Monday, July 29, 2013

Julie's Review: The Husband's Secret

Summary: At the heart of The Husbands Secret is a letter that's not meant to be read...My darling Cecilia, if you're reading this, then I've died. . . .
Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—shes an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husbands secret.Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

Review: The secret in The Husband's Secret gets revealed a little less than halfway through the book so it isn't the main focus of the book. The focus of the book is the fallout from the secret. How does it affect his wife, Cecelia? Their marriage? Their children? It's hard to write a review without revealing the secret but I'm going to try.

I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I thought the premise sounded good and figured it wasn't going to go the standard, "I cheated on you" confession. What is shattered is Cecelia's view of her husband and her marriage. Did she ever know him? Does this confession change how she views him? What about how she views other people? I wasn't sure what to think of her. She seemed too put together for me in the beginning. Did she show her true colors through crisis? I think so.We are also introduced to Tess who is sure that she's got social anxiety. Her marriage is in a crisis so she moves home to take care of her mum who just broke her ankle. She thought she was happy and the situation causes her to look at herself and examine if she really is.
Next is Rachel, who lost her daughter when she was on the cusp of adulthood. Rachel is depressed and with the anniversary of her daughter's death it has been intensified. How all of these stories intersect is interesting and what really holds the novel together.

We slowly get pieces of each woman's character revealed and while your opinion might change over the course of the novel, one thing is for sure is that in the end all of their lives will be changed forever. 

The Husband's Secret examines life behind closed doors and how we perceive our own lives and those of others. It is an examination of the secrets we all hold from each other. How bravery can come from unexpected and tragic events and make us stronger/better people.

Final Take: 4.25/5


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Children's Corner: Pete The Cat: I Love My White Shoes

Review: Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes is an adorable story that is simple and sweet. Pete has brand new white shoes but they don't stay white for very long. Does Pete get upset? Nope, he just keeps going along. It's a quick read with a wonderful message for young kids and a reminder for adults.

I had never heard of these books but when my son could pick out a prize for his library reading program, he proclaimed "I love Pete the Cat" and this is the one that came home with us. Pete the Cat is adorable and reminds me of the black cat we used to have. He's one cool cat. We've already added to the collection.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Alice's Review: Hotshot

Summary:  Peyton Lockhart and her sisters have inherited Bishops Cove, a small, luxurious oceanfront resort, but it comes with a condition: The girls must run the resort for one year and show a profit—only then will they own it.  A graduate of a prestigious French culinary school, Peyton has just lost her job as a food critic. Out of work and in a bad place personally, a year doing something completely different sounds wonderful.  There are countless challenges and too many people who want to stop the sisters from succeeding. Among them are Peytons contentious cousins, who are outraged that they didnt inherit the resort, as well as a powerful group of land developers who have been eyeing the coveted beachfront property.  Its soon apparent to Peyton that their efforts are being sabotaged, but she refuses to let the threats scare her—until shes nearly killed. She calls on her childhood friend and protector, Finn MacBain, now with the FBI, and asks for his help. He saved her life once; he can do it again? ~

Review:  I love Julie Garwood.  I think that it’s pretty clear because year after year I read her newest novel knowing full well what will happen.  Sometimes I get a warm fuzzy feeling watching love blossom before my eyes.  Sometimes those very same eyes seem permanently rolled to the top of my head as I have a hard time believing or accepting this perfect love.  Hotshot was all about the warm fuzzy feeling.

I really enjoyed the romance between Peyton and her childhood hero Finn, who of course is a gold medal winning FBI agent.  (Three times, no less.  Come on.  Seriously?)  Much to her chagrin, she inadvertently puts her life in danger.  Thankfully, she has old neighbor Finn to save the day. (A Julie Garwood hero named MacBain? Wonder if there is a connect to Gabriel MacBain from one of my all time favorites Saving Grace?)

What was interesting to me is although the story seemed far from plausible, the passion and the attraction Finn and Peyton felt for each other wasn’t.  It wouldn’t be a contemporary romance without the song and dance that goes along with the attraction.  There needs to be some “will they or won’t they” in order to make the story work.  The truth is the formula that makes a romance work is the very thing that drives me crazy about them.  I know the couple will end up together, but sometimes I wish they just wouldn’t.  How about some genuine heartache for a change instead of mild misunderstanding?   End of rant.

