Professional Reader 80% 25 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Girls in the Picture - Review

The Girls in the Picture   πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 16 2018 by Delacorte Press

3.5 stars.

About a century ago, actress Mary Pickford and scenarist Frances Marion were best friends as their young careers were just taking off.  Together, they forged new paths for women in their industry, with Mary forming United Artist's studio with husband Douglas Fairbanks, and Frances being the best and highest paid female screenwriter.  With today's spotlight on Hollywood's  so-called casting couch, this story was quite timely in detailing how that term started, when these two women were in their thirties, their careers winding down.  Despite the strides made by these women, men still held the power and got away with pinching and feeling up whatever female body parts they desired.  Actresses who had babies, even those who were  married, risked outrage from their fans, while actors and studio heads could sire a dozen or more children with no such risks.  

Told in alternating chapters from each of the women's points of view, the book was certainly interesting, but not in a "can't wait to get back to that book" way.  It is honest and forthcoming, which makes for a likeable historical fiction tale.  It tells of two friends who grew estranged for different reasons, but were together courageous pioneers in their fields and impacted the film industry just as much as any of the studio heads of their time.  Unfortunately, I thought it a bit repetitive and on the longish side.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy.   

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Wife Between Us -Review

The Wife Between Us  🌟🌟🌟
by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen  
Publishing by St Martin's Press January 9 2018 

Wow, where to start?  I'm  reading along thinking the alternating points of view are leading down one road, and then BAM, nothing is as it seems and the path to the climax takes an entirely different course.  Some readers are going to hate this, some will love it.  Some will be sooooo confused.  You may need to go back and reread parts.

For me, I felt somewhat manipulated and kept asking myself if what happened really made any sense.  I kept with it, through more twists and turns, until the very end.  And then I started it over again.  And yes, it did make sense knowing now what I didn't know before.  So, touche and congrats to the author for pulling it off!
Absolutely not what I expected at all, from the title or from the first few chapters.  

My thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Poison - Review

Poison   πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Galt Niederhoffer
To be published November 21, 2017, by St. Martin's Press 

Now, that's a good ending.  Quick, clean, and an I told you so.   

Loved the title's multiple implications, the relationship gone bad, the suspicions all around, substances with multiple uses and purposes.  I read this not trusting one single character.  Is Ryan trying to poison his wife Cass, or is she paranoid, delusional, and in need of psychological care?  

Liked less the writing in present tense, which seemed awkward to me and at times too much in the way of explanation.  But overall, an exciting and tense read. 

An unsolicited comp copy from St.  Martin's Press through  NetGalley.
3.5 stars.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I Was Anastasia - Review

I Was Anastasia   πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Ariel Lawhon  
Feb 2018 by Doubleday
Finished Nov 11, 2017

Remember the thriller recently written completely in a reverse timeline and readers either tolerated it or hated it?   I didn't mind it too much, once used to it.   Well, in this  book only half of it goes backwards in time, but it bothered me anyway.  The chapters alternate between Anna Anderson's story and Anastasia's.  The Anastasia chapters slowly lead up to when the Romanov family is executed in 1918,  and Anna's goes from 1970 to around the time of the executions.  Only at the end do we know how it all started.  

I have been wondering... why another book on Anastasia; doesn't everyone already know this story?  Have we not watched it played memorably by Ingrid Bergman in the great old film, Anastasia, and heard the countless rumors of a Romanov surviving?  I was curious what this author could offer that wasn't already done.  For me, a few more personal details, and a renewed curiosity about Anna Anderson.  This is historical fiction and the author says she fudged on some details but not much.
All in all, I am not certain I'd recommend this one unless you do not already know the story, and even then a non-fiction might deliver better.  I have enjoyed looking at some pictures of the two characters, and there was a definite facial resemblance.  If this had been my first time learning about the Romanovs, I am sure I  would have rated it much higher.  Knowing how it would end and failing to feel any real connection until the last couple of chapters sabotaged this experience for me, I'm afraid.  Even so, some parts will remain memorable, I'm sure.  

Than you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Seven Days of Us - Review

Seven Days of Us  🌟🌟🌟🌟 3.5 stars rounded up
by Francesca Hornak 
Published October 17 2017 by Berkley Books

Overall, this is a really good character driven debut.  A family is in quarantine the entire week of Christmas because their doctor daughter Olivia was exposed to the deadly Haag  virus while on a mission in Africa.  There's another sister, Phoebe, who is preoccupied being engaged to George, who shows up at the house during the week and is thus forced into the quarantine as well.   

Everyone except Phoebe has a secret or two under wraps, and all are very intriguing.  Well, even Phoebe is hiding something but she hasn't  yet realized it.  I think the fact that we know these secrets and are wondering anxiously what will happen in the end makes this a 4 star book.  The characters are interesting  enough, except I would have slapped Phoebe and George multiple times if I  could have, and if I was the slapping sort.  Emma, the mom, got on my nerves a bit because I've  been in her situation and handled it a little differently, but she was a good person.  Olivia and Jesse the long lost bastard son were great.  Dad was a bit boring with his lack of awareness or caring (he is still evolving in midlife but not sure you'd call it a midlife crisis). The characters were a good mixture of annoying and heartwarming,  with about a 3 on my likeability scale.  So a 3.5.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Stolen Marriage - Review

The Stolen Marriage  🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Diane Chamberlain
Published October 3 2017 by St Martin's Press

Despite a rather slow beginning and a few flaws, this book, full of history from the 1944 era, eventually had my attention as the characters grew into themselves.  Set mostly in Hickory, NC, we are aware that there are men from town who have gone off to war, that this is a time when women and blacks were to know their places, and that polio was becoming  a force to be reckoned with.  While Tess' fiancΓ© is in Chicago treating polio, she makes an irreversible error in judgment and marries a virtual stranger with an unwelcoming matriarch of a mother and sister.  Soon she discovers that her new husband has many odd behaviors  and secrets.  Some of the reveals I saw coming, but only to a degree.

