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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

Book Review: Life Drawing by Robin Black

Book Review: Life Drawing by Robin BlackLife Drawing by Robin Black
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2014-07-15
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological, Sagas
Pages: 256
Format: eARC
Source: Random House
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four-stars
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In Life Drawing, her gorgeously written first novel, Robin Black unfolds a fierce, honest, and moving portrait of a woman, and of a couple's life — the betrayals and intimacies, the needs and regrets, the secrets that sustain love and the ones that threaten to destroy it.

Augusta and Owen have moved to the country, and live a quiet, and rather solitary life, Gus as a painter, Owen as a writer. They have left behind the city, and its associations to a troubled past, devoting their days to each other and their art. But beneath the surface of this tranquil existence lies the heavy truth of Gus's past betrayal, an affair that ended, but that quietly haunts Owen, Gus and their marriage.

When Alison Hemmings, a beautiful British divorcée, moves in next door, Gus, feeling lonely and isolated, finds herself drawn to Alison, and as their relationship deepens, the lives of the three neighbors become more and more tightly intertwined. With the arrival of Alison’s daughter Nora, the emotions among them grow so intense that even the slightest misstep has the potential to do irrevocable harm to them all.

With lyrical precision and taut, suspenseful storytelling, Black steadily draws us deeper into a world filled with joys and darkness, love and sorrows, a world that becomes as real as our own. Life Drawing is a novel as beautiful and unsparing as the human heart.

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:

I made a mistake in reading LIFE DRAWING by Robin Black.  The mistake was not in the reading of the book, but the reading of the book after a piece of fluff that had my mind going 100mph.  The first half of LIFE DRAWING had me groaning out of boredom and struggling to calm my racing thoughts, but then.. once I was able to calm down, I began to see just how beautiful the scenery was.

Here’s the thing about LIFE DRAWING.  It’s actually a word-painting of life and the struggles that come, inherent, with any close relationships.  Who do you trust outside of your partner?  What do you trust your partner with?  Can your partner handle if it you decide to go ahead and spill?  If not, what do you do from there?  These are just a few of the questions being addressed in Black’s story about a husband and wife and their neighbor next door.

August, or Gus, is an artist in her 40’s and she and her husband, Owen (a writer), came into some money that, by their standards, is a fortune.  This money enabled them to move away from the city and all of the issues that plagued them there and try to start over in a quaint home that has excellent light for Gus and a perfect barn for Owen to write in.  Their life is not idyllic, but it’s comfortable for them.

Then everything is disrupted when a woman moves in next door.  The woman, Alison, is also a painter, and with that bit in common with Gus, a friendship is formed.   Gus, who has never had a close friendship with a woman, is left to navigate some tricky waters and trouble starts to brew.

August also comes with her own special set of baggage.  I thought I knew where the story was going to take me, but to be honest, I should have known better.  The weaving of the stories becomes so complex that LIFE DRAWING really becomes quite the masterpiece by the end.  Black is extremely patient in her storytelling and paints a very intricate, very detailed picture of the lives of Owen and Gus.  The result was surprising and had me completely floored.  And here I thought the book was going to be boring.

Check out these reviews!

  • Life Drawing is truly a gorgeous novel. The writing is outstanding. Intense, emotionally wrought, and with an attention to detail that rivals Gus’ own, Ms. Black makes readers become part of the story.  –  That’s What She Read
  • “Masterfully written with exquisite prose, Life Drawing is compelling to its very last page.” – The Unlikely Bookworm
  • “The book is taut, smart, a closed and inexorable world, a stunning page turner.” – Beth Kephart Books

Book Review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

Book Review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth LittleDear Daughter by Elizabeth Little
Published by Viking Adult on 2014-07-31
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
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three-half-stars
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As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I'm not.

LA IT girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she's been released on a technicality she's determined to unravel the mystery of her mother's last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America's media on her tail, convinced she's literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn't like her mother. Could she have killed her?

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

My Review:

I honestly don’t know what possessed me to send in a request for a review copy of DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little.  Books about “It” girls are not really my thing, and I really waver on whether I actually enjoy suspense/thrillers or whether they are just good to pass the time with.  Still, no matter what possessed me at that point in time that I requested a copy, I do know that total boredom and needing to read something out of my norm possessed me to pick up DEAR DAUGHTER last night.

