Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick

Sometimes it's the little things that send you, or someone else, right over the edge. And sometimes that edge is one you end up not wanting to climb back up onto, not that you realize it to start with. Beth Kendrick's third novel in the Black Dog Bay series, Put a Ring on It, opens with just such an edge.

Brighton's fiance has asked for the engagement ring back. For him, their argument about the efficiency of the zipper merge during their morning commute was the last straw. Feigning sickness to leave work once she realizes that Colin isn't going to call and repair things between them, Brighton, a buttoned up insurance actuary who carefully weighs the pros and cons of everything, calls an old friend and invites herself to stay. What she doesn't know is that her old friend has just relocated to Black Dog Bay, Delaware, the break-up and broken hearts capital of the country. Once there, Brighton acts impulsively and also rediscovers her creative side through her love for jewelry design. First, she meets Jake Sorensen, who would be the perfect rebound relationship.  He'd be perfect, except they actually end up married after former fiance Colin calls Brighton and tells her that he's married a woman he just met. Her spontaneous revenge marriage to Jake is just tit for tat. And in her case, Jake knows the score. They'll stay married for two weeks to allow Brighton to cut loose in ways she never dreamed (not too loose though as two weeks is all the vacation time she has from work). But what if the life she's living is the one she wants to keep? And what if the cons she uncharacteristically didn't take time to consider could derail this happiness?

Although this novel is the third in the series, it stands alone just fine. Characters from previous books do make appearances but not knowing their back stories is no detriment to the reader. Brighton has allowed fear to dictate who she's become in life. She's too financially scared to do what she loves and feed her creative side and so she subsumes all of that to the boring and measured practicality of being an actuary. Going to Black Dog Bay and acting so incredibly out of character allows her to reconnect with the person she's hidden inside herself for so long. Learning who she wants to be and how she wants to live her life brings her happiness as well as insecurity and it is in the acceptance and embracing of that insecurity that she really starts to live. Jake is drawn as a sexy, stoic character whose past history, while not entirely secret, is not mentioned until it threatens the budding relationship he and Brighton are building. It turns out that the pasts that shaped both of them have a very similar base, even if they've reacted to that base in wildly different ways.

As in the previous books in the series, Kendrick has written a frothy, cute romantic story that just happens to have a woman who is finally being empowered to be who she wants to be, one who finds happiness and success and love because she is determined to follow her own heart. This is light and fun escape reading with an ending that won't disappoint.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Am I Alone Here? by Peter Orner. The book is being released by Catapult on November 1, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Peter Orner reads and writes wherever he finds himself—in a hospital cafeteria, a canoe in northern Minnesota, the Las Vegas Cafe in Albania, or on a bus in Haiti. Stories have always been his lifeblood, as they are the only way he has been able to make sense of a chaotic life. His father's death, his divorce, an unexpected pregnancy—all are seen, one way or another, through the lens of literature. The result is what Orner calls "a book of unlearned criticism that stumbles into memoir."

Among the writers Orner addresses in these essays are Isaac Babel and Zora Neale Hurston, both of whom told their truths and were silenced; Franz Kafka, who professed loneliness but actually had a far busier social life than Orner; Robert Walser, who spent the last twenty-three years of his life in a Swiss insane asylum, "working" at being crazy; and Juan Rulfo, who practiced silence. Also lauded are Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Yasunari Kawabata, Saul Bellow, Mavis Gallant, John Edgar Wideman, Vaclav Havel, Gina Berriault, William Trevor, and the poet Herbert Morris, about whom almost nothing is known.

Hovering over Am I Alone Here? is Peter Orner's eccentric late father, who he kept at a distance and now mourns. The book is also an elegy for the end of a marriage, as well as a celebration of the possibility of renewal. At once personal and panoramic, Am I Alone Here? conveys the absolutely necessary place of stories in Orner's life, which will inspire readers to return to the essential stories of their own lives.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Long and short listed for just about every award out there, I picked up Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life and read about 100-150 pages before putting it down for months because I was struggling to keep my eyes open as I read. The continued raves convinced me to give it another go though and this time I pushed on to the end. Now here comes the heresy about this much lauded book: I was bored. There was plenty that should have inspired an emotional response but it didn’t because I never felt any connection with the characters. In fact, I rooted for the end I knew must come and I wanted it to come far sooner than it did.

