Monday, October 27, 2014

Julie's Review: Saving Grace

Author: Jane Green
Series: None
Publication Date: December 30, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 352
Obtained: Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Another solid Jane Green novel with the focus on mental illness
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue. To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity. With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late. Powerful and riveting, Saving Grace will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow Grace on her harrowing journey to rock bottom and back.

Review: Here is where I say that we never know what goes on behind doors. Grace and Ted seem like the perfect couple. She's a wonderful wife and keeps things running so her very famous author husband can spend his days working on the next great novel. Saving Grace is a novel about what happens behind closed doors, how trying to figure out the next steps in your life aren't sure of what path to travel on.

As with all of Ms. Green's heroines, Grace is easy to like. She's pretty close to perfect but her life is anything but that. Her husband is a bit of an egotistical manic and not the easiest man to live with at all. Does he love Grace? I think he does but he's so used to how she runs their life, I'm not sure he'd know what to do without her. I don't think that counts as love but as dependence. Grace has her own fears which stem from her childhood.

Ted needs a new assistant since the one that has been with him for 20 years is leaving to take care of her ailing mother. So when Beth enters their lives at just the right time, Beth thanks her lucky stars. Almost immediately, Grace gets an uneasy feeling around her but pushes it aside because Beth has become instrumental in making their lives run easy.

Slowly Beth begins to metamorphose in front of Grace, just as her life begins to spin out of control. The question becomes is Grace truly going crazy or is she just going through some changes?

It isn't too hard as a reader to see where this one is going. As always Ms. Green has written the journey to be interesting even if you figure out part of the plot. Grace's plight is one that many women will be able to identify with. What happens when your body and your mind betray you? When you start to feel so not like yourself but you have no idea how to fix it? These are all very powerful questions.

I found the ending to be exactly what I wanted but with a nice little twist. Saving Grace is another Jane Green classic.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Julie's Review: Bitter Greens

Author: Kate Forsyth
Series: None
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
Pages: 496
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  historical fiction, fairy tale
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A wonderful historical fiction novel interwoven with the orgins of a classic fairy tale
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love. French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens. After Margheritas father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition. Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does. Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.

Review: I love dual point of view novels but this one takes it another step and adds one more point of view. I loved all three views in Bitter Greens but I think I found Charlotte-Rose the most fascinating. She was a strong-willed woman who would not let the constraints of society hold her back. Unfortunately, in the court of Louis XIV, unless he was the one in scandal it was forbidden. Charlotte-Rose was also a gifted storyteller. She could weave a tale for the court that would delight. It is this talent that gave the world Rapunzel as we know it.

Charlotte-Rose's life was one of love, adventure, stories and indulgence. Being on the court of the Sun King was interesting. You were either in favor or out of favor. For someone like Charlotte-Rose who needed her income from being on court, it was important to stay in favor. It's also hard for someone like Charlotte-Rose to be demure when she wants to seize life. Oh and boy did she ever. She led quite the scandalous life.

It is these scandals that cause her to be banished from court and sent by Louis XIV to a convent. Can you imagine being sent to a convent and it's not your choice? How hard would that be to adapt to a life of piousness when you were used to a life of extravagance?  Lucky for her she meets a nun who opens up her creative juices.

The other two stories of Selena and Margherita are intertwined. It is these stories where we get into the darkness of the tale. Fairy Tales didn't originate as happy/cheery stories but rather they were dark. They often detailed the macabre and dark magic. I loved this aspect of the story. I loved that Ms. Forsyth gave the evil witch her own story, it added depth to the story. It was her story, after Charlotte-Rose's, that I found intriguing. Her life wasn't easy but it also didn't excuse her treatment of Margherita.

Ms. Forsyth takes historical fiction to a new level here. This isn't a fairytale retelling, it is the history of the tale and the story of the woman who wrote the story. The details of the time period are phenomenal and it's evident that she did her research.

Each character had their own voice and each was distinctive which was key in moving from chapter to chapter. I enjoyed the time that I spent with each of these women. Each was fascinating and strong in their own way. Each of them overcame and persevered in their life.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Book to Movie Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Summary: The death of Judd Foxman's father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd's wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened.