As with her other novels, both characters are seemingly perfect.   Surprisingly I didn’t find it nearly as annoying as I did with SweetTalk (read my review here).  I really enjoyed them.  Their passion came through on the pages, Hotshot was a lot steamier than I am used to reading.  And the spark I was worried Ms. Garwood had lost?  It’s back.  I’m looking forward to the next installment in this somewhat unconnected series.  I have a feeling we’re about the get to know Finn’s FBI partner Ronan very well.

Final Take: 4/5


Friday, July 26, 2013

Julie's Review: Brilliance

Summary: In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind. From Marcus Sakey, “a modern master of suspense” (Chicago Sun-Times) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), comes an adventure that’s at once breakneck thriller and shrewd social commentary; a gripping tale of a world fundamentally different and yet horrifyingly similar to our own, where being born gifted can be a terrible curse.  

Review:  Fans of the tv show Heroes will thoroughly enjoy Mr. Sakey's new book, Brilliance. These types of books aren't really my thing but he lives in my city and I've only heard good things about his books. I was extremely surprised with just how much I enjoyed this book. It is well thought out and complex. It is not so complex that you can't follow it. It's a societal and political book in some ways but this didn't make me stop reading it. Mr. Sakey shows the underbelly of human behavior in this book. We humans aren't often accepting of people who are different than us even if they look like us. Bigotry and racism come in all forms. Difference isn't good during this time in the US.

Brilliants are people who have special abilities. It's not superhero like but more subtle. The ability to see muscle movement and read it without having the person say anything, the ability to move in crowds easily, the ability to see the data and how it will work, etc. They are smarter and able to see things that a normal person can't. This gives them advantages and causes a rift between them, abnorms/twists and people with out gifts.

Of course the government has a separate agency to help govern/track these abnorms. Nick Cooper is an agent of the DAR (Department of Analysis and Response). He's determined to track the abnorms who are terrorists and hurt innocent people. After being in the center of the latest bombing, Nick takes things into his own hands. He goes after the known terrorist, John Smith.

This is a fast-paced novel with a definite undercurrent of societal issues. Mr. Sakey does a great job so that it doesn't seem preachy and overt. It has twists and turns that keeps you guessing throughout the novel. The last line got me and I'm anxious to see what he has planned for the next book in this series. Even though this is out of my normal realm of genres, it's enough of a thriller that I plan to stick with the series. I really liked Nick Cooper and want to see him through the next phase.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Note: I will say that I wish the cover was a little bit better. It might grab more readers if it didn't look so rudimentary.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alice's Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Summary:  In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old spitfire Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother's Mississippi home. Starla hasn't seen her momma since she was three--that's when Lulu left for Nashville to become a famous singer. Starla's daddy works on an oil rig in the Gulf, so Mamie, with her tsk-tsk sounds and her bitter refrain of "Lord, give me strength," is the nearest thing to family Starla has. After being put on restriction yet again for her sassy mouth, Starla is caught sneaking out for the Fourth of July parade. She fears Mamie will make good on her threat to send Starla to reform school, so Starla walks to the outskirts of town, and just keeps walking. . . . If she can get to Nashville and find her momma, then all that she promised will come true: Lulu will be a star. Daddy will come to live in Nashville, too. And her family will be whole and perfect. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. The trio embarks on a road trip that will change Starla's life forever. She sees for the first time life as it really is--as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.

Review:  This is something that has never happened before.  Although I finished this novel about a week ago, I have been unable to write the review.  The reasons preventing me have nothing to do with time and everything to do with how this novel has seeped into my soul.

It’s crafty and original:  Racism in the 1960s told from the point of view of a precocious girl.  It’s wonderfully written and although sometimes very difficult read, beautifully told.  This novel has all kinds of goodness.  It is funny, sad, poignant and touching.  I couldn’t put it down because I needed to know what would happen next.  Ms. Crandall does a wonderful job of conveying the urgency of the time.  Like Starla, I got angry at the injustice Eula faced and all because of the color of her skin.  It was a disgrace what she went through. 

Starla was a great character.  The girl had moxie and as a reader, I couldn’t help but hope things turned out well for her.  There were times when she was blissfully ignorant to the times around her.  It saddened me when she began having very adult realizations about life during that time.  Her innocent was stolen right before my eyes. 

I believe the real star of this novel is Eula.  She was such a beautiful character who risked herself to protect those she loved.  There was a simplicity in her and a vulnerability.  She loved fiercely in spite of the horrors she faced.  She was Starla’s biggest protector and their unlikely friendship is what carried them through their difficult times.

I highly recommend  Whistling Past the Graveyard.  It is an inspiring read.  Be sure to have some tissues handy, you will need them.