Be warned that spoilers will follow in the below paragraphs.

Ostensibly the story of four friends who meet in college, one character quickly takes over the narrative. Even to his closest friends, Jude remains an enigma. They only know him from the moment he enters their lives, never sharing any personal information, staying infuriatingly blank. His history is slowly, over the course of the novel, revealed to the reader and it is a terrible, horror filled history indeed. Jude is literally and figuratively crippled by his childhood, and understandably so given the magnitude of wrongs done to him. That these terrible wrongs would define his life forever is certainly believable. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that there was so much else that wasn’t believable. That this secretive and unknowable person should inspire such love and loyalty from close to everyone around him is not quite believable. Only one person in his adulthood treats him as he expects to be treated and that character is drawn so firmly evil that he was a caricature who only exists briefly in the story to reinforce Jude’s unworthiness to himself.  That Jude and all three of his closest friends would be wild successes in their chosen fields, Jude a ruthless attorney, JB an artist of such renown that MOMA wanted one of his paintings, Malcolm a celebrated architect, and Willem a famed actor on both stage and screen, stretches credibility. That one of Jude’s professors feels such a connection to his enigmatic, culinarily skilled student that he and his wife fall in love and welcome Jude into their family is head shaking. That every single grown man that Jude encountered before college was a sexual predator/pedophile and attracted to him, and I'm not just talking about the creepy men that Brother Luke finds for him (yes, he was beautiful and all that but...) and then all but one notable exception after college was practically sainted is a strange and incredibly unlikely dichotomy.

Credibility is not the only thing that stymied me about the book either.  There is scant character development of anyone but Jude and there's not much development of him either as we have to take it on faith that despite his ongoing struggles to feel worthy, he overcame everything to become who he is presented as in his adult life. There's no credible transition from the abused child to the steely and determined lawyer. There's no nuance here; everyone is either/or. Two of the four friends in this life-saving and amazing friendship essentially disappear from the novel for large chunks of time and the friendship itself presents problems. Nothing in Jude's character makes the reader understand how he comes to trust not only these three college friends, but also his doctor and his professor to the extent he does. All of this is just presented as a fait accompli although trust to this extreme would be a serious, hard earned accomplishment in someone with his background. The narrative was overwritten to the point that this reader wished that the story would just get on with it already (and I'm not proud to admit that I just wanted Jude to die already because I was tired of him--clearly not the visceral reaction Yanagihara was going for). The story felt endless and the reoccurring scenes of sexual abuse started to feel as if they were included for a prurient reaction rather than to add depth to the story. Even Jude's understandable despair got old in this drawn out telling. I know every prize committee on the planet thought it was amazing. I thought it was an exercise in lengthy tedium. In short, I just didn’t get it. And it was a very long commitment to come away feeling this way about it. I wasn’t emotionally drained by the story, I was disappointed, a far less welcome feeling after 800 plus pages.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: Just Fine with Caroline by Annie England Noblin

When the weather starts cooling off, I find that I look forward to curling up with lighter books. Maybe it counteracts the visual evidence that another year is heading to a close. It slows the dying of the season somehow. Perfect for this mood, are books set in small towns with quirky characters. Annie England Noblin's newest book, Just Fine with Caroline, is the first in the Cold River novel series and it has just the right heartwarming small town romantic feel that counters the sadness of the falling leaves so very well.

Caroline gave up getting a college degree and a teaching certificate to go back home to Cold River, a small town tucked in the Missouri Ozarks, when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She has been mostly happy living in the town she grew up in, running her family's bait shack business, hanging out with her best friend Court, and helping her father, the local doctor, look after her mom. As the title suggests, she's doing just fine. When Noah Cranwell, the youngest member of the rather notorious local Cranwell family, comes back to town to start up a business across from Caroline's bait shack, Caroline is intrigued by the very sexy man. Noah's mother took him away to New Jersey when he was just five so he's a bit of an enigma in this small town where everyone knows everyone else's life story. But as Caroline and Noah learn, there are still secrets here, hurtful secrets that challenge how Caroline's coping with everything.

