Showing posts with label arc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arc. Show all posts

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb


Title: I'll Take You There
Author: Wally Lamb
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Source: copy received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.


My Review:

It's no secret that I am a huge Wally Lamb fan, and have been for some time.  As mentioned in previous reviews of his work, he sets all of his fiction in and around the not-so-fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut.  I say "not-so-fictional" because if you're a southeastern CT native (like me!), you can see that Three Rivers mirrors Norwich, CT rather closely (and Three Rivers is the name of the community college in that town).  Anyway, I always get a kick out of seeing familiar landmarks in Lamb's writing, and that paired with his talent for crafting intense family dramas has made me a long-time Lamb fan.

So, here comes his new release!  And of course I'm all over it.  To be honest, didn't even really read the description that closely.  Wally Lamb is just one of those authors where I know when I see his name on a cover, I want to read it.

In the end, I found this novel to be quite different from his other fiction work.  A few points of difference were obvious early on: this novel is quite a bit shorter than his others, so the prose is a bit more succinct, the characters less fleshed out.  Also, ghosts.  There are ghosts in this book.  Totally was not expecting the supernatural element (my fault, like I said...I should have read the description!).  While it wasn't my favorite thing about the novel, I did appreciate how Lamb used the ghosts to teach readers about an often-forgotten segment of Hollywood's history (that of its early female directors).  Even beyond the ghosts, there is quite a bit of thought-provoking history woven into this novel, and that was one of its biggest strengths.

However, the biggest difference between this book and Lamb's others, for me, was its lack of subtlety.  This is not a novel that encourages you to think very hard, which was a big disappointment for me as a reader.  The overarching themes of the novel (women's rights, feminism, etc) are hammered so hard, I had a headache by page 10.  I'm not saying that these themes aren't relevant and important (hi, talking to you, President-Elect), but I wish they had been allowed to flower within the prose more naturally.  Instead, because the novel was so much shorter than Lamb's others, I quickly wondered if that meant he had to do away with the thoughtful, more drawn-out narrative that fans of his work are likely used to, and instead fell back on this more directive writing to make sure his points got across.

Overall, this was an enlightening read, and Lamb proves that he still has his flair for historic detail and convoluted family relationships.  However, I have to admit that it's likely my least favorite of his fiction works thus far.  For me, that still means 3 stars on Goodreads though!  This may work for someone who wants to try a Lamb novel but is not ready for one of his longer tomes.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?


Friday, October 7, 2016

The Brady Bunch Gone Bad in Commonwealth by Ann Patchett


Title: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source: copy received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.


My Review:

Add it to the "best of 2016" list!  Commonwealth left me enthralled from page 1.  If you've enjoyed Ann Patchett's books in the past (Bel Canto left an impression on me, making her newest novel sound all the more attractive), or if you just love a good family saga, this is your next read.

The family structure here is a bit more complex than "Brady Bunch gone bad," but I couldn't help thinking of America's favorite blended family as I read about the Keating/Cousins kids, who are pretty much the antithesis of the beloved Bradys.  The fateful christening party mentioned in the book's description is the dynamite that blows this family in so many different directions.  Patchett shows you this initial explosion, and then gives you a glimpse of how this affected each member of the family over the subsequent decades.  The story is rich with regrets and guilt that will leave you wondering--what would have happened if Bert and Beverly never met on that first day?  Would it have been for the better, or the worse?

If I had to pick one thing that makes this novel stand out, it's the fluidity as Patchett transitions between characters.  There are SO many family members in the Keating/Cousins clan that it does, admittedly, get confusing at times.  However, this made it all the more impressive that the narrative was able to move from one person to the next without requiring a designated chapter for each character (or even a page break, in many cases).  The story lasts just long enough with each family member that your interest never falters, and you end up with a captivating drama that spans generations.

I can't express enough goodness about this book!  Five stars, must read, go go go.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September Reads: Generation Chef, and new Herman Koch

In between all the craziness going on around my house this month, I've actually still managed to READ!  Here's the latest and greatest from 'round these parts lately:

Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner
Avery Books, 2016
copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Hey, remember how I love foodie nonfiction?  Yeah, you probably forgot, because it's been so long since I reviewed any!  But when Generation Chef was offered up to me for review, I absolutely could not resist.  Journalist Karen Stabiner shadowed up-and-coming New York City chef Jonah Miller as he embarked upon his life's dream: opening a restaurant of his own.  As Miller opened the door to his restaurant (Huertas), Stabiner bore witness to everything: the bureaucratic frustrations of real estate, investors, and liquor licenses; the continual management of both kitchen and service employees; the painstaking balance between making a menu that's true to the chef, and one that gets people in the door.  I was fully impressed by the depth of detail that she was able to include--this is one of those nonfiction books that almost reads like fiction, because so much emotion is embedded in the text.
The book stands out for another reason: Stabiner takes the story beyond Miller's journey with Huertas, and weaves in the journeys of other, more seasoned chefs, and how they did (or did not) find success.  All of these side stories compliment the central narrative perfectly, without taking away from the flow of the book.
Generation Chef will amaze you (with Miller's persistence and drive), amuse you (there's a fair amount of restaurant-style humor included), and make you incredibly hungry.  Seriously, if I didn't live 7 hours from NYC, I'd be at Huertas right now ordering nonstop pintxos.  Foodies and nonfiction fans alike will love this read!