So let me say, right off the bat, that this book does not pull punches.  In a way that really reminded me of NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl (a book that I loved, by the way), Elizabeth Little incorporates various parts of the large amount of media in our world today into the world of this book.  Also, as I know by association someone who is currently being completely torn apart by the media, the book was made even more real to me and the result was a sort of horrifying fascination.

DEAR DAUGHTER is the story of Jane (Janie) Jenkins and her desire to start life again after being released from ten years of imprisonment for the murder of her mother.  Determined to figure out the real story behind her mother, and her mothers death, and to fill in the missing blanks from that horrifying night, she sets off on a quest to follow a clue she heard her mother speak moments before dying.

Jane is anything but sweet and innocent and pure.  The character is an extremely unsympathetic one and at no point in time does she make any excuses for her behavior, nor is her awful relationship with her mother ever fully explored or explained.  Instead, we get the same bits and pieces of Janie’s mothers past that Jane does and together, reader and protagonist, progress toward the ultimate goal.  The “who done it.”

The ending of DEAR DAUGHTER puts me in mind of GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn.  I glanced around at online reviews and found what I expected – people upset and disappointed and not understanding of just why DEAR DAUGHTER ends the way it does.  I’m somewhat in the minority, because it made perfect sense to me.  DEAR DAUGHTER isn’t about happy endings or perfect love stories.  It’s the story of a daughter and her messed up relationship with her mother and the consequences of choices made by both.

Check out these reviews!

  • All in all, an excellent debut novel and I look forward to more from Elizabeth Little. –  Debbishdotcom
  • Dear Daughter is a novel of our time, particularly with the current fascination with the trial of Oscar Pistorius, but it’s also just a great read. This is an indulgent summer read that will leave you feeling you’ve spent your time well.” – Girl!Reporter
  • Interesting twist. Unsolved crime. Good debut. Missing the WOW factor though.” – Literary Marie’s Precision Reviews

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. LockhartWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Published by Delacorte Press on 2014-05-13
Genres: Death & Dying, Emotions & Feelings, Family, General, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: Delacorte Press
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three-stars
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A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.


And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

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

My Review:

I’ve been putting off reading WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart for a few reasons.  The first reason is that I really, really loved THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS.  Like.. I adored it.  The second reason is that, for some reason, this book made all the bloggers out there go nuts and that really put me off.  I figured there was no way that this book could be that good and so, I prolonged what I was sure to be disappointment.

While there is definitely an oh my goodness moment in WE WERE LIARS, I’m relieved that I put off reading it long enough for the disappointment to not sting so much.  I was enthralled at the instructions at the start of the book.  It’s marketing genius for sure.  “Oh! You should read this book, I can’t tell you what happens in it but, well, I could but I’d have to lie, so you can go into it completely blind.”

That’s what the book actually depends on.  It depends on you going in knowing absolutely nothing about it.  And, accordingly, the reviews are very careful (or, at least, the ones that I saw) to not spoil things for you.  So, I am going to respect that and not spoil it, but I do want to give a warning here.  The book is about some very privileged children and their family.  There’s no social justice or rough subjects taking on world issues here except for what is mentioned in passing by one of the characters in an effort to tie the story into the real world.  In short, WE WERE LIARS is the perfect book if you enjoy suspenseful, drama-filled TV… only this time it comes in a book setting.

Lockhart knew what she was doing when she was writing.  The book is designed in such a way that some pretty graphic visuals takes your mind places you weren’t aware that it could go to.  Lockhart’s ability to write down what pain feels like is admirable and had me thoroughly admiring sentences two or three times longer than I normally would have.  Her craft is definitely there and it’s a testament to why I loved her previous book so much.  Still, the substance is missing and there is no re-readability factor even possible in this book for me.  It’s been read, spoiled, and now I move on.  That in itself is so much a disappointment that I wish I hadn’t picked it up last night and just lived a few more months in anticipation.

Check out these reviews!

  • You should absolutely go in blind, with no expectations and let this book take your feels as it sees fit.  –  Cuddlebuggery
  • “Frankly, I don’t think We Were Liars deserves the hype it gets.” – Effortlessly Reading
  • “This book is like a bomb and it exploded in my hands! It shattered my mind and made me cry like a baby in the end! “- Rotten Apple Reads

Book Review: The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn

Book Review: The Art of Adapting by Cassandra DunnThe Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn
Published by Touchstone on 2014-07-29
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, General
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Touchstone
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three-half-stars
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In this warm and winning first novel, a recently divorced woman rises to the challenge and experiences the exhilaration of independence with the unlikely help of her brother with Asperger's, who she takes in to help pay the rent.