As a little girl growing up in a small town during the 50's, I knew a few people with polio (a friend's cousin two years older who was beautiful but nevertheless taunted by school children for her limp, a boy two blocks away who was my oldest brother's age, my 7th grade math teacher),  and we knew how lucky my family was to have been untouched.  We experienced the polio vaccines administered by shots and then on sugar cubes (Blech!  I actually spit mine out when no one was looking, which then worried me for years to come).  Diane Chamberlain is a fine teller of real historical events with her own twists  added, and the makeshift polio hospital they built in Hickory in a fifty-four hour time period was fascinating to read about, enough so that Life magazine visited soon after its opening.   The author's version of the story teaches how we adapt to our circumstances and overcome adversity.  I thought she did an admirable job, and I thank the publisher and NetGalley for my advance copy.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Other Girl - Review

The Other Girl   πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Erica Spindler  
Published August 22 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Finished October 2 2017

When Randi was a rebellious fifteen year old, she one night hitched a ride with a guy and another girl.  It turned out to be the worst decision she ever made even though Randi managed to escape the guy's clutches before any physical harm was done.  But instead of the police taking her story seriously, they sent her to juvie for some weed found in her pocket. 

Cut to cop Miranda fourteen years later at a murder scene, and it's a gory one.  An old newspaper clipping is found there, and Miranda starts to flash back to that night years earlier when she was known as Randi.  The clipping and other strange things found at the scene cause her to wonder what ever happened to that guy and other girl all those years ago, and is Miranda strong enough to find out?

This one had me captivated all the way through.  It's a very interesting, well thought out story with not too many characters to clutter  it up.  Miranda is flawed (and somewhat messed up),  but not as much as most everyone else.  I did predict who the murderer was, but not until right before the book revealed it.  I am very grateful for being offered a pre-publication ebook, compliments of the publisher through NetGalley.  This is one I'll gladly recommend.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Malagash - Review

Malagash   🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Joey Comeau
Publishing October 3, 2017, by ECW Press
Finished September 25, 2017

Look at that cover!  It was the sole attraction for me, the only reason I requested this book, I will now admit.  I chose it even though the description made me a bit reluctant and I had no idea what a Malagash was.  Turns out, Malagash is a small town in Nova Scotia to where one man has moved his family so he can finish out his life in the place he grew up.   He's  dying of cancer in a hospital.  His wife and son and daughter visit him daily, as does his mother.  The dad tells his silly jokes, sings songs, and tells them all that he loves them.  His brother comes to make peace. 
The setting of Malagash is important, but the family is moreso, because his daughter Sunday is recording all of his conversations with family on her phone.  This way her father's voice  and his unique personality will live on forever.  So that not only will she and her family have access to these recordings, she plans to let them loose into the world as a computer virus, a good virus, she says, where her father's ghost will dwell.    

It's a wonder of a book that just gets better the farther you progress. A sweet story of familial love, with a young adult feel to it since Sunday is the narrator.  A thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a lovely experience.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes - Review

Love and Other Consolation  Prizes   🌟🌟🌟
by Jamie Ford
Published September 12, 2017, by Ballantine Books
Finished 9/19/2017

The story starts with Ernest Young as a small boy after his Chinese   mother has sent him sailing for a better life in America, where he is auctioned off at the 1909 Seattle Exposition.*  That piece of history, that such a thing really happened, is a troubling one to be sure and was one of the more interesting aspects.  But this is one of those times when I felt that the concept of a story was lost in the execution of it.  The pace was uneven, slow to start, better in the middle, and an ending that seemed to  drag out over several chapters.  
Ernest as a boy falls in love with two girls, and is as an adult  recounting their adventures growing up in a brothel, while anticipating the 1962 Seattle World's  Fair with his wife, Gracie.  Early on we know that one of those young girls is Gracie, although that's not either of their names.   So you keep reading to figure out this odd puzzle.  

I really had high hopes for this one.  Ford's first book is one of my favorites, but the next and this one were lacking that certain something that puts you on edge and makes you excited to pick it back up again where you left off.  Ernest was such a sweet character but I think he deserved a better story with more interesting players on his team.  I saw many similarities with On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this one didn't match up.  I do appreciate receiving an advanced copy from NetGalley and the publisher.

*(I just had to go to Wikipedia to learn more about the auction, and maybe the finished book includes this in the author's note, I don't  know:
"A month-old orphaned boy named Ernest was raffled away as a prize. Although a winning ticket was drawn, nobody claimed the prize. The ultimate destiny of the child was still being investigated in 2009."  I do hope that little Ernest had a great life, and not in a brothel.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Girl in Snow ~ Review

Girl in Snow    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Danya  Kukafka
Published August 1 2017 (today) by Simon & Schuster
Finished August 1 2017

2.5⭐, rounded up.  I was given an advanced copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley. 

The girl in the title is dead, and I am a bit creeped out now by that eye (her eye?) looking at me from the cover.