The major plot line is that of Caroline and Noah's growing relationship but there are several other secondary threads that deal with Caroline's kooky cousin Ava Dawn, who is trying to finally escape from her abusive marriage, with Caroline's best friend Court and the source of his sadness, with the sorrow of Alzheimer's and what it does to a family, and with loss of many different sorts. Despite these heavy topics, the characters populating the pages are quirky and rather endearing. None of the secrets they are hiding (nor the one that Caroline eventually uncovers) is terribly surprising but they could just be the seeds for future books in the series where they'll receive more in-depth treatment. The immediate attraction between Caroline and Noah was believable but they were all over each other much sooner than the character development would have suggested. As a whole though, this was an easy, light read and I reckon it was sweet story (a reference lost on you if you haven't read the book).

For more information about Annie England Noblin and the book, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
Sitting in Bars With Cake by Audrey Schulman
Plus One by Christopher Noxon
Just Fine With Caroline by Annie England Noblin
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Reviews posted this week:

Mercury by Margot Livesey
Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Course Correction by Ginny Gilder
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
The Measure of Darkness by Liam Durcan
Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
Moo by Sharon Creech
Dear Reader by Paul Fournel
Hotel Angeline by 36 authors
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Anonymous
Xenophobe's Guide to the English by Antony Miall and David Milsted
No. 4 Imperial Lane by Jonathan Weisman
Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola Dunn
Violation by Sallie Tisdale
Fall of Poppies by a collection of authors
A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
Sitting in Bars With Cake by Audrey Schulman
Plus One by Christopher Noxon
Just Fine With Caroline by Annie England Noblin
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman

Maggie is a house cleaner in Manhattan and single mom to a demanding toddler. She's just fine with her life when she finds out that a former client, one time friend, and bestselling author with whom she had a falling out has committed suicide and left her beautiful home in Sag Harbor to Maggie. The house comes with a stipend and everything Maggie needs to live there with two-year old Lucy. It also comes with Edith, Liza's octogenarian mother who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Mothering a toddler is hard; add in caretaking for a prickly Alzheimer's patient grieving the death of her larger than life, beloved daughter and nothing about this bequest will be easy, especially as the irascible Edith is displeased with the whole set-up. This unlikely trio have to come to detente in order to live together peacefully. When Edith falls and she is even physically reliant on Maggie, detente slowly grows into a genuinely caring familial relationship. Maggie offers to write down Edith's quickly slipping away memories, and revives her own long-shelved interest in writing in the process. More than just reliving memories, both Maggie and Edith look closely at the secrets they've buried, the past hurts they've brushed under the rug, and make the difficult decision to allow the truth to come out so they can live with no regrets. Both Maggie and Edith have to learn about forgiveness and acceptance, which they'll do together.

The premise of the novel, inheriting a failing parent, is an intriguing one for sure and the concept of then creating a manufactured family is very well handled. It is a sweet, feel-good novel even though it touches on quite heavy themes: depression, death, abandonment, and Alzheimer's. Both Maggie and Edith are grappling with lives that have taken unexpected turns but the novel doesn't belabor what could be a much bleaker situation. Esther, Edith's best friend, is a pip and a delight. Lucy, Maggie's two year old daughter, is definitely in the throes of terrible two-hood and she is surprisingly verbal for a child her age. Sometimes her tantrums overwhelm the rest of the story but that does serve to show how difficult it is for Maggie as a part of the sandwich generation (no matter that Edith is not her own aging parent). The story line with the kindly Sam as a potential love interest for Maggie doesn't really come to fruition and stalls the tale out a bit. Although it is Liza's suicide, and therefore her absence, that sets the story in motion, more of her big personality would have been a nice addition to either Maggie or Edith's reminiscences. Inheriting Edith is over all an easy and enjoyable read, a heartwarming look at caring, love, forgiveness, and building a family even in the wake of terrible loss.

For more information about Zoe Fishman and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. The book is being released by Delacourt Press on November 1, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Popular Posts