Book Review: The Memory Garden by M. Rickert

Book Review: The Memory Garden by M. RickertThe Memory Garden by Mary Rickert
Published by Sourcebooks, Incorporated on 2014-05-06
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, Ghost
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Incorporated
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three-stars
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Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own

Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn't know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all Bay.

I received this book for free from Incorporated in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I finished reading THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert last May and now, months later, I still have conflicted emotions when I think about it.  I remember thinking that this should be the perfect story for me – an old family secret, a girl surrounded by characters who have rich pasts, conflict, friendship, love – maybe even a little magic, be it of the supernatural or the chemistry kind.

Unfortunately, I think THE MEMORY GARDEN really fell short for me on most of these.  I remember, while reading, that I would feel these little kindling thoughts like.. this could be it, this could be where the story really gets moving – but instead those bits of kindling died out and, instead, I found myself trudging through more story and more text (because some of it, honestly, was quite dull).

That’s not to say it was all bad.  There were those moments.  And that’s why I’m having a hard time giving this book less than a 3-star rating, in spite of my reservations about it. Because those moments were…almost… magical.  I can practically feel my fingertips tingling a bit as I remember the bits and pieces, and I just wish that the rest of the book would have followed suit.

THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert may just have been one of those books I read at the wrong time.  Perhaps it needed to be read when there was rain outside and fall colors and a cup of tea by my side instead of in sunny Hawaii while sitting at the beach.  Maybe I’ll try it again and see if the setting can make a difference.  I wouldn’t discourage anyone to not pick this one up because maybe you will just have better luck with it than I did this time.

Check out these reviews!

  • The novel is very finely written. With its single location and limited cast of characters, it feels almost like a play. - Strange Horizons
  • I enjoyed the read, it just fell a little flat for me.” - The Book Stop
  • Even though this book didn’t work for me, readers who like quirky tales, ghost stories, and magical realism might want to give it a try..” - Book of Secrets

Book Review: Wake by Anna Hope

Book Review: Wake by Anna HopeWake by Anna Hope
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2014-02-11
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Random House
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two-stars
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Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

I received this book for free from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Nope. No.  Not at all.  WAKE by Anna Hope did not work for me.  The problems were plentiful and the good things.. well, good thing, it was scarce.  I was so angry through this book but even that anger sputtered and died as I felt myself careening toward an end that was sure to disappoint.  And, honestly, maybe that’s exactly what that ending was supposed to do.  I hate literary devices like the one used to end WAKE and that was the final nail in the coffin for me.

The only, and I do mean only, reason WAKE gets a generous two-star rating from me is because of a single story that’s told.  A story that lays out the events of three men on the front and finally put my mind at ease.  Why didn’t Matthew come home and why didn’t his mother get a second letter?  That was the only pressing question I had, and even so, it was not a hard pressure at all.  Just a mild…. ok, I’m a bit interested.

The whole four-person narration thing, and one of those narrators being a collective people suffering from the war, did not work at all.  I was constantly confusing Evelyn and Hettie and their brothers (Ed and Fred?).  I still had to check to see which brother belonged to which girl, and then which girl belonged where.  Then I’d think, Oh yeah.. Hettie is the dancer and Evelyn the pensioner…but then the brothers would enter the picture or something would happen with some other man.. Robin or Gus or.. oh man, I don’t know. I’m so confused and it wasn’t at all engrossing like I had hoped it would be.

I walked away from WAKE with a splitting headache and a desire to kick something.. my wall or a desk.  I was frustrated and angry and, yes, as I said before, the ending it sucked.  I hate, hate, hate tricks and “literary expressions” like the one used to end WAKE.  I would really only recommend this book as a doorstop – I don’t get what all the people out there are raving about.  Unless you are really, really good with keeping names and places and professions straight in your head while a bunch of random strangers are thrown at you with the fourth narrative (which should have been the clear, center focus of the book and it was not), steer clear of this one.

Check out these reviews!