A high school girl, Lucinda, has been found murdered, a layer of snow covering her body.  The background story and the reveal are told slowly through three perspectives:  Cameron, an odd boy who essentially was Lucinda's stalker; Jade, a girl who seemingly hated Lucinda but envied her life; and Russ, a policeman  with a dead end job and marriage.  Like I said, the story moved very slowly; and I did not care about or identify with any  of the characters.  We don't get to know the dead girl well enough to feel much sympathy for her.

 I think this was a good first effort that got lost in the quagmire of how to keep the reader interested in a story that lacked substance.   There were some nice word choices, and I saw the potential for better books in this author's future.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Secrets She Keeps - Review

The Secrets She Keeps  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Michael Robotham  
Published July 11 2017
Finished July 24 2017

The story of a new friendship gone horribly wrong, between Agatha, single and pregnant, and Meghan, married with her third little bun in the oven.  Agatha would be exactly the reason why I don't have a public Facebook page, why I don't write a blog except for my book reviews where I really don't care if I have any followers, and why I don't have any curtain-free windows.  Agatha is more or less stalking Meghan, and her stalking is made way too easy by Meghan's blog, the internet, and no window coverings.   If things don't go easily for Agatha, she is very resourceful.  We're privy to just how bad things can become and how both Agatha and Meghan act under extreme pressure. The pressure cooker that is at first doing a slow simmer is about to blow.

Fantastic thrill ride of a thriller, one of the best I've read this year!  The writing is brilliant.  He really knows how to encapsulate the personalities of his characters and how to draw the reader into their minds and individual stories. 

This is a review of an advanced copy from NetGalley and the publisher.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

You'll Never Know, Dear - Review

You'll  Never Know, Dear
by Hallie Ephron
Published June 6 2017
Finished July 19 2017

3.5 stars and a thank you to LibraryThing.Com  for my review copy.

I was attracted to this book by the creepy doll on the cover, wondering if dolls can still get to me like they once did.  Well, this was not as creepy as I had expected (and hoped) -- no dolls displaying signs of life; no Twilight Zone flashbacks.  This has more of an underlying suspense running throughout.

Two friends/neighbors, Miss Sorrell and Evelyn, are retired from their business of making dolls. Miss Sorrell's daughter Janey went missing some forty years ago, along with the doll Miss Sorrell had made especially for her.  The older daughter Lis was supposed to be watching Janey so she's felt guilty all these years, and still lives with her mother. They place a yearly ad offering a reward for the missing doll and any information as to where it came from.  A young woman answers the ad with a very old, damaged doll, leaves in a huff without giving her contact information, and the story takes off as the family tries to pursue this very strong possibility of a connection to Janey.

The story is engaging and did keep me wanting to read on to see how the various mysteries would come out; to see if what I thought had happened to Janey came true (I had it pegged almost to the letter).  As in many suspense novels, this had its red herrings and  implausible coincidences.  A rather slow start for me and then it took off, with well-drawn characters and an interesting sleep study program as a side story.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ill Will - Review

Ill Will   🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Dan Chaon  
Published March 7 2017 by Ballantine Books
Finished July 5 2017

This is one unique book.  I will first say that I had an ARC from NetGalley but chose to listen to the finished version on audio.   A few of the chapters end, just stop, right in the middle of a thought, of a sentence.  Why?  Being edgy, risky, gimmicky?   Mr. Chaon, I don't usually care for gimmicks or such distractions. (This IS at least explained later.) The narration switches between characters, between first, second, and third person, and between past and present.  Why all the jumping around in books these days?  I don't usually care for that either, and was one of the reasons I gave your book You Remind Me of Me only 2 stars.

But, again, this book is SO different, to put it mildly.  This book, gimmicks and all, hooked me by the neck and yanked me along its journey through no less than two gripping murder investigations, two cancer deaths, two estranged brothers, two sisters also estranged, hard drugs, and multiple versions of the past.  Our remembrances of our own pasts are called into question:  You think no one knows your past better than yourself, but Chaon takes you by the neck, again, looks you square in the eye, and says Hah!  That's what you think!  And when a traumatic event such as finding your parents, aunt, and uncle all dead is involved, and of course when buku drugs are being ingested, memories are even more sporadic or repressed.

The older I become, the more I am uncertain of my own memories.  This is a subject that always fascinates me, in books or in discussions.  So I was simply captivated by this book and wished I could get back to it every time I put it down.   It was chilling, and the author's choice to be a little out there worked for me this time, but may not for others because.... 

I did read parts of the ARC aside from listening to it.  I could not get into the printed book at all and can see why some low ratings. My reason is that the formatting in some chapters gives us two or three columns of narration side by side on the pages.  Not so unusual, but then I could not figure out for certain if I was supposed to read all 3 columns on a page before turning the page, or was I supposed to read all pages of the left-hand column first, followed by all pages of the middle column, and then the right-hand.  I really didn't spend too much time on that since in the audio, that decision was made for me. 

Thus, I for one would recommend the audio over other versions.  Plus, it was just excellent.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv - Review

The Story of Arthur Truluv   🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

by Elizabeth Berg
Published August 2017 by Random House
Read 6.24.2017

Some of my greatest reading pleasures have come from Elizabeth Berg, so I was very happy to receive an uncorrected proof on Kindle of her latest offering from NetGalley and Random House.  Now that I've  finished, I  wish I  had the actual  book so I  could give it a big bear hug.  I've  never hugged my tablet before, but I guess I could start now....
No, it's  just not the same but will suffice for now.