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch
Hogarth, 2016
copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

I am doing a bang-up terrible job of turning down ARCs lately, especially those from authors that I've enjoyed in the past.  I know Herman Koch's The Dinner was not for everyone, but I was a huge fan, and Summer House With Swimming Pool worked equally well for me.  I couldn't wait to see what Koch had in store with this latest release, Dear Mr. M, which deals with the disappearance of a high school teacher after he has an affair with one of his students.
Since this is a mini review, the short version is that I did not enjoy this one as much as Koch's other two novels.  It started off in typical Koch fashion: narrator is a creepy, possibly psychotic?, stalker-type, and the constant flashbacks make the storyline continuously more mysterious.  However, about halfway through the book, the narration switches to the girl who had the affair with her teacher, and Koch lost me.  Her story was too drawn out and lacked the suspense of the earlier section.  By the time we switched to other, more engaging narrators, it was hard for me to jump back on board and enjoy the (admittedly twisty) conclusion.  This one definitely had a whiff of the Herman Koch I remember from his first two books, but didn't pack the same punch.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Giveaway!)


Title: The Girls in the Garden
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: June 7, 2016  (originally published in 2015 as The Girls)
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really? 

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.


My Review:

If you want a thriller that you can gobble up quickly, I can't recommend The Girls in the Garden enough.  This is a fairly short read, but it moves along quickly and throws so many red herrings at you along the way that you definitely won't feel like you're being shortchanged!

Normally I find that mystery novels with too many suspicious characters begin to feel implausible after a while (could ALL of these people be THIS shady?  Really?!).  However, Jewell finds a way to cast doubt upon nearly every person in the book, while still keeping your interest (and your faith in the story).  You may decide early on that you know who the culprit is, but even if you're correct, you won't be disappointed because you'll have taken so many interesting segues along the way.

I also think that Jewell has really nailed the angst and confusion of 13-year-old-girl life here.  Several of the main characters are in that age range, and much of the story hinges upon the quest for maturity and self-understanding that comes along with that stage of development.  Having been a 13 year old girl once (albeit many moons ago...), many of the struggles the characters faced rang true for me, which made for an even more engaging reading experience.

The Girls in the Garden isn't going to overwhelm you with extraneous detail and long-winded diatribes.  Compared to many other thrillers, it's rather concise and to the point.  But the writing is solid, the characters are fleshed out just enough to keep your attention, and the mystery at the heart of the novel will certainly make you want to devour it as fast as possible.

As always, much thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Lisa Jewell on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


GIVEAWAY TIME!  TLC Book Tours is running a giveaway for 5 copies of this book, open for entry until October 3, 2016.  Enter using the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 13, 2016

He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker


Title: He Will Be My Ruin
Author: K.A. Tucker
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of Maker’s Mark, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.

On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.


My Review:

I haven't jumped into the mystery genre in a while, but I was happy to give this one a shot after reading that description.  I'm new to K.A. Tucker's work, but recognized her name, and this was a great first novel of hers to jump into.  He Will Be My Ruin combines a sassy protagonist, several shady suspects, and of course, a few good red herrings along the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

At first, I thought for sure that I had this mystery all figured out from the get-go.  I had it narrowed down to two possible suspects, and couldn't see how Tucker would manage to have it NOT be so predictably one of them.  However, even though I kept going back to my two main targets, by the end of the book I had suspected EVERYBODY (except maybe Maggie) at least once.  Tucker builds just enough oddity into each character that it's easy to concoct a motive for nearly any of them.  Plus, she creates unexpected side plots that flesh out the mystery more and more as the novel goes on.  I won't give away the ending, but I'll say that it was a spectacular finish that left me happy to have gone on the journey to get there.

This review is about as straightforward as it gets: if you love a good whodunit, with lots of quirky characters and a little bit of romantic spice thrown in, then He Will Be My Ruin is a good bet.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with K.A. Tucker via her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews x3!

I didn't mean to do it, but my last 3 reads have all been nonfiction...and now that I've realized it, I'm pining for more!  Send me all your latest nonfiction recommendations, if you please.  In the meantime, here's some snapshots of what I've been reading lately:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2016
received from the publisher for an honest review


If you didn't see my review of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars a few months back, let me tell you that she specializes in hilarious, science-based nonfiction.  She generally chooses unconventional topics (the particulars of space travel, the science of human cadavers, etc), researches the minutiae behind them, and peppers her findings with off-color humor.  Now that is MY brand of nonfiction.