Seven months after her husband leaves her, Lana is still reeling. Being single means she is in charge of every part of her life, and for the first time in nineteen years, she can do things the way she always wanted to do them. But that also leaves her with all the responsibility. With two teenage children—Byron and Abby, who are each dealing with their own struggles—in a house she can barely afford on her solo salary, her new life is a balancing act made even more complicated when her brother Matt moves in.

Matt has Asperger’s syndrome, which makes social situations difficult for him and flexibility and change nearly impossible. He only eats certain foods in a certain order and fixates on minor details. When Lana took him in, he was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to numb his active mind enough to sleep at night. Adding Matt’s regimented routine to her already disrupted household seems like the last thing Lana needs, but her brother’s unique attention to detail makes him an invaluable addition to the family: he sees things differently.

Complex, smart, and genuinely moving, The Art of Adapting is a feel-good story that celebrates the small moments and small changes that make one big life.

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

My Review:

I struggled with THE ART OF ADAPTING because in some ways, I really loved it and in others I found it predictable and a bit boring.  In this story by Cassandra Dunn, a newly-separated mother of teenagers has to deal with putting herself back out there, adapting to life without her husband (but still with him in it some, as they are only separated), and watching out for a grown brother who has struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It seems like it’s almost too much for one book to handle, but that’s where the beauty of the story came in.

THE ART OF ADAPTING is told from four different viewpoints.  Lana, the mother mentioned above, her brother Matt, her daughter Abby, and her son Byron.  In reading the synopsis, I figured Abby and  Byron to be the secondary characters but what I found instead was that they shone – quite a bit.  In fact, I became very quickly attached to Abby and I continuously craved more of her story.

What I was disappointed in was the somewhat limited view we have of Matt.  Very little is explained about his lifestyle or how he managed to fall as deeply as he did into a life with Spike (or who Spike even was to him?  I first thought a lover but then later wasn’t so sure).  Instead, Dunn latches on to some Asperger’s traits and uses them to tell the story of Matt.  The result was that I felt I was reading the story of a diagnosis and not the story of a man.  I really struggled with it, and it’s hard to put my finger on just what didn’t work for me but that’s the best that I can explain it.

In spite of its failings, THE ART OF ADAPTING is a read that caught my attention from the first set of narratives.  Each character teased me with just enough to keep me turning the pages until I saw them again and before I knew it, I’d come to the end of the book.  I will say that the story did drag a bit as well about 250 pages in – I was somewhat surprised to check my pages and saw that I still had over a hundred more to go.  Dunn took the story further, involving some characters in it at the last minute and, while it worked, it also led to an ending that was a bit too clean-cut to be realistic.

Still, if you are looking for a good, end-of-the-summer, poolside book, you wouldn’t be disappointed in THE ART OF ADAPTING.  Just don’t go into it expecting a lot from the Asperger’s angle and maybe you won’t be as disappointed there as I was.

Check out these reviews!

  • Told through the voices of each of the family, the story of how Lana gets her groove back is by turns humorous and touching, and infused with reality, which is a refreshing change for women’s fiction. –  BrodartVibe

Book Review: Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-young

Book Review: Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-youngOur Happy Time by Gong Ji-young
Published by Atria Books/Marble Arch Press on 2014-07-01
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
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Already a wildly popular bestseller in South Korea, this gripping and passionate debut novel is a death row love story of crime, punishment, and forgiveness; vividly told by the exquisitely talented Gong Ji-young.

Yu-Jung, beautiful, wealthy, and bright, is lying in her hospital bed, recovering from her third suicide attempt, when she receives a life-changing visit. Her no-nonsense aunt, a nun, appears by her side and suggests Yu-Jung accompany her on a charitable visit to death row. At her lowest ebb, Yu-Jung is resistant. But something compels her to go to the prison. There she meets Yun-Soo, a convicted murderer who will soon be put to death. Though she is repulsed by his crimes, something about the depth of his suffering strikes a chord in her. Shaken by their encounter, she returns to visit him the next week. And the next.

