continue reading.  The main character’s actions were a bit unrealistic at times, and the mystery was a bit of a dud once I figured it out.  However, it was a fun, mindless read on the whole, and I’d recommend it to someone looking for a fast-paced read whilst on vacation or the beach.

From the Publisher: From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful and haunting novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists, spine-tingling turns, and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another taut and intense read in The Woman in Cabin 10—one that will leave even the most sure-footed reader restlessly uneasy long after the last page is turned.

Book #2: 

Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (370 pages).  I read Stegner’s Angle of Repose a few decades ago, and absolutely loved it.  This author creates literary masterpieces, and this book is no exception.  What I loved about this book is that it’s character-driven and not plot-driven, so I was able to really get to know the characters (whether I liked them or not) and their relationships with each other, and not be worried about what was going to happen next, because honestly, it didn’t matter.  Stegner is also a master of scenery, and I was able to visualize very clearly the gorgeous landscapes surrounding the characters.  While it’s not an “easy” or light read, Crossing to Safety is absolutely a book I’d recommend picking up.

From the Publisher:  Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage.

Book #3: 

I Let You Go

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (377 pages).  I’m a sucker for a good crime novel, and this novel was one of the New York Times Book Review’s top 10 Best Crime Novels of 2016.  As a former criminal prosecutor, I pride myself in being able to figure out whodunnits faster than a layperson, but this one really had me guessing up until the end.  There were a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, and the surprise ending blew me away.  This is a very fast read, and I literally could not put it down.  I definitely recommend reading this novel!

From the Publisher: On a rainy afternoon, a mother’s life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street…

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past.

At the same time, the novel tracks the pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of this hit-and-run. As they chase down one hopeless lead after another, they find themselves as drawn to each other as they are to the frustrating, twist-filled case before them. Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into the Darkest Corner, says, “I read I Let You Go in two sittings; it made me cry (at least twice), made me gasp out loud (once), and above all made me wish I’d written it…a stellar achievement.”

Book #4: 

The Sea Keeper's Daughters

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate (447 pages).  Having traveled to North Carolina and the Outer Banks, I was really excited to read this book as it’s set in the Outer Banks.  It’s also what I think of as a chick-lit book, but with a little more historical accuracy and better writing than I typically find in this genre.  There are two alternating plots and timelines, which I’m not typically a fan of, but they really work here, especially when they come together at the very end of the book.  This was a fun read, and I’m still thinking about some of these characters, even months later, which is a good sign!  

From the Publisher: 

From modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny.

Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at the Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a Depression-era love story change everything?

Book #5: 

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco (257 pages).   I absolutely LOVED this book.  I haven’t read too many political memoirs but this one from President Obama (and Senator Kerry’s) scheduler is definitely making me a fan of this genre.  This book was really well-written and intelligent, and I actually laughed out loud in a few places.  I highly recommend!

From the Publisher:  

Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren’t nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a “White House official” is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).

Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.