There seems to be a trend, as the population ages, for books about old folks, and I found myself comparing Arthur to A Man Called Ove, and Lucille's situation to that in Our Souls at Night.  But let me be clear -- this book is not a knock off.   Ms. Berg's characters and story are not only original, but unique, loving, and expertly crafted from her heart and soul.  I loved Ove, but Arthur is not the cantankerous geezer Ove was. Arthur is his own person, a man grieving and remembering his deceased wife by visiting her grave  every day, but also a man who still loves living.  He honors Nora and their memories, and has no one now but his neighbor, Lucille.  At the cemetery, he meets a troubled teen named Maddy and their friendship transforms both of their lives. 

This book has charm, warmth, and will bring back all the good memories of parents and grandparents now passed.  Home cooking, rose gardens, and family -- the one you were born to or the one you make.  It will tug at your heartstrings.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Breakdown - Review

The Breakdown   🌟🌟🌟
by B. A. Paris
Expected publication July 18 2017 by Martin's Press
Finished June 16 2017

I'd advise future readers not to read any reviews as there are spoilers everywhere!  I saw one early on, and they're called spoilers for good reason.  The book blurb will tell you all you want to know.

In B. A. Paris' first book I disliked the characters and didn't care for the writing either, but the ending was pretty good.  This book is not as psychologically disturbing as the first, but I am going to say pretty much the same thing here.  I hated everyone, wanted to slap Cass more than a few times, the dialog is simplistic as well as the execution of the mystery.  The fact that so much time was spent illustrating daily "silent  calls" and that Cass just kept falling for it. Every. Single. Day... is repetitive and tedious and shows a lack of creativity.  Maybe I have watched classic movies like Sorry, Wrong Number and Midnight Lace too many times.  Obviously Cass has not seen either but I'll  bet Paris has.   Also, Cass, did you know you can turn off the ringer and turn on the answering machine?

But the ending, if you can make it there, again saves the day and raises the likeability factor at least one star.  The author's talent lies in how her femme fatale exacts her revenge.  She just needs to work on putting more mystery into her mysteries.
At this point, I am not sure I would read this author again.  But I am grateful to have received ARC copies from both Goodreads firstreads and from NetGalley.  Can't  wait to see what my book club says.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Conclave - Review

Conclave  πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’•

by Robert Harris, narrated by Roy McMillan
Published September 22 2016 by Random House Audio
Finished June 15 2017

In my twenties I read every Andrew Greeley novel I could lay my hands on; and now listening to Conclave reminded me a lot of Greeley since he wrote so prolifically about Cardinals, Popes, celibacy, politics, etc.   Men of God, be they priests, Monsignors, Cardinals, or the Pope himself are, after all, men and by nature, not without sin.  In Conclave, as the name implies, 118 Cardinals have gathered to elect a new Pope.  One by one, their sins are disclosed  and the contender list shrinks.  Can anyone be found who is pure, worthy, capable, and qualified for the calling?  

The dear departed Pope sounded as if modeled after our current liberal-leaner, Frances, but probably more of a schemer--who knows.   It seemed as if this Conclave was taking place somewhere in the not too distant future.  Harris' view of the future might not be as we would imagine.  Or maybe so.  I figured out the new Pope's identity almost immediately, but that was about it.   The ending was just great--it made me whoop out loud.  I highly recommend this,  whether you're Catholic or not  (I'm  not and I still loved it).  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Stars Are Fire - Review

The Stars Are Fire  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ  4.75 stars
by Anita Shreve
Published April 18 2017 by Knows Publishing Group
Read June 13 2017

Man, I didn't realize how much I have missed Anita Shreve until I started this book one morning and finished it that night.  It is that good. I enjoyed Grace's story tremendously. 

Grace is a thoughtful young woman feeling confused and trapped in what I would call an odd marriage, when the Maine coast is set ablaze one particularly dry autumn.  Wildfires wreak devastation for miles.  Everyone she knows is affected by the fires, by the huge losses, and by the kindness of strangers.  This is how Grace survives and comes into her own.  Her husband is missing and it gives her time to consider a different kind of future for herself and her children.  
Wonderful female characters make up most  of the cast -- women you just want to cheer on or give them a hug.  I was just a little disappointed by the Epilogue, but I definitely do recommend. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Women in the Castle - Review

The Women in the Castle   πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Jessica Shattuck
Published March 28 2017 by William Morrow
Read June 11 2017

I have read so many excellent stories of World War II, and after a while they seem to blend into one another with just a few of them remaining especially memorable.  Also just a few have brought real tears to my eyes as I don't easily cry over books.   This was one, and I already know it is going to be a story I remember and think back on for a long time to come.  The writing is so gorgeous and wrought with emotion, and the characters are so very real and sympathetic.

Marianne is the niece-in-law of a German countess, living in a castle in the woods of Bavaria in 1938, when her husband and best friend from childhood, both men in the German Resistance, fail in an attempt to assassinate Hitler and are themselves killed.  Marianne keeps her promise to her friend to find his wife Benita and son afterwards and keep them safe once the war is over.  Not only does she find them, but another widow named Ania and her children also come to live in the castle.  Ania is quiet and secretive but turns out to be a good housemate, and the three women form a type of life taking care of each other.