In Roach's latest release, the topic is war, but not in the way it's covered via politics or military strategy.  Instead, she's delved into the oft-not-discussed ways that our military uses science to provide for our soldiers at home and overseas.  For example: what happens when a Navy SEAL really, really has to poop during a mission?  (I'm dead serious.  She actually ASKED A NAVY SEAL THAT.)  How are military hospitals providing for soldiers that lose not just limbs, but also their genitals, during combat?  How do submariners in the Navy prepare for undersea conditions?  (Nice shout outs to my hometown of Groton, CT (Submarine Capital of the World, say heyyy) in that section!)  These are the questions that you didn't even know you had, but now you want them answered.

Overall I enjoyed this one, because Roach's humor was on point (as expected), and the research was interesting.  However, as a whole the book did not click with me quite as well as Packing for Mars did.  I felt like the chapters were a bit disjointed from each other, which disrupted the flow between topics.  Plus, I found it harder to laugh at her humor on this particular subject.  Giggling over space toilets is one thing, but finding the humor in genital reconstruction for wounded soldiers was a bit tougher.  Perhaps my humor has it's limits?  I never thought I'd see the day...

Anyway, this is worth the read for followers of Mary Roach, and I think anyone connected to the military would find it intriguing.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I'm still interested in reading her other work.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 2012
borrowed from the good ol' public library

The latest read for my MOMS Club Book Club!  This is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of when, after dealing with her mother's sudden death, her own divorce, as well as a descent into drug addiction, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.  Strayed tackled the trail with no previous backpacking experience, in the hopes that she would find something to allow her to get her life back on track.

There is a ton of hype about this book (especially since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie), but I understand why.  This is a very moving memoir, and Strayed is startlingly honest about her childhood, her failed marriage, and her ups and downs on the trail.  I found many of her experiences to be inspiring, even in her weakest moments.  The interesting cast of characters that she encounters during her trek will (mostly) raise your faith in humanity.  Plus, it's excellent hiking inspiration for the outdoorsy readers--I already told my husband that we must put the PCT on our bucket list!

Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster, 2015
borrowed from the good ol' public library

Love me a good running read these days!  In Two Hours, Ed Caesar discusses exactly what it would take for a professional marathoner to eventually break the coveted 2:00 mark.  The current world record is 2:02:57, and while 2 minutes and 57 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to most, to elite marathoners it is an enormous divide.  Caesar looks into the science behind it--there are researchers who have done a variety of tests in order to estimate what they believe to be the absolute limit for how quickly a human can run 26.2 miles.  But alongside that, he follows the marathon pursuits of Geoffrey Mutai, an elite Kenyan runner who has his sights set on both a world record and the 2:00 wall.  This combination of scientific and personal perspectives on the upper limits of marathoning made for a fascinating book.

One of my favorite tidbits from this book is the discussion of how modern day road races do not provide favorable conditions for runners to get the fastest marathon time possible.  Many are hilly, provide very little shade, and don't allow the runners to employ pacers (non-racing runners who are hired to pace them at exactly what they need to hit a certain finish time--one racer will sometimes use a few different pacers throughout a race, if it is allowed).  Plus, they are weather dependent--you could be in the best shape of your life, but if you wake up and have to run your marathon on a sunny 80 degree day, the chances of a good time are nil.  This is just one of many fun discussions that got my brain turning in this book.  Two Hours is a quick read, and excellent brain food for anyone with running interests!

What are your current reads?  Any new nonfiction on the docket for you lately?  What's the best memoir you've read lately?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2 Mini-Reviews and They Are Both AWESOME.

So busy around here these days, reader friends!  In the last couple of weeks, I've run 3 races (if you include my virtual 10K--recap coming soon!), we road tripped to Connecticut to watch my stepbrother graduate from the Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School (woot!), I had a busy/excellent Mother's Day with my crew, and (most importantly) my husband successfully defended his doctoral dissertation after 7 LONG years of hard work!!!  I am beyond excited for him, and we are gearing up for the graduation this weekend.
Me, my brother, and my stepbrother at OCS graduation.  I am a proud seester!  Go Coast Guard!
Then we have all the things on the horizon: Small Fry's last couple weeks of preschool, planning for my mom's 60th birthday celebrations in June, gearing up for a beach vacation in July...

These are all great reasons to be busy, but my head is spinning and it leaves little time for bloggy activities.  Luckily, I am still reading, because I have so many good books on the docket right now that I'm having a tough time choosing between them!  And for my running friends--my marathon training starts on Tuesday (the 17th), so I'm getting ready to fit that into my life as well.