Final Take: 4/5

Monday, July 22, 2013

Julie's Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Summary: I wish I could tell everyone who thinks were ruined, Look closer…and you'll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed. When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isnt wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes. What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein. Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby's parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous sometimes infamous husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott's, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda's irresistible story as she herself might have told it.  

Review:  For those curious about Zelda's early years with Scott, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald will appease them. For those of us that don't really know much about the muse behind the man, this will be an eye opening read. I liked Zelda. She was spunky and fun, until Scott started to bring her down. Was she insecure? Yes, but later in her life when he had stripped her of any independent nature. She was to be his muse and nothing else.

We meet Zelda shortly before she meets and falls in love with Army officer, Scott Fitzgerald. Theirs is a whirlwind romance that Zelda will spend the rest of her life recovering from and trying to understand.  Zelda in her own way is a multifaceted talent. She writes, dances and paints. Not only that but she is of quick wit and humor. She is intelligent and understands the publishing business as well as her husband. It is unfortunate that a lot of her stories had to have his name and hers together when all he did was edit them. They were fully her ideas and thoughts.

While Zelda made the most of their traipsing around the globe, I felt that she longed for a stable house and husband. At first it was fun and glamorous but that quickly became old as Scott fell deeper into alcohol. Ms. Fowler suggests that Ernest Hemingway was the demise of the Fitzgerald's marriage but I think he was only a symptom in a marriage that was already suffering from cracks. He definitely wasn't a good influence on Scott.

There were times during the novel where I felt that Ms. Fowler was trying to write about too much of their lives. I think it might have been more beneficial if she concentrated more on a certain period in their lives than to span all of it.

It is wonderful to see that Zelda if finally getting her due in the literary world even if some of it is through historical fiction. I will be looking for her works in the library so that I can get a sense of the woman in her own words. 

Final Take:  4/5


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Children's Corner: A Giraffe and a Half

 With all Shel Silverstein's poignant (and a few bizarre) writings, sometimes I forget he can do silly too.  A Giraffe and a Half is a perfect example of just how Seussian he can be.  Silverstein keeps adding things in rhyming couplet to this poor giraffe.  Just when it looks like he might topple, Silverstein starts taking things away, still in rhyme.

This is a cute and silly read that tests your memory and twists the tongue.  It's worth a trip to the library


Friday, July 19, 2013

Jenn's Review: The Heist

Blurb:  FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare is known for her fierce dedication and discipline on the job, chasing down the world’s most wanted criminals and putting them behind bars. Her boss thinks she is tenacious and ambitious; her friends think she is tough, stubborn, and maybe even a bit obsessed. And while Kate has made quite a name for herself for the past five years the only name she’s cared about is Nicolas Fox—an international crook she wants in more ways than one.              
Audacious, handsome, and dangerously charming, Nicolas Fox is a natural con man, notorious for running elaborate scams on very high-profile people. At first he did it for the money. Now he does it for the thrill. He knows that the FBI has been hot on his trail—particularly Kate O’Hare, who has been watching his every move. For Nick, there’s no greater rush than being pursued by a beautiful woman . . . even one who aims to lock him up. But just when it seems that Nicolas Fox has been captured for good, he pulls off his greatest con of all: He convinces the FBI to offer him a job, working side by side with Special Agent Kate O’Hare.
Problem is, teaming up to stop a corrupt investment banker who’s hiding on a private island in Indonesia is going to test O’Hare’s patience and Fox’s skill. Not to mention the skills of their ragtag team made up of flamboyant actors, wanted wheelmen, and Kate’s dad. High-speed chases, pirates, and Toblerone bars are all in a day’s work . . . if O’Hare and Fox don’t kill each other first.

Review:  Do you remember reading your first Stephanie Plum?  I was drawn in by the characters and I had a sense that it was a series I would love.  While I have since fallen out of love with Stephanie and friends (somewhere around book 13) I was hoping to find that immediate connection here... and I just never did.  It's not that I don't like Nick and Kate, I do, they're fun ...but they are a little two dimensional.

Of the two, Nick is my favorite.  He's unflappable and brilliant, not to mention good looking and charming.  If his scheme isn't working, it's okay, because he has contingency plans for his contingency plans, or better yet, he'll just wing it.  He's Neal Caffrey (White Collar) and Nathan Ford (Leverage) rolled into one.  Kate is... Gracie Hart (Miss Congeniality) meets Stephanie Plum and I'm not sure why.  She goes from not trusting Nick at all to happily giving him free reign.   Honestly, if I hadn't read the short prequel novella, Pros and Cons, I don't know if I would have been interested in her at all.  As it is, I want to like her I just don't understand her.  Kate's dad is awesome.  And I love the eclectic team they assemble, although we only truly get to know one or two of them well.  I hope they return for further adventures.