Book to Movie Review: Earlier this week you saw my book review of This Is Where I Leave You and today I bring you my movie review. Usually I don't like to read a book so close to seeing the movie, but this time it couldn't be helped. I loved that Jason Bateman was the face and voice of Judd. The way he is always understated in his expressions lends itself well. Plus I've kind of been a sucker for him since The Hogan Family days. The rest of the casting was brilliant too. I mean Jane Fonda is the perfect Hilary. She really had a lot of the laugh out loud moment. I loved the relationship between Judd and Wendy. In the book you could tell they were close but in the movie you truly felt their love for each other. They seemed to understand each other the best.

The entire cast was pretty perfect. I think it helped the Mr. Tropper wrote the screenplay as well, which kept it pretty close to the novel. While there were definite changes and some plot points left out; it didn't change the tone of the story. In fact, I found myself laughing more and crying more through different parts of the movie. Somethings work better in a novel and wouldn't translate well to the big screen. For example, most of the book we are in Judd's head and while it still is Judd's point of view, we aren't privvy to his every thought.

This is definitely dark humor but with lots of heart. There are some very funny moments and for those of us who read the book, the big twist/reveal is still there. Which made me happy to see. I felt it was essential to the book and to the family. This might be a movie that I have my husband watch with me when it comes to DVD; I think he might enjoy it.

Book To Movie: 4.5/5


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Julie's Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Author: Jonathan Tropper
Series: None
Publication Date: July 6, 2010
Publisher: Plume
Pages: 352
Obtained: via friend
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Dark humor bliss
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: The death of Judd Foxman's father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd's wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she's pregnant. This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper's (One Last Thing Before I Go) most accomplished work to date, and a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not.

Review: This Is Where I Leave You is hilarious and brilliant. Although if you don't like swearing and lots of talk about sex, then this probably isn't the book for you. I love reading about families that are slightly off kilter because frankly all families are dysfunctional to a degree. Let me tell you the Foxman family takes the cake on dysfunction but I think underneath it all they do love each other. They just happens to show it by beating the crap out of each other and teasing each other incessantly. Judd is our narrator and boy is he angry. Not only is he angry but he's depressed, bitter and horny. What a combination for a 30 something man. It is with this that he tells us the story of his family sitting shiva after the passing of the patriarch, when they can barely stand each other for 24 hours. Each of the siblings is dealing with their own issues: Wendy is married to a inconsiderate man and has three young children that she pretty much raises by herself; Paul is the oldest and still harboring ill-feelings for something that happened years ago; Phillip is the baby and while he might be trying to go down the better path in life, he only really knows how to travel down the wrong path.

Sometimes where there are mulitple characters in a story, I wonder how the story would feel if another character had given us their perspective. With This Is Where I Leave You I didn't really care to know, because Judd was the perfect narrator.

Here's the thing about a book like this, if you don't like dark humor you aren't going to find anything remotely funny about it.  I find that sometimes life is dark and that even being snarky about it can help you maintain some part of your sanity. I found myself laughing out loud at certain parts, stunned at others and tearing up as well. While they might not be the most emotionally healthy family, I throughly enjoyed spending some hours with the Foxman family. They showed me that even the most dysfunctional of families do love each other, even if they show it differently than the rest of us.

I know I am late to the love fest for the novel but you should seriously pick up it up. Yes, the movie is out and I can't wait to see it but even with the stellar cast, the book has to be better.

One Last Thing Before I Go is on my TBR shelf and let me tell you, it just moved up a few pegs.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jenn's Review: Made for You

Author: Melissa Marr
Series: none
Publication Date: September 15, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  YA thriller
Rating: 3.5
Bottom Line: Good page turner but lacking depth
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Just get it at the library...
Blurb:  When Eva Tilling wakes up in the hospital, she’s confused—who in her sleepy little North Carolina town could have hit her with their car? And why? But before she can consider the question, she finds that she’s awoken with a strange new skill: the ability to foresee people’s deaths when they touch her. While she is recovering from the hit-and-run, Nate, an old flame, reappears, and the two must traverse their rocky past as they figure out how to use Eva’s power to keep her friends—and themselves—alive. But while Eva and Nate grow closer, the killer grows increasingly frantic in his attempt to get to Eva.