If you want to stay up-to-date on my reading/running activities, your best bet is Instagram (@thewellreadredhead), because a quick snap from my phone takes way less time these days than a blog post.  ;)  But lucky you, I did manage two mini reviews for today...and both of these books rocked my socks!

Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
Da Capo Press, 2007
personal purchase



I hope that Switzer's name is, at the very least, ringing a small bell for you, but if not: she was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967.  (Roberta Gibb ran it before her, but "bandited" the race--ran it without registering--whereas Switzer actually registered (as K.V. Switzer) and ran it with a bib.)  Because she registered with her initials, race officials did not realize she was a woman until the race was underway and the press trucks started following her.  One of the officials was so furious that he actually tried to attack her/rip her bib off during the race--a now-famous confrontation that she was able to escape, as she went on to finish the race.

Switzer's story was incredibly inspiring to me well before I read her memoir, but after I finished Marathon Woman, I had a whole new respect for her journey.  After that first marathon (Boston was her first!), she went on to cut over an HOUR from her marathon PR, win the NYC Marathon, and organize an international series of women's races that showed the world that women are just as capable of running (and competing) in distance races as men.  All of these things had an integral role in making women's running a respected sport (leading to the eventual addition of the women's marathon to the Olympic games) and helped make it the mainstream activity that it is today.  If you are a woman who runs, for fun or for competition, Kathrine Switzer is someone you should thank!

To top it off, Switzer's voice in the memoir is wonderfully candid and funny, while still emphasizing the lasting importance of her work in women's sports.  (I also had the AMAZING opportunity to meet Switzer at the Right to Run 19K in Seneca Falls, NY last weekend, and can tell you that her demeanor is every bit as inspiring and lighthearted in person!)  This book is NOT just for runners!  If you want a memoir that inspires, I can't recommend this one enough.
My copy of Marathon Woman. Now featuring extra awesomeness!
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, 2016
copy received from the publisher for an honest review

The #1 reason I picked up this book was because of its author.  I've not found a Chris Cleave book yet that did not agree with me (and/or was downright amazing--Gold is one of my favorites).  That said, I was a little unsure about the subject matter in this one, as WWII era historical fiction novels have been hit-or-miss for me in the past.  I know that's a real broad genre to comment upon, but still.  I had my reservations.  To give a very general synopsis, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is set in WWII London during the Blitz, and focuses on three (okay, the description says three, but I think it's more accurate to say five) extremely different characters that are thrown together in the desperate circumstances created by the war.

WHY DID I HAVE RESERVATIONS?  This is likely on my favorites list for 2016. You know how sometimes you're reading a book, and things are happening that are making you get very emotional, or at the very least are causing your blood pressure to rise, and it all just gets to be TOO MUCH and you have to set the book down for a while so you can catch your breath and recoup?  This is that book.  And I just love a book that can leave me breathless for a bit, don't you?

In addition to being in awe of the events of the story as they unfolded, I was also impressed by the writing.  Cleave's prose is insightful and incredibly quotable (thank goodness I read this on my Kindle, as the highlighting was fast and furious), and the dialogue (especially Mary's and Alistair's) is amusing and snappy.  Even if you're unsure if this story is right for you, genre-wise, the novel is worth reading just so you can steep yourself in such excellent wordsmithing.

Read. Enjoy. Thank me later!

What are your current reads?  Have you met any authors/gone to any book signings lately?  What recent read of yours has had the best/most enjoyable dialogue?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline


Title: Most Wanted
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher

Summary from Goodreads

When a woman and her husband, desperate for a baby, find themselves unable to conceive, they decide to take further steps. Since it is the husband who is infertile, the heroine decides to use a donor. And all seems to be well. Three months pass and she is happily pregnant. But a shocking revelation occurs when she discovers that a man arrested for a series of brutal murders is her donor - the biological father of the child she is carrying. Delving deeper to uncover the truth, the heroine must face her worst fears, and confront a terrifying truth.

My Review:

This is my third Lisa Scottoline novel, and the third one I've given 3 stars to on Goodreads.  I went through the exact same experience with this book as I did with the other two of hers that I've read.  Let me lay out my typical Lisa Scottoline chain of events for you, and maybe this time I will actually learn something from it...

1. Read book description, instantly be like "OMG I must read this NOW."
Done and done.  I found the book on NetGalley and despite the fact that I've been trying (note: mostly failing) at controlling my impulses over there, I took one look at the description for this book and knew that I HAD to request a review.  Serial killers and infertility and marital strife, oh my!!

2. Begin book, love explosive intro!
The novel opened, and I was fascinated by hot-button topics that Scottoline introduced: confidentiality of sperm/egg donors (especially interesting for me as I was thisclose to applying to be an egg donor when I was in college), the impact of nature vs nurture in psychological disorders, coping with male infertility, etc.  This is cool.  I'm on board.