Janet Evanovich's snark and humor is there but it looses some of it's punch when you aren't connected  to the characters.  The story unfolds much like a script and, never having read Lee Goldberg but having seen his shows, I am guessing that's his influence.

Now about the heist:  I love a good con but what makes any con successful in literature or film is conning the audience.  In The Heist we are with Kate and Nick from beginning to end, and while not everything goes according to plan, there are no real surprises for the reader.  Perhaps that's the plan for the plot all along but it made it seem a little flat to me.

It sounds like I have a ton of complaints, but it was a fun read.  I happily would have read it cover to cover in one sitting.  It's just that I had such high expectations for this series and it fell short of the mark.  (I was expecting a grown up Heist Society.)  The potential for this writing team is huge and they have lain solid ground work with the first book.  I expect this series to get bigger and better from here on out.

Final Take:  3.75/5


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Julie's Review: Tampa

Summary: In Alissa Nuttings novel Tampa, Celeste Price, a smoldering 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student. Celeste has chosen and lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his eighth-grade teacher, and, most importantly, willing to accept Celestes terms for a secret relationship—car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jacks house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming erotic encounters in Celestes empty classroom. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress of pure motivation. She deceives everyone, is close to no one, and cares little for anything but her pleasure. Tampa is a sexually explicit, virtuosically satirical, American Psycho-esque rendering of a monstrously misplaced but undeterrable desire. Laced with black humor and crackling sexualized prose, Alissa Nuttings Tampa is a grand, seriocomic examination of the want behind student / teacher affairs and a scorching literary debut.  

Review: Tampa is definitely not a book for everyone. You will be curious but if you are prudish or faint of heart, then don't pick up this novel. Seriously. This book reminded me of when I was a tween and wanted to read Flowers in the Attic but I had to sneak to read it. It's not as bad as walking around with 50 Shades of Grey but because off the subject matter I felt a little dirty with it at the pool.

That being said, Ms. Nutting has created quite the deplorable character in Celeste Price. There is truly nothing redeeming about her. It's not like she found herself suddenly attracted to 14 year old boys. She became a teacher to prey on them. It seems her sexual tastes never grew with her body. She's been stuck attracted to boys at 14 since her first sexual experience at that age.

Many people will focus on the subject matter of this novel and while it is shocking, it is not new news. We have all heard the stories of the young, attractive teacher who begins a relationship with the boy in her class. What Ms. Nutting does is gives us a look behind closed doors. What makes her tick? What makes the boy take part in the act? It is these things that kept the book interesting for me. It's about what she will do to gain access to Jack that stuns me. There is a pivotal moment in the novel when not only do you know that she's deviant but also truly evil.

A lot of comparisons will be made between Celeste and Amy from Gone Girl but for me Celeste is truly evil. Amy was psychotic.

Ms. Nutting is extremely brave to write a novel that will be controversial and perhaps looked over for it's brilliance in the way it's written. I can't wait to see what Ms. Nutting writes next.

Final Take: 4.5/5


Monday, July 15, 2013

Jenn's Review: The Sorceress

 Blurb:  Nicholas Flamel's heart almost broke as he watched his beloved Paris crumble before him. The city was destroyed by Dee and Machiavelli, but Flamel played his own role in the destruction. Sophie and Josh Newman show every sign of being the twins of prophecy, and Flamel had to protect them and the pages from the Dark Elders.

But Nicholas grows weaker with each passing day. Perenelle is still trapped in Alcatraz, and now that Scatty has gone missing, the group is without protection. Except for Clarent—the twin sword to Excalibur. But Clarent’s power is unthinkable, its evil making it nearly impossible to use without its darkness seeping into the soul of whoever wields it.

If he hopes to defeat Dee, Nicholas must find an Elder who can teach Josh and Sophie the third elemental magic—Water Magic. The problem? The only one who can do that is Gilgamesh, and he is quite, quite insane.

Review:  Michael Scott has a cliffhanger habit that pulls you from book to book.   So it's no surprise that I am returning to the Nicholas Flamel series so soon.  I have to say that although I love this series, my frustration level is mounting, perhaps because this book focuses on Josh learning to control his newly awakened powers.