Marianne is one with a good heart, and good intentions that will end up going wrong.  The story takes many turns, some quite sad, some just heartbreaking.  Once Ania's true past is revealed about three-fourths into the book, I became glued to the pages.   And from there it just got better and better.  Very powerful and impactful, it delves into how the people who remained in Germany after the war were affected.  Those who were displaced, left with nothing, and those who cared enough to help their fellow citizens.  I also hadn't read many books on the German Resistance, so found that fascinating and relevant.   

I won an ARC copy from LibraryThings that never arrived so then was grateful to obtain a finished copy direct from the publisher.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

If the Creek Don't Rise - Review

If the Creek Don't Rise  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Leah Weiss
Expected publication August 8 2017 by Sourcebooks Landmark

Finished 6.3.2017

I just can't resist sharing some of my favorite passages, minus quotation marks since they are from a pre-publication copy I obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.  

I don't smile. No sir. Life's too shitty. For a old woman, it's more shit than I can shovel. I can't remember if I ever had a choice but to put one foot in front of the other and walk the line on a rocky road to nowhere.

The first thing that struck me about this debut, aside from writing that is an absolute delight, was that this Appalachian tale tells mostly of the resident women folk and the smattering of simply good  people who live in Baines Creek, a remote mountain community.  It seems most stories that are set in Appalachia have only mean, nasty, law-breaking men as the main characters.  Here Sadie stands out among the crowd of narrators, beaten beyond recognition and redemption; beaten down but stronger and wiser for it, as was her grandmother  before  her.  These women aren't perfect by any means, but the mood of the story is such that we forgive them and understand.  Even the three darkest characters have their backgrounds revealed so that we understand them too.  Don't like them, but understand them, to an extent.

It is 1970 on the mountain, and the entire gamut of emotions is felt both there and in your heart as you read about this small town.  
Sometimes I feel this old mountain breathing weary. The high thin air gets sucked deep into her lungs, all the way back to the start of time.  I know her secrets and sins. This high place is hard on folks who give in or give up.  For those who stay, Baines Creek is enough.

It really was enough for me these past few days to take a short trip there and spend time getting to know everyone.  A real treat.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Watch Me Disappear - Review

Watch Me Disappear   🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Janelle Brown
Publication date July 11 2017 by Spiegel & Grau

Finished 5/25/2017

I fell in love with this book during the Prologue when the family of three visits a preserve for monarch butterflies during the start of the monarch migration to the eucalyptus  trees of Northern California.  I knew the family was one that would grab my interest and hold it. This was a lovely family moment, but one of their last because the mother is soon missing and presumed dead after a solo hiking trip from which she never returned. 

Then it is a year later and the father Jonathan and daughter Olive are still in a tailspin over the death, and barely coping.  When Olive thinks she is having visions of her mother, Billie, Olive thinks her mom is trying to tell her that she is not really dead and in fact is in need of rescue.  Jonathan, a writer working on a memoir of grief over the loss of Billie, discovers some incongruities of his own and begins to wonder the same thing.  Only he really needs Billie's  life insurance policy to pay out  so, what to do?  He decides to do what's  best for Olive, but there are many twists in the story to come, many secrets that Billie held close.

This is one of those books where you won't want to read ahead because there are so many surprises.  The last sentence -- well, just wait!

I was happy to have been an ebook copy from the publisher through NetGalley, and an ARC from LibraryThings.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

All the Rivers - Review

All the Rivers   🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Dorit  Rabinyan
Published April 25 2017 by Random House

Finished 8 May 2017

An Israeli woman and a man from Palestine meet at a cafe in New York, and a relationship is born.  There are constant reminders and stories regaled about "home" to instill the picture that, had these two met in their homeland, their reactions to each other would have been very different.  Here in New York, the commonalities with which they can identify come out -- they are in NYC, post 9/11, on temporary visas, treated as foreigners, and both are dark olive skinned and looked at with suspicion.  They have no family nearby to warn them off or to pass judgment.  There is no language barrier since both speak English.  Their differences are minimalized.  A very intriguing way to start out.

But from there, even as their love grows, their differences become obvious, mainly whenever in the presence of their family members or those who know the families.  The language differences, and certainly the politics of their homelands. The viewpoint is from the perspective of Liati, the Israeli; so it is she that we get to know best, it is her joys, opinions, and worries that are expressed.  Perhaps Hilmi was sympathetic because I saw him through her eyes -- quick witted, even tempered, talented, and very  likeable. 

Perhaps also the author is conflicted over a proper resolution to Israel's  problems; I know I only get more deflated whenever I  read about it. There is one intense argument in particular played out between Liati and Hilmi's brother over the fate of a divided Israel that ends in a stalemate.  It's so revealing.  So is the fact that this book has been banned from Israeli schools.
I think because some reviews compared this story to Romeo & Juliet, I felt a nervous tension throughout the story, wondering about the ending.  I grew very worried for their fates. I cared!  Truly a remarkable story.

I am grateful that the publisher asked me to read and review this very special book, which most likely otherwise would have escaped my notice.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Perfect Stranger - Review

The Perfect Stranger  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Megan Miranda
Publish 16 May 2017 by Simon Schuster

Finished 2 May 2017

The author has given us something even better than her debut, more thrills and mysteries, and NOT written in reverse, thank you very much.  The lead characters of Leah and Emma, both hiding  secrets from their pasts, are broken young women still learning how to make it in a world that can be cruel and suspicious.  They run off from Boston to small-town Pennsylvania to try to start over -- Leah, a former journalist now turned school teacher, and Emma... well, we don't know much about Emma and neither does Leah, just what Emma wants her to believe.  Around the time that a young woman gets attacked in this new locale, Emma and her boyfriend both disappear; and Leah and the police try to piece things together with very little to go on.  So little, in fact, that one wonders if Emma is real or just a creation of Leah's troubled psyche.  