3. Middle of book. Female protagonist is annoying. Completely unbelievable series of events start happening. Losing faith in my ability to choose good novels.
First, things got slow.  Christine was spending so much time debating what her next step should be that the entire plot hit the brakes for a bit too long.  Then things got moving again, and Christine proved herself to be absolutely insufferable and she continued to make one ridiculous decision after the next.  Not only did I find Christine's choices questionable, but their resulting odd consequences felt so far-fetched at times that I just couldn't play along.

4. Ending: good but not great.  Three star book for interesting concept but subpar execution.
I was pleased that the ending did not turn out as I predicted.  That said, I had trouble embracing Christine's "heroine" status after it was caused by so many flighty decisions beforehand (see above).
Plus...I don't want to give anything away, but suffice to say that there is one person in this book who brings the phrase "wrong place, wrong time" to a whole new (completely implausible) level.

In the end, Most Wanted was a solid 3 stars for me.  Great concept, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  I WANT to love Scottoline's novels so badly!!  She comes up with such compelling topics!  But I've had the same middle-of-the-road reaction to each of her books that I've tried so far, unfortunately.

Do you have an author that you keep trying over and over, in the hopes that maybe THIS time will be different??

Monday, April 11, 2016

3 Minis: A New Release, an Old(ish) Release, and More Zombies!

Hola, readers!  Most of my reviews lately have been for TLC Book Tours (which means they are a bit longer), but I finally have another set of mini reviews here for you today.  I hope you like reading them as much as I like writing them...sometimes it's nice to keep it short & concise!

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
Random House, 2016
received from publisher for an honest review

I read this book and now I am broken inside.  /review

Okay, I'll add a little more, but really, this book is heart-wrenchingly amazing.  I requested it via NetGalley and quickly realized that the online description of the novel does not do it justice.  Quickie synopsis: Alice and Oliver are happily married with a baby daughter, Doe, when Alice is diagnosed with cancer.  Alice & Oliver is not only the tale of their physical battle with the disease, but also a penetrating look at what happens when relationships are pushed to the brink.  It takes much more than physical strength and fierce mental fortitude to survive such suffering, and Bock's novel illustrates this better than any other that I've read on the subject.  I loved Alice.  I didn't love Oliver, but did come to understand him a bit more by the end.  Together, they have a connection that is uncommon, but is still illustrative of the myriad ways that couples muck their way through difficult, seemingly impossible problems.

There are parts of this book are funny, unique, and thought-provoking.  There are also parts that are harrowing, sorrowful, and difficult to read.  Read it anyway.  You'll likely be seeing this on my best-of lists at the end of the year.

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Pantheon, 2014
borrowed from the library

This is the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  I'm interested to see how our discussion goes in a few weeks, because this novel left me feeling half in awe, and half totally scratching my head.  Jake Whyte is the female protagonist, currently a sheep farmer on an island off the coast of the UK.  However, she has a shady backstory that goes back several years and thousands of miles.  As present-day Jake tries to find out what is killing the sheep on her farm, the chapters also alternate back to her past, slowly opening the story of what brought her to the sheep farm, and what demons may still be lying in wait.

I was half in awe because this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It's a fairly quick read, but there is not one wasted word on these pages.  And I love how the chapters alternate between Jake past and present--the structure was perfect, as the action peaked in both timelines right at the end.  Jake is a fantastic character, terrifically complicated--watching her develop is amazing.

BUT (my one "but"): the ending.  Like really, what WAS that ending?  I am all for not tying up the loose ends and giving the reader something to chew on, but this was too much.  I could have used a little less symbolism and a little more closure.  Still--I'm happy I spent the time on this one, because it's a stellar read, the final pages notwithstanding.

The Walking Dead: Compendium Two by Robert Kirkman & co.
Image Comics, 2012
borrowed from the library

I've already discussed with you my recent love affair with The Walking Dead comics (here).  The affair has only grown as I finished the second compendium of the series.  It has been awesome to watch the major characters grow and change, and to see how well many of the comic scenes were translated to TV.  (And on the flip side, how many of them never even made it to TV.)  Gotta say that one of my favorite characters so far is Andrea--what a bad ass!  And that's hilarious, given how much I despised her TV persona.  I'd say the one downside is that I think Rick's character waxes philosophical on the same topics a bit too much--it gets repetitive after a while.  But beyond that, I'm loving this view of the Walking Dead world.

(And, for those who follow the show--this compendium ends just after Rick's group starts interacting with Hilltop.  Um, I NEED to get Compendium Three before Season 7 starts!!!  EEEEEKKK.)

What are your current reads?  Do you have any 2016 reads so far that you think will be on your end-of-year favorites list?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

EARTHQUAKE! All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer


Title: All Stories Are Love Stories
Author: Elizabeth Percer
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On Valentine’s Day, two major earthquakes strike San Francisco within the same hour, devastating the city and its primary entry points, sparking fires throughout, and leaving its residents without power, gas, or water.