Through their weekly, hour-long meetings, Yu-Jung and Yun-Soo slowly reveal to each other the dark secrets of their pasts and the hidden traumas that have shaped their lives. In doing so they form a deep, unbreakable bond, helping one another overcome their demons. But Yun-Soo's hands are always in cuffs, the prison officers are always in the background, and they can never lose sight of the fact that their happy time together is tragically brief.

Gracefully poetic and ideal for fans of Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After MotherOur Happy Time is a passionate and heartbreaking love story as well as an important, hard-hitting, and compassionate fable.
My Review:

This has been the year of delicate, perfect, death-row stories for me.  Stories that gripped me and held tight, even when I was crying angry tears and railing against the injustice of it all.  OUR HAPPY TIME by Gong Ji-young is the perfect knitting together of the stories of two people who could not be more different:  Yujeung and Yunsu.  My initial impression is that both of these characters were young, but as the story develops it is revealed that they are, in fact, adults.  The rich development and emotional tension of this book depends on that age, so don’t let initial impressions fool you.

OUR HAPPY TIME is told in two alternating narratives.  Yunsu’s “Blue Notes” usually have a relevant quote at the start of them and, by contract, Yujeung’s journal is a bit more detached and shows a perspective that’s set a bit away from the emotion of the story.  What connects both of their stories, however, is one of the best characters in the book, Yujeung’s Aunt Monica.  Monica is a nun who has made it her mission to visit those on death-row and try to bring them to a place where they can make peace with their lives and those who are still in it.

Secrets and dark pasts are revealed, both in Yunsu and Yujeung’s lives – and even Monica and Yujeung’s family come into play.  The differences between the rich and the poor are marginalized as two people who suffered from similar circumstances have to face life (and in Yunsu’s case, death) with a shrugging off of their burdens.  I’m not going to lie, you will reach a point half-way in the story where hope steps in and you start to think, improbably, that your hope will be enough to change the course of events.  Let me warn you, don’t let that hope overshadow what is happening in the story because I almost did and almost lost sight of what was really beautiful here.

OUR HAPPY TIME is a deceptive name for this book, I think.  It fits, but not in the way you would think it would fit.  I loved the look into life in South Korea and I always appreciate any book that makes me think, hard, on what I value in my life.  It makes me realize just how privileged I am and how much I could be doing with that privilege, and it makes me want to learn more and teach more and love more.

Check out these reviews!

  • This is definitely not a novel to miss out on. Even though it is hard to read at times, it is also a beautifully written book about a subject often overlooked. It will make you question your opinions, make you appreciate your life and loved ones, and even give you a hope that anyone can be forgiven. –  Novelicious
  • This is one book that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I won’t forget the characters.” – Random Book Muses

Book Review: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Book Review: One Plus One by Jojo MoyesOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Published by Viking / Pamela Dorman Books on 2014-07-01
Genres: Contemporary, Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, General, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Viking / Pamela Dorman Books
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four-stars
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One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You
 
American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted stateside, she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation, Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story that reads like a modern-day Two for the Road.
 
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
 
One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

I received this book for free from Viking / Pamela Dorman 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’ve been a fan of Jojo Moyes since THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER came out.  She consistently gets 4-star ratings from me, even though I’ve found myself drifting away from contemporary women’s fiction these past few years.  I think, what it boils down to, is that Moyes writes with heart.  She takes real issues and she makes me care about her characters.  ONE PLUS ONE is another book in Moyes arsenal that hits hard and doesn’t apologize for what it is: a story about the strength of a family being a one family – no matter how strange and seemingly unfitting ways the pieces go together.

In ONE PLUS ONE, Moyes introduces us to two people who are in a downward spiral.  There’s Ed, a man who could be loosely classified as a bit of a geek, and there’s Jess, a woman who ended up with quite the mis-matched pair of children and one heck of a wayward ex.  I can hear what you are thinking right now – sounds like a typical love story: richer man meets poor, working mom and needs help and he sweeps in to save the day.  Let me save you the trouble and say that, while some of that might be true in a sense, you really have to give Jess credit here.  She works hard and I found myself rooting for her from the first page.

