I read 2-3 books a week -- paper copies, ebooks, and audiobooks alike. I have opinions on them and love to share!
Who would know there are so many wonderful books and so many great authors out there unless we shared!
I'm also a reviewer on Goodreads, LibraryThings, and NetGalley.
Girl in Snow 🌟🌟🌟
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.
The Secrets She Keeps 🌟🌟🌟🌟 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The Women in the Castle 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
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.
If the Creek Don't Rise 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Leah Weiss
Expected publication August 8 2017 by Sourcebooks Landmark
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.
Watch Me Disappear 🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Janelle Brown
Publication date July 11 2017 by Spiegel & Grau
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.
All the Rivers 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
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.
The Perfect Stranger 🌟🌟🌟🌟
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.
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.
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 LibraryThings.com.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Lisa See
Published March 21 2017 by Scribner
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.
Everything Belongs to Us 🌟🌟🌟
by Yoojin Grace Wirtz
Published February 28 2017 by Random House
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.
New Boy 🌟🌟🌟
by Tracy Chevalier
Expected publication May 11 2017
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.
by Emily Ruskovich
Published February 16 2016 by Chatto & Windus
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.
The Couple Next Door 🌟🌟🌟
by Shari Lapena
Published August 23 2016 by Pamela Dorman Books
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 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Amor Towles
Published September 6 2016 by Viking
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!
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.
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.
The Animators 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Published January 31 2017 by Random House
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.
The Patriots 🌟🌟🌟
by Sana Krasikov
Published January 24 2017 by Siegel & Grau
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.
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.
Published July 28 2015 by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Just as your first steaming cup of coffee of the morning, sweet butter melting on freshly baked bread, a brilliant red heirloom tomato, a slice of carrot cake, and wine, great wine, are meant to be savored, so are these stories of Eva Thorvald. Born to a woman who chose a sommelier over her and a man who cherished her more than life itself, she grew up in our great Midwest learning about fresh food and family through osmosis. The descriptions made me hungry for farm stand produce and Peanut Butter Bars from the Lutheran church's bake sale. I'm craving bi-color corn and a huge juicy vine-ripened tomato picked fresh this morning, still warm from the bright sunshine so missing from this January day here near Chicago. Food truly is a language we can all speak, even when there are no words for what's in our hearts.
It's a one of a kind 5🌟 story and a debut to boot. You did an excellent job, J. Ryan Stradal. Your mother taught you well. Thanks for the memories. This was a great experience I won't soon forget.
End of Watch 🌟🌟🌟
by Stephen King
Published June 7 2016 by Scribner
I was a little taken aback at the ending of book #2 in this series because I was afraid it meant that book #3 would be something like Carrie meets Doctor Sleep. That just wouldn't do even with Stephen King's name on the cover. And while it wasn't quite like that, it was a bit over the top. But, dang if King doesn't pull it off. Still, it's my least fav of the series.
Mr. Mercedes ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Finders Keepers ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I'm so glad to have listened to it. Will Patton, narrator extraordinaire, is the man.
When Pat Conroy made his escape from an abusive ass of a father to play the game he loved, basketball, at The Citadel, he had no idea the abuse would continue in the form of (a.) his fellow classmates during Hell Night and then his entire plebe year, and (b.) his coach, who thrived on shaming his players in one way or another until they either collapsed in on their emotions or put on an "I'll show him" performance when next out on the court. Torn between his two loves, for the game and for developing himself as a writer, Conroy recalls his sad childhood and his time spent on the bball court up to his senior "losing season." His aim was to see if more is gained from losing than from winning. For us readers, I'm so glad that the turning of a phrase finally beat out the spinning of the basketball as his ultimate destination.
Even so, the prologue reveals that the writing and rehashing of his past was not so easy on him either:
"I have a history of cracking up at least once during the writing of each of my last five books. It has not provided the greatest incentive to head for the writing table each morning, but it's the reality I live with."
What a shame. Kind of makes you wonder what drove him to continue on doing something that might break him. It seems that writing about all of the near breakdowns during his formative years, which should have been cathartic, instead caused a gloom to spread over him. His own words, according to Wikipedia.org:
"Conroy lived in Beaufort with wife Cassandra until his death. In 2007, he commented that she was a much happier writer than he was: 'I'll hear her cackle with laughter at some funny line she's written. I've never cackled with laughter at a single line I've ever written. None of it has given me pleasure. She writes with pleasure and joy, and I sit there in gloom and darkness.'"
Wonderful writing with deep introspection and raw honesty. Be warned, though, there is a lot of bball playing (the stories are wonderful, funny, sad and some long-winded) and a cast of characters to rival a phone book. Interspersed is self-doubt at every turn, a man so humble he felt any awards or accolades he won were undeserved, and not a dishonest bone in his body. A true Southern gentleman.
The Winter in Anna
by Reed Karaim
Published January 17 2017 by W. W. Norton & Co.
Two young adults Eric and Anna meet while working together at a small town newspaper, become fast friends, and maybe never before have two people known so much yet so little about each other. Eric didn't stay long but spent his life thinking about the meaning of Anna, the "winter in Anna" where she finds snowstorms unbearable (one of her many mysteries), and the meaning of their relationship; the reasons for the different things Anna did and how to explain her to those still puzzled after her tragic death.
This is a quiet, contemplative story. It is difficult to find words equal to its beauty. If you want adventure and thrills, do not tread here amidst these tales of sadness and Badlands. If you want a meaningful, impactful read, proceed slowly and prepare for a real treat. You might not be able to put it down.