  • Wake is not one to miss, and in the centenary of WWI, essential reading. -  Book Snob
  • Wake was an intelligent, thoughtful read and I would love for there to be a follow up.” - Time Waits for No Mum
  • Anna Hope wove her spell and managed to conjure up an intriguing tale, quite rich with emotion that held me entranced until the last page.” - Lynn’s Book Blog

Book Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

Book Review: The Returned by Jason MottThe Returned by Jason Mott
Published by MIRA on 2013-08-27
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 338
Format: eARC
Source: MIRA
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four-stars
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Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time ... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

I received this book for free from MIRA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

It’s been quite a few months since I read THE RETURNED by Jason Mott, but the story still lingers and every once in a while, when I see someone experience a loss on television, or hear of someone losing a loved on via my Facebook feed, or even the happy news of lost strangers being united with their families, my mind returns to the story in THE RETURNED.

It’s quite the story.  Imagine losing a child or a loved one and then, years later, they appear on your doorstep, completely unchanged.  And it’s not just happening to you – people around the world are experiencing the return of their loved ones.  For Harold and Lucille, the story becomes very real when their son, Jacob, appears on their doorstep as a young, nine-year old boy, just the same age as when he was lost to them.

But Harold and Lucille have changed.  And soon the town finds itself divided as some families seek to protect their returned and others fear who may just turn up on their doorstep; the fear being for various reasons.  But even more than an interesting story line here is the light it shines on our society and our grief and coping mechanisms.  Additionally, it questions just what our definition of life should be.   Now, granted, I don’t see a story like this happening any time soon, but it’s really not a surprise that the Returned (as those who were dead but now aren’t are dubbed) are treated in some sectors as less than human.  There is so much in this world that is evidence of the inhumane treatment of those living that I can’t say that I was really surprised by the events that unfolded in THE RETURNED.

I saw that THE RETURNED was also being made into a television show and, while I think that the concept would play well on the screen, it’s not something I would care to see recreated.  While the story still lingers in my mind, it’s not a story that begs for me to return to it.  Still, it was quite the interesting read and I can remember staying up late into the night to finish it.

Check out these reviews!

  • There’s so much to think about after finishing The Returned. Days after I reached the final page, my emotional reactions are still coming in waves. It’s definitely a book to check out. -  Rather Be Reading
  • “I highly recommend this book, it made me cry by the end of the story and also made me think throughout the telling of it.” - Just Add Water, Silly
  • So, I implore readers not to get so wrapped up in the how and why it happened but focus on the characters and their response to this life-altering experience. Highly, highly recommended.” – Jenn’s Bookshelves

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen OyeyemiBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Published by Riverhead on 2014-03-06
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Riverhead
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two-stars
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In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

I received this book for free from Riverhead in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’m struggling so much right now because I really, really wanted to fall in love with BOY, SNOW, BIRD by Helen Oyeyemi.  I’m sitting here, struggling with a lack of words to convey my disappointment and struggling as well to try to articulate what exactly about BOY, SNOW, BIRD disappointed me.  I asked myself when I finished reading if maybe I had expected too much – Snow White has always been one of my favorite stories, but I really went into this book without reading much of anything except the brief synopsis on the back.  My mind was open to the possibilities and I had absolutely every hope of being drawn in.

What happened was that, ultimately, I got bored.  I had a reasonable amount of interest during the entire first section, but after a while it felt like I was reading fragments of a story loosely bound together.  When the sections shifted to a new voice, I struggled for almost 30 pages with trying to get my head in the right place.  I felt like I’d been rudely ripped from one story and thrust into another without so much as a warning.

I really, really think that what Oyeyemi was attempting to do here is a fantastic thing.  I really wanted to be blown away with her insights and strong characters that would pummel me from the pages and make me think long and hard.  Unfortunately, my thinking was solely to do with wondering when the book was ending and asking myself if I should just put it down and DNF it.  I didn’t, but there’s a strong part of me that wishes that I had, because BOY, SNOW, BIRD ended up being, in my humble opinion, a pretty cover, a cool concept for a story, but something that ultimately just did not deliver.

Check out these reviews!