With stalkers lurking in the woods, a dead body, noises beneath the house, and the intelligent musing about it all by Leah, I was easily pulled into this story.  I did feel always one step ahead of the action towards the end, but maybe that was intentional as Leah and I together figured out just how things were.   It usually bothers me when I can halfway solve the mysteries, but here, not at all. 

An entertaining read for which I thank NetGalley and Simon Schuster.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Marlena - Review

Marlena   🌟🌟🌟🌟
Julie Buntin 
Published April 4 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

Finished 4/28/2017

During our formative teen years, it's highly possible that one year out of all others will remain with us and shape our lives for better or worse.  Cat's year is her fifteenth, having just moved to Northern Michigan with her brother and divorced mom, when she meets the very intriguing, older (17 yo) neighbor girl Marlena.  From the outset we know that Marlena's homelife  is not typical -- her mother has left, her father is one you wish would go away too, and drug dealers are everywhere.  We also know from early on that Marlena's days are numbered, and Cat's narration will slowly reveal how one manages to drown in an inch of water.    Cat's loneliness and Marlena's neediness bring them together to form an odd couple-type friendship, but at Cat's young age she is vulnerable and easily immersed in Marlena's world.  

From those times in Michigan,  Cat moves to New York and is about to meet up with Marlena's  brother at his request after many years, sure to dredge up memories of the once vibrant and colorful Marlena.  But even without this memory prompt, however, you come to realize how Marlena's life and death are still haunting Cat all these years later. The story itself is haunting, very dark and pervaded with sadness. 

This author is one to watch.  Her talent is quite evident, and the dialogue and character development are exceptional.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Woman No. 17 - Review

Woman No. 17   🌟🌟🌟
by Edan Lepucki  
To be Published May 9 2017 by Hogarth  

Finished April 22, 2017

Writer Lady Daniels and artist S Fowler  (pseudonym for Esther Shapiro) share the spotlight of this story set in the Hollywood Hills.  Lady gives the first POV, and I  was struck at how bluntly honest and forthright she was with us readers.  She kept me engaged even though her life was extremely messed up, but I eventually realized that she is not as honest  as she pretends to be, unfortunately for her family.  

S, on the other  hand, is upfront about her trickery and deceipt, at least with us readers.  She, weirdly, has taken on the persona of her estranged mother, who, when S's  age, was an irresponsible  nanny and a drunk. S also matches hair color change and makeup choices to Mom circa 1985.  Weird that S would want to imitate such a phase  in her mother's  life, and that she actually knew so many details.  S is doing this for an  "art project."  I didn't get it.  When Lady hires S as nanny to her three-year old, Lady has no idea that S is playing a part (Who would do that, after all?) and no idea how her 18 year old son will react to the new live-in.   S goes on to another  art project, one that Lady is unwittingly swept into, and I started to get the why, but felt it still very strange indeed.   

These women are more alike  than initially apparent.  Mother issues on both their parts; their mothers even had mother issues.  Mother issues are a big factor. That I  got!  Complicated relationships and self-absorbed characters make this one that you have to occasionally stop and wonder about, sometimes asking, Who are these people?  Do I  care about what will happen to them?  The children, yes.  The adults, not so much.   I read an ARC provided by

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane   πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Lisa See
Published March 21 2017 by Scribner

Finished 4/13/2017

4.5 stars.

Lisa See has made me very happy.  She can always be trusted to provide historical pieces that both entertain and inform the reader.  So even though the only tea I care to drink is Arizona Zero Calorie Green with Ginseng, I now know more about making tea in China than I could ever imagine, and I loved reading about the ancient customs and superstitions of the  mountain people known as the Akha.  Li-Yan's Akha family spent their lives selling tea, her mother also using it for medicinal  purposes and hoping to pass her skills on to her only daughter. 

 Li-Yan was forced to leave her firstborn daughter with an orphanage, from which the baby was later adopted by white Americans.  Li-Yan was intent on making it as an educated tea seller, while always wondering about the baby she gave up.  Although most pages are dedicated to Li-Yan's  story, we also get to know the little girl as she matures into a young Chinese - American scholar, curious about her Chinese heritage and especially the tea cake  that accompanied her into the orphanage as a baby.  

I found many similarities between this book and Secret Daughter, which took place in India and America.  I thought that one had a disappointing  ending.  This book, though... The last chapter is sure to tug at your heartstrings.  A beautiful book!  Thank you to NetGalley  and the publisher. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us - Review

Everything Belongs to Us    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Yoojin  Grace Wirtz
Published February 28 2017 by Random House

Finished 3/24/17

Since I don't exactly keep abreast of what happens in South Korea, this story of student  protests in the 70s was interesting  at first. Halfway through, however, I felt a little lost and my interest waned.   The two female friends Jisun, rich girl studying life, and Namin, poor girl studying medicine, were refreshingly independent and intelligent. The two rebellious male characters did not engage me in the least. By the end, I was skipping pages and cared only what happened to Namin.  Her struggle to become someone was probably very typical. I am not sure what I  was supposed to glean from this story.  Everyone seemed so remote and distant from each other it was hard to feel anything for them.  