Thus far in the series Josh has always been my least favorite character.  However now Sophie is beginning to get whiney too.  Josh finally came to the realization that if they weren't the twins of legend the world would have ended by now, which I have been shouting at them through the pages from my comfy reading chair since the adventure started.  That has improved Josh's attitude somewhat and given Sophie reason to suffer in silence, but I still feel a huge disconnect from these characters.  Their insistence on trying to see the world in black and white is aggravating especially knowing what they now know and seeing what they have seen.  I'm starting to wish the books were about Nicholas and Perenelle because they are far more interesting.

Aside from Sophie's interaction with Gilgamesh, the parts of The Sorceress I enjoyed were about Perenelle.  Her ingenuity and strength are amazing.  The more I know Perenelle, the more I adore her.  She is fascinating and I hope there will be more of her in the next few novels.  I would be captiavted by a novel of just the Flamel's backstory.  Even Dee's story is becoming more interesting and three dimensional.

Will I continue this series?  Absolutely.  Michael Scott's ability to draw from different mythologies and spin a web of a tale are what make this series hard to put down.  I just wish he hadn't chosen such whiney teens for the protagonists.

Final Take:  3.75/5


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Children's Corner: Leonardo, the Terrible Monster

Review: Yes, yes, yes it's another Mo Willems book. Sorry, I just can't help it. The last time my son and I were at the library we immediately went to the W section to seek out some of his books. Low and behold there was one I hadn't yet heard of Leonardo, the Terrible Monster. Of course my 5 year old said yes to bring it home with us for 3 weeks. I couldn't resist. Well for the past few days it has been in our steady rotation of 3-4 books before bed.

 Leonardo, the Terrible Monster is a quick and delightful read. We meet Leonardo who isn't really good at scaring people. Frankly, other than his horns, he's not so scary looking. He decides to find someone who will be the perfect kid to scare. Of course, it doesn't go as planned and Leonardo still doesn't end up scaring someone. Instead he befriends the kid he was trying to scare.

On the very simplest terms, it's about choosing how you want to act and react in situations. It's about learning to be a friend. My son and I talk about what it means to be a friend after we read the book. Mo Willems as always does a great job writing a book that both kids and adults will like with the opportunity for simple discussions.

 I'm sure we will be reading this one again tonight.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Julie's Reviews: The Fault in Our Stars

Summary: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in

 Review: The Fault in Our Stars  is a wonderful book that happens to feature teenage kids. What's different about these kids is that they either are battling cancer or have battled cancer at some point in their lives. It is not so much about dying is about choosing to live your life while you have it.

Hazel is a teen who is suffering from cancer but right now it's her lungs that are giving her the problem. She can't breathe on her own very well so she is connected to an oxygen tank. For her this is normal and she is just going through life until Augustus Waters walks into it. Then she starts living her life. She realizes that perhaps waiting to die isn't the best use of her time. Augustus is just what Hazel needs to live the normal teenager life that her parents have wanted for her. She and Augustus slowly connect on a cerebral level until the physical attraction can no longer be denied.

Hazel and Augustus aren't like teenagers I know. Well, I don't hang out with a lot of teenagers either though. While the book might be for young adults, I feel like a lot of it is aimed at adults as well. This isn't an easy book to read because you know it will be filled with sadness at some point. What I didn't expect was the wit that was contained in it. John Green definitely knows how to make you chuckle.

As someone who doesn't read a lot of contemporary young adult novels, I can definitely recommend this one. The Fault in Our Stars might feature teens but we call can learn from it no matter our age.

Final Take: 5/5

Jordan's review at Kids Just Reading


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Julie's Reviews: The Ashford Affair

Summary: As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything shes been working towards but now shes not sure its enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addies ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that cant be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond thats even stronger? From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.  

Review:  The Ashford Affair is my first Lauren Willig but it most certainly won't be my last. Anyone who loves a good mystery, a stunning setting and wonderful characters will want to read this novel. Ms. Willig has a way of making even the despicable seem enticing. We are taken from London in the days of World War II to modern day New York, back to Kenya during the 1920s. It is a family drama with romance and intrigue.

Addie is the character that the novels stems around but Bea is always there lurking in the background. Addie was the orphan but she was also the strong and independent one. Bea is the debutante who relies on her looks and charm. Addie is the one who has to use her brain to get ahead in life. It is true that they were close like sisters until Bea needed a way out of her life, then she kicked Addie aside.

Clemmie is Addie's granddaughter who works too much and doesn't take the time to enjoy life. She's recovering from a broken engagement when she learns a little bit more about the way her grandmother grew up. As things start to work their way to the surface about her grandmother's life, Clemmie's carefully constructed life falls apart.