Among the disparate survivors whose fates will become intertwined are Max, a man who began the day with birthday celebrations tinged with regret; Vashti, a young woman who has already buried three of the people she loved most . . . but cannot forget Max, the one man who got away; and Gene, a Stanford geologist who knows far too much about the terrifying earthquakes that have damaged this beautiful city and irrevocably changed the course of their lives.

As day turns to night and fires burn across the city, Max and Vashti—trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium—must confront each other and face the truth about their past, while Gene embarks on a frantic search through the realization of his worst nightmares to find his way back to his ailing lover and their home.


My Review:

As many of you know by now, I am a sucker for any book that gets compared to another book that I already enjoyed.  Which I KNOW is unfair, because if every novel that was "the next Gone Girl" was REALLY the next Gone Girl, there would be about eleventy billion Gone Girls.  But I am nothing if not consistent.  All Stories Are Love Stories has drawn some comparison to Station Eleven, so really I did not need to know more--sign me up, I wanna read it.

I quickly realized that (as with most book jacket comparisons) the similarities between All Stories Are Love Stories and Station Eleven end pretty quickly.  They both have a bit of a post-apocalyptic feel to them: Station Eleven's is literal, as the civilized world ends after a deadly virus, but in All Stories Are Love Stories, the feeling is figurative, as the characters struggle through death and disaster after an earthquake ("the big one") hits San Francisco.  Beyond that comparison, I think it's safe to say that Elizabeth Percer's new novel has a life of its own.

This novel is interesting because it feels like two separate stories (and I'm not referring to the 2 different primary plot lines: Max & Vashti vs. Gene).  There's the disaster story of the earthquake, which is formidable and striking in its own right.  But then, against this fiery backdrop, you also have the more intricate human stories within it: the love stories, if you will.  Max and Vashti's relationship is definitely the most captivating, as they reunite after a sad separation that unravels slowly for the reader.  (Admittedly, sometimes too slowly--I liked their connection, but often wondered why the details of their history together had to be pulled out so painstakingly.)  But there's also Gene, fighting his way back to his husband Franklin; Ellen, a TV reporter who is trying to decide exactly how much she loves her job; and a group of mismatched survivors trapped in a downtown theater, trying to navigate each other as they also navigate a way out.

None of these "love" stories would be as impactful without the larger earthquake story behind them.  This disastrous scenario creates a sort of do-or-die situation that forces each character to show their true self, and address the nitty-gritty details of their relationships.

Sounds pretty unique, right?  It most certainly is.  However, I have to admit that this probably won't be a novel that sticks with me for very long.  I like the unusual blend of characters that it brings together, and the earthquake situation is written with a degree of detail that shows a fair amount of research on Percer's part.  That said, the mental narratives of some of the characters were a bit too drawn out for me at times.  I don't mind an introspective novel, but when there's constant musing without much forward motion, I start to drift, and that was the case here.

My final verdict was a 3-star Goodreads review: a solid, distinctive novel with a lot of intriguing detail, but a bit too run-on at times to make it stand out in for me.  However, if more reflective, lingering prose is your thing, this may still be up your alley.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with Elizabeth Percer via her website and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley


Title: The Ramblers
Author: Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 9, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher

Summary from Goodreads

Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.

Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.

Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit.


My Review:

The Ramblers tickled my fancy to pick up for review because you all know I just looooove a good character-driven, relationship-based drama.  This sounded like exactly the sort of thoughtful contemporary fiction that I'd be into, especially because the 3 protagonists are all in my age range (early- to mid-thirties).  And who doesn't love New York City?

In the end, I have to say I liked The Ramblers, though I can't go so far as to say I adored it.  Let's break down the pros and cons.

Pros: The prose is incredibly perceptive, peppered with insightful observations about self-actualization, the trials and tribulations of romance, and family bonds.  Rowley creates many a gorgeous metaphor between the characters' lives and the book's common plot points (birds, Central Park, photography, etc), so there's no lack of symbolism here.  Thoughtful writing: check.

I also especially enjoyed Clio as a character, along with her handsome Irish suitor, Henry.  (Seriously, if there is someone who is prime candidate for Book Boyfriend of the Year, Henry is IT.)  Clio appeals to me because she comes from humble beginnings and a turbulent childhood, so her now-privileged adulthood comes off as more unpretentious.  Her problems feel tangible, relateable.  I was a big fan of her storyline.

Cons: While the writing is perceptive, it is also incredibly verbose--borderline tedious at times.  The protagonists' long-winded introspections about their lives started to get some eye-rolling from me after a while.  It was too much, and this book could have probably cut at least 20 pages without much trouble.