  • Nevertheless, even though the final result is unfortunately, not as perfect as its promising beginnings, Boy, Snow, Bird is still a notable read of 2014. -  The Book Smugglers
  • “I’ve started to notice this book popping up on more and more blogs so it probably doesn’t really need my endorsement to gain well-deserved attention, but I’m going to endorse away anyway.” – Nylon Admiral

Book Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Book Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris BohjalianClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday on 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Doubleday
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four-stars
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A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily's parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer's house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can't outrun her past, can't escape her grief, can't hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

I received this book for free from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

If you are at all familiar with my reviews, then you know that I am a fan of Chris Bohjalian.  He first won me over with THE DOUBLE BIND, then he wrecked my heart with MIDWIVES, and it’s all been over since those two books.  While I’ve loved some of his books more than others, I have to say that CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, is by far the most inventive and out-of-his-box book I’ve seen yet.  When I finished CLOSE YOUR EYES, I didn’t even know what to think and, I’m not even kidding here, I even double-checked to make sure that the author was the same guy I thought it was.  But that’s not a bad thing at all because, let me tell you, I can always count on Bohjalian to throw me for a loop and this time he did it with the very style of writing he was doing.

But let’s talk about the story because there were several things about this story that I loved.  The style of story-telling reminded me of a book I read by N. Scott Momaday called THE WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN.  Now, the similarities stop at the style only – because the content is very, very different.  But in RAINY MOUNTAIN, Momaday tells three different narratives – a legend, an historical account, and a personal story or anecdote, if you will.  Similar to this style, Emily Shepherd is, in bare-bones terms, telling three stories.  The history of the girl Emily before the accident, the history of the girl Emily before we know her, and the current narrative of the girl Emily.  All three of these stories come together to form a confession of sorts that tore at my heart and had me crying in sympathy and sorrow by the end of the book.

Then there’s the way that Bohjalian handled being inside the mind of a teenage girl who has suddenly found herself bereft.  She’s lost her parents, she’s lost her dogs, she’s lost her home, and she’s lost her identity.  Not only the last of these, but she’s learned that she is hated by anyone who hears her name.  It’s no wonder that her primary goal is to go home – even if that means a loss of her life.  She’s 14 years old, life as a 14 year old girl isn’t concerned with your mortality, it’s about needing to feel safe and secure and loved.  And Emily is sorely lacking in all three of those things.

I really, really loved CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS in a way that I’ve not loved Bohjalian’s books before.  I loved the way it challenged me and made me think.  I loved how it realistically portrayed the life of a 14 year old girl during a disaster that is not all that far-fetched to imagine.  Once again, I was not let down by Bohjalian and I cannot wait for the day when I can shake his hand and thank him for the hours of reading pleasure he’s given me.

Check out these reviews!

  • While the writing style and organization of the book didn’t always work for me, I still couldn’t look away or stop reading - Bookshelf Fantasies
  • For, the story is Emily, her thoughts, her experiences, and her emotions. It is painful, gut-wrenching, emotionally difficult, and brutally honest. It does not get much better than that.” - That’s What She Read
  • Emily Shepard is a character who will mark herself in your memory and Bohjalian is an author whose books you will reach for repeatedly.” - Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Book Review: Decompression by Juli Zeh

Decompression by Juli Zeh
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Romance, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 272
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An explosive thriller about two couples who are caught in a web of conflicting passions while deep-sea diving off the beautiful Canary Islands Sven Fiedler is a young lawyer in Germany who decides he's had enough. No more competing with coworkers for his boss's attention, no more flaunting this or that new purchase to keep his friends impressed, no more endless workweeks under fluourescent lights. So he withdraws from the bustle of modern life to the island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, where he and his girlfriend, Antje, establish a simpler routine. Sven sets up a business as a deep-sea diving instructor while Antje has her own real estate agency, and the two happily cater to tourists who come to bask in the warm sunshine and explore the silent, gleaming marine paradise that makes this island such a remarkable retreat. In November of 2011, two German tourists, Jola von der Pahlen and Theo Hast, engage Sven for an expensive two-week intensive diving experience. They stay in a guest house on Sven and Antje's property, and the two couples quickly become entangled in a mess of jealousies and suspicions. Sven is struck by Jola's beauty and her evident wealth. Theo quickly leaps to the conclusion that Sven and Jola are conspiring against him, but oddly, he seems to facilitate their affair rather than trying to stop it. Antje, looking on, grows increasingly wary of these particular clients. Shifting through various points of view, the reader is constantly kept guessing about who knows what, and more important, who is telling the truth. As the tension builds, it becomes increasingly clear that someone will meet a violent end, but a quiet one, down in the underwater world beneath the waves.
My Review:

This is not going to be a long review.  To be honest, it’s been two months since I read DECOMPRESSION by Juli Zeh and the most excitement I can gather when I think of it is a mild, distracted, “meh.”  That sounds really bad, but I was so taken in by the interesting cover and the synopsis and setting (The Canary Islands!) that I couldn’t help but imagine something exciting and thrilling.  What I got, instead, was something that made me feel slightly dirty and more than a little frustrated that I spent so much of my valuable free time trying to muddle through the whole thing.

Honestly, this should have been a DNF (did not finish) book for me. I kept hoping that the story would get better, that it would be revealed that there actually was a good person in all of this, and other than a brief glimpse at the end of a character who was really kept in the background, I didn’t really get that.  Instead, I got a story about some self-centered, rich people who live in seclusion in paradise and who have been hired out to cater to some more self-centered rich people.

The suspense was all built around sexual tension.  That’s not to say there can’t be suspense there, but it never actually felt dangerous.  Instead, it felt like Zeh was trying too hard to put suspense and tension into the book and was way overshooting the mark.  I didn’t believe it, I didn’t believe that the characters actually had passion and drive and desire.  Instead, what I felt like was that I was reading a mediocre play that involved a mediocre cast trying to put some life into it.

I was deeply disappointed by DECOMPRESSION, but I’m more disappointed in myself that I got sucked in by yet another pretty cover and the idea of a story that really wasn’t delivered.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The characters’ relationships slowly smother each other, yet I found myself not really caring about the final outcome. -  Curious Animals
  • “Ultimately, the novel’s best scenes describe the landscape or the underwater moments between Sven and his troublesome clients.” - His Futile Preoccupations
  • Decompression by Juli Zeh is a so-so novel for me. While it is well written, I think it may have lost some of the flow of the original German.” – She Treads Softly

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve ValentineThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
Published by Atria Books on 2014-06-03
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Literary, Magical Realism
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Atria Books
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three-stars
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From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a "gorgeous and bewitching" (Scott Westerfeld) reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan.

Jo, the firstborn, "The General" to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father's townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off. 

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn't seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself. 

With The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McClain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom.

I received this book for free from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I don’t know what it is about prohibition-era books, but they all seem to fall flat for me.  This is in spite of all of my hopes that every time I pick one up, it will be THE one.  You know, the one that lives up to all of my hopes and dreams.  Is that a bit unrealistic?  Yes.  But I know it’s also doable as I’ve seen some fantastic things done on screen that fulfill that exact wish (Boardwalk Empire anyone?).  I thought that THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB by Genevieve Valentine would be perfect as it combined two of my favorite things – Prohibition time period and Fairy-Tale roots.  Unfortunately, it fell a bit flat.  Let me tell you why -

For some reason this era lends itself to artsy interpretations.  The Great Gatsby, for example, is a shining example of what exactly we look for when it comes to this type of literature.  And most of us have spent all sorts of time trying to puzzle out exactly what the symbolism of that blue light or the eyes on the billboard mean so it’s only natural that when an author picks up a pen (or sits at the computer) to write about a Gatsby-era story then the symbolism is shortly to follow.  That was where THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB fell flat in the biggest way.  It was too artsy and too high-brow of a story.   It was assumed that the reader would fill in the blanks or know quite a bit of the back story and, as with all fairy-tale re-tellings, you still have to lay the groundwork.  You have to assume that the story isn’t as widely known as you may think.

The story is a pretty two-dimensional one as well.  Bad father, dead mother, lots of sisters slipping out at night to dance.  There’s no exploration of the motives behind this, other than it seems it’s a rebellion maybe on the girls part?  In fact, just the fact that I’m struggling to understand the whole plot of the story with regard to the dancing speaks to its lack of interest to me.  I just didn’t care and all the dancing did was provide a medium for the rest of the story to actually take place.