Ms. Willig does a very good job of taking you on a wonderful ride. Yes, there are a few twists and turns but not completely unlikely. This story has emotion and I found myself near tears a few different times. Sure there was one thing that I knew for certain that was going to happen but in the end, I was fine with it. It won't take a reader too long to figure it out.

I loved taking a trip to Kenya and visiting a coffee farm. This is one setting and time period I wish we would have spent more time in. It almost felt like a quick pass through. I wanted more. I wanted to know how they lived and survived there, why they left.

The Ashford Affair is a sweeping novel that you will read through quickly because you want to know what happened. You want the characters to find peace, have closure, be happy. This is a novel that historical fiction fans won't want to miss.

Final Take:  4.5/5

This is our Hashtag Book Club pick of July. You can follow the conversation with #AshfordAffair. 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Jenn's Review: Magyk

 Burb:  The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus?

Review:  This has been on my TBR pile for a while.  It's been a long time since I've read a straight out fantasy.  I don't think I realized it until now but most of the fantasy I read could be classified as urban-fantasy. Even Harry Potter and the Iron Fey start in the real world... I think the last outright fantasy might be a Diana Wynne Jones book... but I digress.  Magyk is pure fantasy, and pure enjoyment.

I adored getting to know the Heap family.   Though the series title somewhat gives away the ending, it was still fun to watch the characters unravel the mystery.  I loved Jenna and how her newfound identity did not keep her from sticking to her upbringing.  Ms. Sage does not get bogged down in details, but gives you just enough to create and image and pique the readers interest.  Though there were threads of the story that fell victim to the central story, I thought Angie Sage found an interesting way of putting all of the side stories to rest in her epilogue.  Honestly, if she'd included everything, the book would have been very cumbersome indeed.  I don't know that I became overly attached to one character over another, but I found all of them fascinating.

This will be a fun series read that I can see reading to/with my daughter in a few years.  It's one that's got me thinking about it long after turning the last page.  I can't wait to see where Angie Sage takes us.  Things were pretty neatly wrapped up by the end of the book, but there are definitely more adventures to be had and I look forward to exploring all of them.

Final Take:  4/5

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Julie's Review: A Hundred Summers

Summary: Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak. That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview. Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancĂ©, now recently married — an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily's friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction...and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations. Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.  

Review: You know when you read a book and finish it and wonder how in the world you are going to review it without spoiling it? Well that's me with A Hundred Summers. I'm afraid if I gush too much I won't stop and I'll ruin it for those of you who haven't read it. Ms. Williams is a gifted storyteller as I found out with Overseas and this novel is no different.

It is a story that continues to build until the big denouement. You love Lily instantly and root for her. You wonder what the hell happened to her and Nick. You find out in brilliant flashbacks to 6 years prior to 1938. When the reveals happen in the book you are stunned. Or at least I was.

Ms. Williams does a great job of taking you down a path and then quickly flipping it around. Everything that Lily knew about her life came crashing down as the big hurricane of 1938 swept in to New England. Ms. Williams always has a way of writing well-developed characters. Even the characters you don't like. She also has a way of making you think something, form and opinion and then flips the script on you. There was more than once that this occurred in the novel.

I finished A Hundred Summers in 2 days. It is the quintessential summer novel. I don't care if you are at the beach, pool or at your desk, A Hundred Summers one not to miss!

 Final Take: 5/5  

Thanks to Putnam Books for my copy of the novel


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Alice's Review: The Silver Star

Summary:  IT IS 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.  An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town — a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister — inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz. ~

Review:  A few years ago, I came across one of the best memoirs I ever read when a coworker left a copy of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls in the community library at work.  I loved that book and hoped that I would feel the same about Ms. Walls leap into fiction.  The Silver Star exceeded my expectations with memorable characters, beautiful prose, and so much heart I could feel it beating throughout the novel.

Immediately after I finished reading The Silver Star, I wanted to read it again.  Sometimes simple stories are the best.  Sometimes honest straightforward characters hold your heart more than ones filled with angst and drama.  Don’t get me wrong, there was conflict I knew would get resolved but I just didn’t know how.  It had to.  You can’t have such great characters and have only bad things happen.  There has to be hope.

I do feel the novel is flawed.  The story is basic and elementary.  I know some readers will find it lacking.  Truth be told perhaps the plot could have been more complicated, however I appreciated The Silver Star for what it is:  a simple story about two sisters who are brave beyond measure.  I especially loved Bean and her ability to adjust to whatever came her way.  She manages to be a chameleon yet never sacrifices her integrity and her true grit. Bean is a fighter, through and through.  She has courage in spades and a resilience that is admirable. 

