Professional Reader 80% 25 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge

Friday, March 24, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us - Review

Everything Belongs to Us    🌟🌟🌟
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    🌟🌟
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    🌟🌟🌟
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    🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
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    🌟🌟🌟🌟
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.