Unfortunately, THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB was just a bit of fluff reading for me.  I didn’t really get into the story, but it was interesting enough for me to want to finish it. There were moments when I felt like I was caught up in the era and excited by what I was reading but those were few and far between.  I’ll stick to my Gatsby reading when I want a fix and hope that the next book that takes on this time can hit a higher standard.

Check out these reviews!

Book Review: The Home Place by Carrie La Seur

Book Review: The Home Place by Carrie La SeurThe Home Place by Carrie La Seur
Published by William Morrow on 2014-07-29
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: William Morrow
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three-half-stars
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Carrie La Seur makes her remarkable debut with The Home Place, a mesmerizing, emotionally evocative, and atmospheric literary novel in the vein of The House Girl and A Land More Kind Than Home, in which a successful lawyer is pulled back into her troubled family's life in rural Montana in the wake of her sister's death.

The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she'd left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.

The Home Place is a story of secrets that will not lie still, human bonds that will not break, and crippling memories that will not be silenced. It is a story of rural towns and runaways, of tensions corporate and racial, of childhood trauma and adolescent betrayal, and of the guilt that even forgiveness cannot ease. Most of all, this is a story of the place we carry in us always: home.

I received this book for free from William Morrow in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Unless you have been out west (Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, etc) it’s impossible to describe the sheer beauty and enormous space there is there.  I spent a few years living in Wyoming, in Laramie where I went to school at the Univ. of Wyoming, and as much as I hated the brutal winters that would rip my face open it felt like with the wind and the snow and the ice, I also admired on a near-daily basis the beauty of the mountains and the majesty of the land surrounding me.  In THE HOME PLACE by Carrie La Seur, some of that is captured and I was impressed in the reverence with which La Seur approached her subject.

THE HOME PLACE is first a story of a broken family and the death of one of its members.  Vicky, the youngest in a family torn apart by an accident years before, has been found dead, supposedly of the elements.  It’s January and her older sister, Alma, has less than a week to get everything squared away, including figuring out where to settle Vicky’s daughter, Tiffany, before she has to be back in Seattle for her work.

The problem is the land and the people on it – they are hard to get out and away from and if you go back, they attach right back to you, as Alma learns.  Immersed in memories and family and the love/hate relationship that goes along with all of that, Alma has to struggle to figure out what it is she really wants.  What made this book so irresistible to being put down, however, is the depth and breadth that Carrie La Suer went to in order to give a diverse and interesting look at life in modern-day Billings, Montana.

From the Native American factions and descriptions, to a brother who lives a lifestyle that, to this day, required strength of character and bravery in order to live every day life, to the sweeping descriptions of both the land, as well as a home that made me want to curl up next to the fire and read, the true beauty of THE HOME PLACE is the story that isn’t being told.  It’s the background and the secondary characters and the feelings those evoke in the reader.  Like the sweeping vastness of Montana, it seems unattainable yet feels like home all at the same time.

Check out these reviews!

  • It was enjoyable but it finished too fast for me. I guess that’s a good sign. -  Leeswammes’ Blog
  • “While this one didn’t really work for me, I am confident others may find it more enjoyable.” – Reviews from the Heart

Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy BloomLucky Us by Amy Bloom
Published by Random House on 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Emotions & Feelings, Family, Girls & Women, Historical
Pages: 256
Format: eARC
Source: Random House
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two-stars
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"My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us."

Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris's ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn's beauty parlors to London's West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

I received this book for free from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

LUCKY US by Amy Bloom starts with the following line: ““My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”  Unfortunately, things did not stay with that same level of awesomeness.  What I was pitched by the synopsis was a story that involved two sisters stumbling through life together.  What I got was two sisters thrown together until something happened that tears them apart and the rest of the story we only really get to see the life of the one sister – Eva – the sister who, in spite of Bloom’s best efforts, was somewhat of a wet-rag type of character.