 Ms. Walls wrote well-rounded characters that dealt with life as it came to them.  No problem was too great because they had the one thing that held them steadfast through their trials, hope.    It was the same hope that she captured in The Glass Castle and it’s this hope that makes The Silver Star one of the best novels I have read this year.

Final Take:  5/5


Friday, July 5, 2013

Julie's Review: The Firebird

Summary: Two Women. One Mysterious Relic. Separated By Centuries. Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she kept it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called "The Firebird," claiming it belonged to Russia's Empress Catherine, it's a problem. There's no proof. But Nicola's held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth. Beloved by readers as varied and adventurous as her novels, you will never forget spending time in New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley's  

Review: The Firebird is a novel that is large in scope and breadth. It covers years in Scotland and Russia during the 1700s and simultaneously present day. For my taste, it as a little too detailed. There were pages that I felt could have been edited out and I would have still understood the plot. We spend a lot of time with Anna, who's ancestor Margaret, is the catalyst for the plot of the novel. You see, Margaret is looking to cash in a rare firebird statue that is said to have been a gift from Empress Catherine to a young Anna. Margaret has lived her life for others and it is now time to live her life herself. Cashing in on this Firebird is her one chance to live her life and travel.

Nicola has a sense of things after she holds them and when she holds the Firebird she knows that Margaret is telling the truth of the heritage of the statue. Now, how does she go about proving it? Her gift only goes so far so she has to reach into her past and find the one person who's gift she knows will help her, Rob. The man she left behind 2 years ago.

Nicola and Rob's story is the one that I wanted more of throughout the novel. I didn't get enough of their interactions, their connection. I got that there was passion and lust there but what were they going to build their relationship on? As for Anna, while I found her story interesting, I found it dragged on. There were time periods where I just wanted to use Rob's gift and skip ahead. At time it was hard to keep all the characters straight. I did enjoy the journey of Anna and how she came to be in possession of the Firebird and how strong of a lady she turned out to be.

I think that Ms. Kearsley definitely has a passion for history and historical fiction but it seems like she gets marred in the details. At times that it takes away from the story. I'm sure fans of her past work will love this novel just as much. As far as me reading another book of hers, I would but I won't be stocking up on her past novels in the near future.

 Final Take:  3.75/5

Thanks to and Sourcebooks for my copy of the novel.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Alice's Review: All the Summer Girls

Summary:  In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her finance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa finds herself obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, an aspiring writer who can't seem to put down a book or a cocktail long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired . . . again.  In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women begin to realize just how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier and the secrets that now threaten to surface.

Review:  I am from New Jersey and love all things NJ (except for the Real Housewives of New Jersey – yuck).  I get mad when Pennsylvanian’s call me a flat-lander because obviously they never left PA long enough to realize NJ is far from flat.  I roll my eyes when someone asks me “What exit?”  I know there is a world of difference between North Jersey and South Jersey and that line is divided cleanly by the Driscoll Bridge.  I watched the Sopranos and the Jersey Shore, not because those shows are an accurate depiction of my beloved state and the people who live here.  I watched because they were filmed here and it was awesome seeming local landmarks and our sandy beaches on TV each week.  When I read the description of All the Summer Girls, I knew this a novel for me with beautiful Avalon, New Jersey as the backdrop.

I enjoyed All the Summer Girls and felt a connection with each of the three characters.  The character that frustrated me the most was Vanessa.  I felt that she was the most hypocritical of the three.  Forgiveness didn’t come easily to her and her high-brow attitude was a real turn off.  She’s the friend that although you love her, you wish she would come down to earth to see how the other half lives. 

Dani was the character I liked the best and the one who had the most story to tell.  I loved how broken and vulnerable she was.  Of the three, she’s the one who will make me worry.  The one whose next adventure I would love to read.

Kate's resolution was too perfect.  I wish she had more of a Cannie is Good inBed type struggle.  Kate reminded me of Kelly from Beverly Hills, 90210.  She was a nice person, a good friend but everything bad happened to her and she always found a way to overcome and ALWAYS had a happy ending.  It’s annoying and I’m annoyed with myself that the spring of tears I experience came because of Kate.

Like most novels, things could have been resolved much sooner if the women had simply talked to each other. Although I enjoyed their friendship truth be told I could not figure out why or how they stayed friends all these years.  It was as if the foundation in which they built this great friendship on was made in sand and not rock or stone.  In real life, I think they wouldn’t have survived, there was nothing to bind them together.  Yet somehow, Ms. Donohue found a way to make it work.  I believed in their friendship and how it is possible to heal and move on together. 