Thanks to Random House for a free review copy.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Boy - Review

New Boy   🌟🌟🌟
by Tracy  Chevalier
Expected publication May 11 2017

Finished 3/15/17
I did not read all of the Shakespeare plays as a kid and certainly won't start doing so now, especially Othello which sounds like a real bummer.  Well, it IS a tragedy.  Tracy Chevalier was charged with retelling the plot, and she sets in the 1970's; but it could just as well be today.  I read a quick summary of Othello just to see what happens, who lives and who dies.  Geez, there's  a lot of dying going on there.  I was afraid of where Chevalier was going to lead us, as her story is populated with sixth graders on the school yard of a Washington DC elementary school. 

Othello  was a Moor, a person of color.  Here, Osei is a new boy in school, born in Ghana, and although it's nearing summer break, it's O's first day.  Dee (Desdemona) is a popular girl assigned the task of taking O around to make him comfortable.  The entire book takes place in one day, mind you, and almost  immediately O and Dee hit it off and are considered "going together."  (These sixth graders move fast.)  Then the bully Ian has to step in and manipulate everything and everyone until chaos reigns and the story is turned on its head.

I think Chevalier did  a really good job with portraying racism and bullying.  I didn't think I'd be interested in the Hogarth series, but I am a fan of Chevalier.  And Hamlet  retold by Gillian Flynn sounds like a sure winner. 

A Bookstr win 2/2017.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Idaho - Review

Idaho    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Emily Ruskovich
Published February 16 2016 by Chatto & Windus

Finished 3/12/17

I received a galley copy of Idaho from NetGalley and the publisher.  

There was much to like about this book, but also tremendous frustration with it.   First, I looked at the chapter titles, which log the years going from 2004 to 2008 to 1985-1986, 1999, 1973, and at the end 2025, and I could not bring myself to even begin reading it, since I definitely do not enjoy timelines that jump around like this. 
But when I finally did start it, I was sort of mesmerized by the exquisite writing and drawn into the mystery of a mother who inexplicably murders her daughter on a family outing, causing the other daughter to run away and go missing for all time.  So two mysteries actually exist.  Two mysteries to solve...or not.
Then just as I was drawn in, I was turned off by more perspectives and timelines being introduced, and more questions than answers.  The last several chapters were interminable.  I guess if read for a book club, there could be lengthy discussions, analyzing, delving deeply, and sheer guesswork to be had.  Instead, I sit here very frustrated and not pleased one bit with the ending.  2.5 stars.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Couple Next Door - Review

The Couple Next Door    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Shari Lapena
Published August 23 2016 by Pamela Dorman Books

Finished 3/10/17

The Couple Next Door is a fast-paced read that I finished in less than 24 hours. It felt like a race to the finish line.  Twists and turns, yes.  Multiple suspects and red herrings, yes.  Surprise ending, you bet, although I  wasn't that surprised given the set up.  

I was impressed with the plot, but the writing less so.  It felt repetitive and the endless inner monologues of the married couple had me gritting and grinding my teeth until they hurt.  None of the characters were people I'd  like to know.  However, it all worked to build the suspense and keep me interested until the very last sentence. 

A Gentleman in Moscow - Review

A Gentleman in Moscow    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Amor Towles
Published September 6 2016 by Viking

Finished 3/9/17

I just love reading about Russians (novels, not the daily Presidential briefings, thank you).  And I dare you not to fall in love while reading about the charming Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, exiled to life in his residence at the Hotel Metropol for writing a poem and for being a member of the aristocracy, an elitist.  His Excellency will be shot if he sets foot outside the hotel.  Life continues pretty much as before, though, because he is all about resilience, adapting, and making the most of your situation.  Tossed from his luxury suite to a miniature room in the attic, he soon finds he can live quite comfortably with a little help from his friends and a lot of help from his attitude and ingenuity.

"...Let us simply agree that the wise man celebrates what he can" rather than be slowed down by life's humiliations, is his way of thinking.  

Just as I found Rules of Civility to be elegant, humorous, and distinguished, I recognize the same elements here in spades.  The prose has elegance; the Count, the hotel and its guests exude sophistication.  This is a book that begs to go on and on, asking for your  patience (yes, I gave it) as more topics are tackled, world history is retread (subtly), and more delights handed out by way of wonderful characters and unmatched story telling.  You know that when the lead character can converse with anyone aged 5 to 95, can spin a tale at the drop of a Babushka, discuss food and wine with sous chefs, not to mention literature, and charm the dress off of a willful actress, here is an author who can probably do all of the above and more.  I am impatient to see what else clever Mr. Towles has up his sleeve for us next!

Friday, March 3, 2017

In a Dark, Dark Wood - Review

In  Dark, Dark Wood   🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Ruth Ware
Published July 30 2015 by Harvill  Secker  

Finished 3/2/17

Well, shucks, I was loving this little thrill ride right up until the end approached.  A fast, easy read with a few scares thrown in, it turned out not to be a thriller in the real sense, but more psychological as you try to figure out which of these misfits stuck in a glass vacation house for a strange weekend is a mmmmurderrrrrrrrrer.

It really did scare me quite a bit, picturing them  in this house with one side completely glass facing the woods.  I cannot sit in a house at night with no curtains; I feel like I'm on a stage just as these people did, even if common sense says the chances of there being anyone out there watching are remote. 