Also, for as much as I liked Clio's character, I found myself rather turned off by Smith and Tate.  Smith was hard for me to find sympathy towards.  She's been spoiled by her parents for all 34 years of her life, and is now frustrated that she is having trouble getting out from under their millions in order to forge her own path.  Um, boo hoo, I guess?  I can tell that Rowley tried valiantly to write Smith as a down-to-earth woman despite her social status, but it just didn't happen for me.  Her problems felt trite.  As for Tate, he was so aloof and crass at times that I just plain old didn't like him.  As a duo, I was not digging them at all (though I guess it did seem that they deserved each other, in a way).

In the end, The Ramblers is a solid 3-star novel for me.  There's lots to enjoy here, especially the penetrating prose.  However, there are an equal number of downsides that keep this from being a stand-out read.

What's the last character you read that you felt was difficult to relate to, for whatever reason?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fast Into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow


Title: Fast Into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail
Author: Debbie Clarke Moderow
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher via NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads

At age forty-seven, a mother of two, Debbie Moderow was not your average musher in the Iditarod, but that’s where she found herself when, less than 200 miles from the finish line, her dogs decided they didn’t want to run anymore. After all her preparation, after all the careful management of her team, and after their running so well for over a week, the huskies balked. But the sting of not completing the race after coming so far was nothing compared to the disappointment Moderow felt in having lost touch with her dogs.   

Fast into the Night is the gripping story of Moderow’s journeys along the Iditarod trail with her team of spunky huskies: Taiga and Su, Piney and Creek, Nacho and Zeppy, Juliet and the headstrong leader, Kanga. The first failed attempt crushed Moderow’s confidence, but after reconnecting with her dogs she returned and ventured again to Nome, pushing through injuries,  hallucinations, epic storms, flipped sleds, and clashing personalities, both human and canine. And she prevailed.   Part adventure, part love story, part inquiry into the mystery of the connection between humans and dogs, Fast into the Night is an exquisitely written memoir of a woman, her dogs, and what can happen when someone puts herself in that place between daring and doubt—and soldiers on.


My Review:

This is a different sort of nonfiction for me, considering that I had exactly zero familiarity with the Iditarod before picking it up.  (Well, I knew it was a dog sledding race.  In Alaska.  Probably pretty cold.  That's about it.)  However, I couldn't help giving it a go after reading the description.  Due to my obvious current interest in distance running, I was fascinated by the idea of all the training, preparation, and tenacity required to complete the Iditarod.  Running does not equal dog sledding, but both sports require a high level of athleticism and commitment, so I wanted to know more.

My curiosity was rewarded with an amazing story.  Moderow's two Iditarod journeys make for excellent reading on their own, but she also breaks up the telling of those races with the background on what led her into dog sledding.  From her childhood in Connecticut to her adulthood as a married mom of 2 in Alaska, she has a unique path to Iditarod racing that is full of both hard lessons and inspirational anecdotes.

In addition, my piqued interest in the sport of dog sledding was rewarded with Moderow's detailed accounts of her two Iditarods.  I had no concept of the months (sometimes years) of meticulous planning, the grueling training, and the thousands of dollars required to meet such a challenge head-on.  Not to mention the solid, caring bond that needs to be forged between a musher and his/her dog team--it was amazing to see how Moderow was constantly aware of the needs and quirks of each individual dog.  And Debbie Moderow did this TWICE!  After not finishing the first time!  That blows me away.  You'll certainly leave this book with an appreciation for the sport (and the 2016 Iditarod is in March, so read now and get excited for this year's race--I'm already following updates on Facebook!  Haha).

Fast Into the Night is both a moving memoir and an inspiring tale of strength and endurance, enhanced for me as it also became a learning experience about the world of dog sledding.  This may have been a subject outside of my usual nonfiction fare, but I'm so glad that I took a chance on it!

What's the last nonfiction book you read that taught you about a completely new-to-you subject?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

GIVEAWAY! The Invisibles by Cecelia Galante


Title: The Invisibles
Author: Cecelia Galante
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Thrown together by chance as teenagers at Turning Winds Home for Girls, Nora, Ozzie, Monica, and Grace quickly bond over their troubled pasts and form their own family which they dub The Invisibles. But when tragedy strikes after graduation, Nora is left to deal with the horrifying aftermath alone as the other three girls leave home and don't look back.

Fourteen years later, Nora is living a quiet, single life working in the local library. She is content to focus on her collection of "first lines" (her favorite opening lines from novels) and her dog, Alice Walker, when out-of-the-blue Ozzie calls her on her thirty-second birthday. But after all these years, Ozzie hasn't called her to wish a happy birthday. Instead, she tells Nora that Grace attempted suicide and is pleading for The Invisibles to convene again. Nora is torn: she is thrilled at the thought of being in touch with her friends, and yet she is hesitant at seeing these women after such a long and silent period of time. Bolstered by her friends at the library, Nora joins The Invisibles in Chicago for a reunion that sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will change each of their lives forever.