All the Summer Girls is a solid novel with memorable characters, a beautiful setting, and a heartwarming ending. Although I wouldn’t read it again, I would recommend it especially to those who enjoy a novel about friendship set in a lovely seaside town.

Final Take: 3/5


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Julie's Reviews: The Widow Waltz

Summary: Georgia Waltz has things many people only dream of: a plush Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park, a Hamptons beach house, valuable jewels and art, two bright daughters, and a husband she adores, even after decades of marriage. Its only when Ben suddenly drops dead from a massive coronary while training for the New York City Marathon that Georgia discovers her husband—a successful lawyer—has left them nearly penniless. Their wonderland was built on lies. As the family attorney scours emptied bank accounts, Georgia must not only look for a way to support her family, she needs to face the revelation that Ben was not the perfect husband he appeared to be, just as her daughters—now ensconced back at home with secrets of their own—have to accept that they may not be returning to their lives in Paris and at Stanford subsidized by the Bank of Mom and Dad. As she uncovers hidden resilience, Georgias sudden midlife shift forces her to consider who she is and what she truly values. That Georgia may also find new love in the land of Spanx and stretch marks surprises everyone—most of all, her.  Sally Koslows fourth novel is deftly told through the alternating viewpoints of her remarkable female protagonists as they plumb for the grit required to reinvent their lives. Inspiring, funny, and deeply satisfying, The Widow Waltz explores in a profound way the bonds between mothers and daughters, belligerent siblings, skittish lovers, and bitter rivals as they discover the power of forgiveness, and healing, all while asking, “What is family, really?”

Review: The Widow Waltz is a deftly written story about a women who loses her husband to a heart attack and begins to uncover things she didn't know about him. Along with trying to find out where all their money went, Georgia Waltz, needs to also try to help her adult daughters find themselves.

The Widow Waltz is a great examination of family, loss, love and rebirth. Do we really need things to make us happy? What if we suddenly couldn't have the same lifestyle; what would we change? Not only that but you are dealing with the emotions of losing your husband suddenly. Then you get the news that you only have $38,000 in your bank account when you were expecting much more. How would you handle that? Crawl in a corner and cry, get angry or resolve to figure it out. Georgia does the last.

At times, the story did waiver. I just wanted Georgia to figure it all out and get on with her life. She does slowly figure it out and gets on with her life. While I might have hoped for a bit of a different ending, I was pleased to know that all the Silver-Waltz girls end up happy in the end.

Ms. Koslow has a way of taking a situation and writing a great novel around it. It is always infused with humor, wit and heart. The Widow Waltz is no different. If you are looking for a quick weekend or summer read, then this book will fit the bill.
Final Take: 4/5

Thanks to the author who sent me a copy of the book for reading and reviewing.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Julie's Review: The Light in the Ruins

Summary: From the New York Times best-selling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge — set in war-ravaged Tuscany. 1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once was their sanctuary becomes their prison. 1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case — a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood — Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Review: The Light in the Ruins is another wonderful historical mystery by Mr. Bohjalian. What I loved about this novel was that they dual time periods weren't decades apart but a mere 12 years. This meant that the war and feelings about the war were still fresh in people's minds. The side you were on wasn't soon forgotten or lost in family lore.

We are introduced to the Rosati family who were well to do in a small Italian village before the war and then proceed to lose everything after the war. How much were they responsible for the outcome of their lives depends on how much you believe that choice have consequences? Did they deserve the horror that descended upon them? I don't know. In war you try to protect your own. It comes down to survival. Do I think the Rosati's align themselves with the Nazis anymore than other people did in Italy? Maybe, maybe not. Again, I think it's survival. They did what they thought they needed to do and were vilified for it.

The character I felt was most intriguing was Serafina. We kept getting glimpses of her past as her memories were triggered by the case involving the Rosati's. What was her connection with them? Was there a connection with them? We find out very little details of her family and I wanted to know more. Who exactly were they?

This is all against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation and then retreat in Italy. It's is a good refresher of how desperate the Nazis were at the end of the war and for me, who was on their side during the war. It is about history and the penance we pay for the choices we make.

While I might have been a little let down in the ending, it didn't take away from my overall enjoyment of the novel. As usual, Mr. Bohjalian has written a remarkable story.

The Light in the Ruins is out on 7/9/2013.

Final Take: 4/5

Thanks to Doubleday for an ARC of the novel.