Am I being too harsh?  I don’t think so.  I really tried to get on Eva’s side.  I wanted to be able to root for her, but she just kind of floundered around in this story.  She never takes a stand for anything, never speaks up for herself, and instead, she seems to constantly be apologizing for being just … there.  Some very interesting characters enjoy Eva, so I’m sure that there was an intention there for her to be interesting and worth following, but instead I felt just a bit gypped because I wanted to follow Iris through her life and, through an interesting turn of events, all I got were letters and a wrapped up ending.

Bloom touches on some heavy subjects in LUCKY US – from Japanese internment camps, Nazi sympathizers, deportation, and gay and lesbian issues during the WW2 era.  But she only touches on them, leaving the exploration out of the picture and using only parts of those issues in order to make her story seem more.. legitimate perhaps? I’m not really sure how to put it other than that way, because what I got out of LUCKY US was a that it was an historical novel that saved face as an historical novel because it included some pretty big issues from the WW2 era.  Strip those issues away and all that would be left is a mediocre relationship between two girls – only one of whom flirted at being something more than a two-dimensional character.

 

Check out these reviews!

  • Based on the description, I was expecting another kind of book. I thought more of the focus would be on Iris’s quest for stardom. Even so, I LOVED this book.   -  Finding my Virginity
  • I would highly suggest you read this book if you are interested in coming of age type stories!” - Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown
  • The beauty of this tale is that everywhere Eva goes, she is meeting people to add to her list of those to love or who love her, slowly  but surely creating a family she can one day count on.” - Pathologically Literate

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane MoriartyBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Published by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam on 2014-07-29
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
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four-stars
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Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .


  A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?  

What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?


Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). 


Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.  

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
 

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.  

I received this book for free from Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Liane Moriarty snagged me with her smash hit, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET.  I read it last year and my jaw dropped at how hard of a punch it packed.  So when I saw that BIG LITTLE LIES was coming out, I knew this would be one I couldn’t pass up.  I was a bit worried, I’ll admit, that it wouldn’t live up to what its predecessor did for me, but almost immediately that worry was put to rest as I started in, immediately fascinated by the names floating on the page and the gossip they were revealing.

Let me give you a piece of advice before you pick up BIG LITTLE LIES.  Don’t worry about the names or keeping them all straight.  The book is separated into segments and the traditionally written parts deal with the main characters (three women, really).  You will get to know them very well.  The rest of the book is in interview bites and the names will become familiar but in a less personal way.  You may see them in passing in the stories of Jane, Celeste, and Madeleine, but they aren’t super vital to the story right away.  So, don’t be like me and anxiously flip back and forth trying to figure out who is who.

With that said, now you can dive into the meat of the book.  BIG LITTLE LIES takes on all sorts of issues facing couples, parents, and families today.  It talks about big  issues that face the world and more intimate issues that only surface in the bedroom.  It talks about issues of seeming lack of importance in a Kindergarten classroom and it talks about issues that can bring about death in a fierce, unexpected, and hard way.

BIG LITTLE LIES talks about all of this and still managed to make me laugh in the midst of my tears.

Also, it made me shout out loud.  I’m not even joking.  I was reading in bed, my sister was outside of my door, and I shouted NO so loudly she wondered what the heck was going on (she knew I was alone and I’m really not a crazy person who normally talks out loud when I’m alone).  I can remember the last time I read a book that had me exclaim out loud – it was a book by Jeffrey Archer (A PRISONER OF BIRTH), and I still think of that book fondly.  Now it has another book to join it on that lonely shelf.

If you haven’t read Moriarty’s books then I envy you.  They are not really re-readable, due to the fact that the surprise is half the fun, but they are indeed fun, interesting, heart-wrenching, and filled with character.  I recommend you pick up BIG LITTLE LIES as soon as you can, and if you are one of the few people who hasn’t read THE HUSBAND’S SECRET, pick that one up too.

Check out these reviews!

  • It’s a masterful piece of construction that could so easily have been clumsy in less deft hands. -  Books Anonymous
  • Liane has showed us how a very serious topic can be dealt with in a lighthearted way without taking away from the importance of the issue.” - Brona’s Books
  • I’d definitely recommend this book to anybody and everybody and am probably going to steal my sisters copy of The Husband’s Secret soon.” - Read Rant Review
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