My Review:

Every once in a while, I need a good bit of women's fiction in my life.  You know, a book about a group of friends, who help each other through the highs and lows, and hopefully with some nice plot twists or mysteries thrown in.  (I fully credit my obsession with The Babysitter's Club in my formative years for this occasional need.)

The Invisibles was just the ticket as far as friendship-based novels go, though it went above and beyond by surprising me with an especially gut-punching conclusion.  Galante has written YA novels in the past, and her strength in that area was on display here, as her flashbacks to Nora & co's teenage years were particularly absorbing.  I was drawn into their individual histories pretty quickly, and that interest carried me into their present tales as well.

That said, I found some pieces of the novel to be terribly cliched.  The epic, spur-of-the-moment road trip to help Monica felt like some kind of overdone Hollywood plot element.  And the one that took the cake was when they found a baby bunny whose mother had been killed by a fox, and they made a frantic attempt to save it--dear God, please gag me.  Four mostly-orphaned women, trying to help the parentless bunny?  Must we beat the readers over the head with the symbolism?  It was a bit much.

While I do feel like those criticisms have to be mentioned here, I hope, my dear readers, that you will still give this book a read, because as I mentioned earlier, I was a particular fan of the ending.  Nora is keeping a secret through most of the novel, and it builds up until the absolute END (truly...I think it was revealed around the 95% mark on my Kindle.  GAHHH).  For the entire book, as this secret loomed large, all I could think was, "This BETTER be worth the wait."  And for me, it was.  Galante teeters on the border between "purposely misleading the reader" (a technique that I am rather leery of) and "taking creative license with the narration", but it goes just far enough onto the "creative" side that I loved it.  A truly surprising, emotional, thought-provoking ending that will leave you wanting to re-read (and re-interpret) many previous parts of the novel.

The Invisibles is certainly a good pick if you want a bit of girl-power and friendship in your life, even with the occasional cheesy elements that are built in.  But this book delves into some weighty issues as well, and will leave you with much to ponder long after the final page.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Cecelia Galante on FacebookTwitter, and her website.

GIVEAWAY TIME!  I was shipped extra copies of the book, so 2 lucky readers (in the US/Canada) can win a copy of The Invisibles for their very own.  Just enter using the Rafflecopter below.  Giveaway ends August 26!
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Friday, June 5, 2015

GIVEAWAY! Five Night Stand by Richard J. Alley


Title: Five Night Stand
Author: Richard J. Alley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Legendary jazz pianist Oliver Pleasant finds himself alone at the end of his career, playing his last five shows, hoping the music will draw his estranged family back...

Frank Severs, a middle-aged, out-of-work journalist, is at a crossroads as his longtime dreams and marriage grind to a standstill...

And piano prodigy Agnes Cassady is desperately grasping for fulfillment before a debilitating disease wrenches control from her trembling fingers...

When Frank and Agnes come to New York to witness Oliver’s final five-night stand, the timeless force of Oliver’s music pulls the trio together. Over the course of five nights, the three reflect on their triumphs and their sorrows: families forsaken, ideals left along the wayside, secrets kept. Their shared search for meaning and direction in a fractured world creates an unexpected kinship that just might help them make sense of the past, find peace in the present, and muster the courage to face the future.


My Review:

Five Night Stand is the perfect read to accompany a sip of your favorite drinky-drink after a long summer day.  This story felt like jazz itself: soulful, melodious, and smooth.  There isn't anything particularly earth-shattering that happens in the plot--no huge reveal or shocking twist to hang your hat on.  Instead, I found myself enjoying the way Agnes', Frank's, and Oliver's lives came together as their journeys intersected in increasingly intimate ways.

It took me a while to get a good read on each of the characters.  With Agnes and Frank, it was because they both seemed so much older than their actual ages.  Agnes, coping with a neuro-degenerative disease at the young age of 22, has hardened herself to many of the trivialities of life as she tries to make peace with the short time she has left.  On the other hand, Frank, in his mid-forties, is faced with a sudden lay-off, and must decide what his life's direction will be now that his work is suddenly gone.  Their fortunate meeting in New York with jazz-virtuoso Oliver Pleasant puts them both on a path to find some peace.

I'll admit that this book was a little outside my comfort zone (I'm not particularly up on my jazz knowledge, nor am I very musical in general), but the story within these pages has an appeal even for the most musically-unskilled readers.  The relationships here are poignant, while the prose itself is quite subtle, and all together it makes for a very enjoyable read.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Richard J. Alley on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.

GIVEAWAY TIME!  One lucky reader (in the US/Canada) can win a copy of Five Night Stand for their very own.  Just enter using the Rafflecopter below.  Giveaway ends June 11!
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