As the story wrapped up, unfortunately there were too many little questions I  had that were not answered, and the implications of the title were not realized.  Had to deduct a star from what had been shaping up to be 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Before the Fall - Review

Before the Fall    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Noah Hawley
Published May 31 2016 by Grand Central Publishing

Finished 3/1/17

A private plane crashes shortly after takeoff and everyone on board perishes except a painter, Scott, and a 4 year old boy, J.J.  Was it a true accident, sabotage, terrorism, or what?   The stories of those killed unfold chapter after chapter, interspersed with Scott and J.J. trying to make it afterwards with their heroism and some skepticism thrown their way.  

I was really enjoying how this story made me think.  We hear about hero worship of a disaster survivor/victim and how that person must feel--certainly differently in the aftermath, but really a hero?  Maybe just a survivor doing what anyone else would do under the circumstances.   Then having to feel like a victim of not just the disaster but of the media when news reporters start to dig into their personal  lives and question even the most innocent of their daily interactions.   This made me think of the criticism that the media is getting today on the political front and how I  have been thinking how unfairly they are being treated.  Cannot forget that there are honest, reputable reporters, and there are scum, just like in any occupation.

Scott was a great character and was given perfect dialog  and actions to match.  How his troubles were resolved at the end was imperfect, however -- the author seemed to be reaching.  Still a good, thought-provoking story; and the audio narration was great.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Animators - Review

The Animators    πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Published  January  31 2017 by Random House

Finished 2/16/17

Like oil and water, Mel and Sharon would appear on the outside to be the types that don't  blend together.  But the more we get to know  these friends, they seem like an old married couple in just how balanced  their relationship is and how suited to each other they are. 

Quirky Mel:  Raised in Florida by a prostituting mother who died in prison.  Mel and Sharon have made a very successful animated film of Mel's crazy life, resulting in a grant to do another.

Sensible Sharon:   Grew up in a dysfunctional family in Kentucky, feeling a disconnect with them all, having only one best friend in the neighbor boy who probably influenced her life the most, for good or bad.  Now it's  Sharon turn to have her life flashed up on the big screen, but she has her reservations about the aftermath.  Just as she kept Mel sane through her story, now it's  Mel keeping things copacetic even through some very bad times.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  You can see the Titanic off in the distance about to smash into that iceberg and set the plot spinning off in unimaginable ways.    That is not a bad thing.  It is very, very good.  Wrought with emotions, fantastic dialog, and deep subplots mixed  with sharp humor, wisdom, and originality.  I couldn't  put it down.   

Thanks to NetGalley  and the publisher.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Patriots - Review

The Patriots  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Sana Krasikov
Published January 24 2017 by Siegel & Grau

Finished 2/7/17

The Patriots is a beautifully inspired epic of Florence Fein from Brooklyn, a career girl of Russian Jewish descent.  Her job takes her to Cleveland to assist with a business  deal between her American employer and a Russian company.  Smitten with one of the Russians, she eventually trails him to the homeland.  This begins her long story recounting the years 1932-1934 and up in Russia, turbulent  years to put it mildly.  She and her Jewish husband come through WWII virtually unscathed, safer there from persecution than perhaps  anywhere  else.  But they are in Russia  and so it does not remain   safe for long.  They are soon arrested for espionage and their little  boy placed in an orphanage.  

I much enjoyed Florence's  story, alternated with a narration from her son Julian, who became an American.  There was a third story of Julian's  son Lenny,  who resides in Moscow, and a visit from Julian, which I felt added very little to the story  and almost, in fact, ruined it all for me.  The book is over 500 pages and jumps  around a great deal between countries and between timelines.  This is a lethal combination for me and I felt like giving up on it many times.  I'm glad to have finished  though because it turned out to be a lesson in loyalties,  faith,  forgiveness, perseverance, promises kept, and much more.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

Following Atticus - Review

Following Atticus  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
by Tom Ryan
Published September 20 2011 by William Morrow

Finished 2.6.2017

How can one help but love this 20 pound fur baby?  This powerhouse  known as Atticus M. Finch (love that), Little Buddha, or Little Giant in and around his home town of Newburyport, MA, led his best friend Tom Ryan hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire, making history one winter summiting over 48 peaks in honor of a friend who had died of cancer.  As  Atticus  and Tom reached each peak, they would pause at the summit and bond while gazing out at the beauty of the landscape.  They grew famous and beloved through news of their treks, by the amazement at a small dog's ability to accomplish such feats and overcome adversities.  Through the power of their friendship, light prevailed over darkness when tragedy struck.  

I first learned of this dynamic duo watching an Animal Planet special several years back.  Then I read a heartbreaking  review of the book  following Atticus' passing last year. The audio book is narrated by Tom Ryan--New England accent and all.   (Who knew that Newburyport was pronounced New Breport?)  Atticus M. Finch changed Tom Ryan's life and that of all who knew him and who continue to learn of him.   I loved how Tom trained him from a pup not with punishments or rewards, but with the respect deserving a Please and Thank you for each favor granted.  Atticus taught Tom how to love and how to live, about kindness, and how to dream.  Tom gave Atti selfless adoration and a good life mingled with nature.

I checked out Tom's blog and learned that he is still writing (great news!) and has a new companion, Samwise, with whom he already hikes as he did with Atticus.  Last month atop a summit they watched Mars, the moon, and Venus align and Tom wrote:

"As Emerson would say in his Transcendental way..., Samwise and I were with our peers out in that snowy field, with stars so brilliant, so bewildering, and  humbling, I couldn't help but feel I was part of all we saw.  And that little line that divides man and beast vanished and what we shared was the sacrament of communion.

Nature has a way of bringing us home..."

Two more books are forthcoming!