That’s not to say she’s perfect.  Between trying to help the son of her ex who she has assumed responsibility for, trying to do what’s best for a daughter who is a whiz when it comes to math, and trying to give her ex the time he needs to get back on her feet, she somehow manages to juggle quite a few jobs.  Quite frankly, Jess is barely hanging on.  And when you are barely hanging on, decisions are made that one might regret later.

Ed, in a sense, is also barely hanging on, and due to a very poor judgement call, he does something that puts everything in danger – his company, his life, his wealth, and his family relationships.  So what better way to hook a reader than to throw these poor, tired individuals together in an Audi and send them on a road trip that can go no faster than 40mph along with a teenager, a girl who gets carsick at fast speeds, and a farting dog.

Even if contemporary lit isn’t your thing and you roll your eyes at “Best-selling” on the front of any book, please do me a favor and give ONE PLUS ONE a try.  I think you may find yourself hooked, much like I did.  Every time I pick up a book by Moyes I dread it until I read the first page and then I remember why I put it on my pile to begin with.

Check out these reviews!

  • One Plus One in particular is a bit of a comedy of errors, with laughable circumstances and occurrences on every page, but what makes it so amusing is that you legitimately care about these characters and can imagine them in these situations. –  S. Krishna’s Books
  • “Highly recommended for readers who want a charming and romantic summer page-turner. ” – Kindles and Wine
  • One plus One wraps you up in a cozy afghan with a cup of tea, makes you giggle, take a deep inhalation and trudge forward. ” – Fueled by Fiction

Book Review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

Book Review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie YaniqueLand of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Published by Riverhead on 2014
Genres: African American, Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Riverhead
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four-stars
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A major debut from an award-winning writer—an epic family saga set against the magic and the rhythms of the Virgin Islands.

In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s,Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Uniquely imagined, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and the author’s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers
and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prizewinning young writer.

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:

If you are any sort of reader you know that there are different categories of books.  There’s easy, light reads that can be finished in an afternoon, there’s tense, gripping reads that won’t release you until you turn the last page – and even then, you struggle with moving on from them for several days to weeks.  And then there’s the type of book that weaves a spell around you.  It slowly entrances you in a way that hides the entrancement and, when you finish it, you end up dreaming about it and feeling caught in an otherwordly-type of spell.  That’s what I’ve been doing today.  I finished LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING by Tiphanie Yanique last night and I dreamed I was in her world all through the night and woke up in a daze this morning.

That’s some powerful storytelling, folks.

It’s the kind of story-telling that I love, too.  The incorporation of myths and gods, of tall tales and history; the weaving of all of these things until you don’t know (or care) what is true and what’s not.  Add into it real events dealing with parts of the world I had never even heard of and… well, it was a heck of a story.

Still, there were some flaws.  I wasn’t gripped by the first 100 pages, in fact, I dabbled with putting the book down and not finishing it at all.  While it was interesting, it was very strongly dealing with some issues that made me more than a little uncomfortable.  As the book progressed, I understood more that it was more about symbolism and feminine power – but still, that’s hard to grasp in the opening chapters of a book, especially if the story is one that’s not often told.  I have absolutely no doubt that people with a broader worldview than my own or more knowledge of the culture and society living in the USVI may view this differently.  I’m just a single reviewer and, while I appreciate the education and feel enriched by the story, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I had to push myself to get past those first 100 pages.

I think Yanique is going to be an author to watch.  She tied the civil rights movement in to the lives being lived in the USVI in a way I’ve never seen before.  She talked about characters that were familiar to me from my readings in other areas (Western African literature and Native American).  I was thrilled to see a version of the trickster that I don’t come across often being spoken of and I was entranced by the idea of the duane.

More than anything else, LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING has kindled a curiosity in me about the USVI and the British Virgin Islands.  I want to know more and, if the other books I find that take on these subjects and the locations are only half as good as LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, then I consider myself fortunate.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The many voices in Land of Love and Drowning weave a powerful family saga. – Luxury Reading
  • “Like I said, I look forward to whatever Yanique gives us next, and now I’m going to go re-familiarize myself with Caribbean literature.” – Bookishly Witty
  • How rare to encounter a dauntless and complex novel that convincingly melds true history with magic, but Tiphanie Yanique’s debut—a rich seascape about family and legacy, beauty’s clout and the variable waves of race and class on the twentieth-century Caribbean islands—accomplishes just that.” – TimeOut
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