For the first time, New York Times bestselling author Melissa Marr has applied her extraordinary talent to contemporary realism. Chilling twists, unrequited obsession, and high-stakes romance drive this Gothic, racy thriller—a story of small-town oppression and salvation. Melissa’s fans, and every YA reader, will find its wild ride enthralling

Review:  I wanted to love this book but I just didn't. It was enjoyable with a real page turner of a mystery, but...  I didn't love it. Actually the more I wrote this review, the less I liked the book.

I would have to say one of the things that held me back was that I never identified with any of the characters. As a matter of fact they were all so flawed that there wasn't a single overly likeable character.  Eva was a little shallow and complacent which I suppose describes many teens, but none that I want to read about. Her friends Nate and Grace were interesting characters but we only get to know them on the surface. 

When it came to the whodunit of it all the reveal wasn't a great 'A-ha!' moment, more of an 'Oh'.  As a matter of fact it seemed a little unrealistic.  After Eva and Nick figured it out, their actions were unnecessarily risky to the point of ludicrous.  Maybe it's just the mom in me but I had a very hard time with the excessive amount of danger they placed themselves in at the end of the novel.

Honestly, I kept hoping for more.  I have read three books by Melissa Marr and that seems to be how I feel after all of them. While I enjoy them, I am always left wishing they were deeper. 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Julie's Review: Inferno

Author: Dan Brown
Series: Robert Langdon #4
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Random House Audio
Narrator:Paul Michael
Hours: 17 hours 12 minutes
Obtained: purchased via Audible
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Classic Langdon
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date. In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces: Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust...before the world is irrevocably altered.

Review: One thing that I love about Robert Langdon books is Robert Langdon. How can you not? He's smart, debonair and well traveled. I appreciate that each chapter is about 10-12 minutes in length, so it makes for easy listening at work. This format also lends itself to the pace of the book. As with all Robert Langdon books, there is action and a lot for Professor Langdon to figure out. Robert Langdon continues to know a lot of information about a lot of different subject matters. :) Regardless, he's still my favorite professor in modern literature.

No, I haven't read Dante's Inferno and I don't plan to but that doesn't make Inferno any less intriguing. You don't have to have an understanding of Dante's because Mr. Brown walks you through the gist of it.
I am always interested in how Mr. Brown weaves the history, literature and a moral implication into his story. Although, I'm not sure there were any truly "bad" guys in this one. Which of course begs it's own questions about the morality of someones actions. Can one person truly determine what is good for the entire human race?

As always, this novel is action packed but also intelligent. It kept me on my toes listening to it. There were a couple of times that I had to go back to ensure that I heard something correctly. There are a lot of characters in the beginning of the story and frankly you don't know who is on the side of Robert and who is against him. I always find the slow reveals in these kind of books to be great. I love it when authors can turn a novel on its head and as a reader you don't see it coming. Mr. Brown is a master at that.

Paul Michael is a fine narrator for Inferno and captures Landgon well along with the other characters in the novel. His inflection and accents are well done and not overdone.

Inferno is a solid read/listen. If you are a fan of the Langdon books then you will want to continue the series with novel. My favorite is The Lost Symbol and if you haven't read it I highly recommend it.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Julie's Review: Island of a Thousand Mirrors

Author: Nayomi Munaweera
Series: None
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 256
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A short but powerful book that everyone should read.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Before violence tore apart the tapestry of Sri Lanka and turned its pristine beaches red, there were two families. Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo, Yasodhara’s and her siblings’ lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents’ ambitions, teenage love and, subtly, the differences between Tamil and Sinhala people; but the peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara’s family escapes to Los Angeles.But Yasodhara’s life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl’s. Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict that she has tried so hard to avoid – a conflict that, eventually, will connect her and Yasodhara in unexpected ways. Nayomi Munaweera's Island of a Thousand Mirrors is an emotionally resonant saga of cultural heritage, heartbreaking conflict and deep family bonds. Narrated in two unforgettably authentic voices and spanning the entirety of the decades-long civil war, it offers an unparalleled portrait of a beautiful land during its most difficult moment by a spellbinding new literary talent who promises tremendous things to come.

Review: Island of a Thousand Mirrors is a coming of age in the time of war novel and it is so much more than that. It is about remember where you are from while trying to forget what you saw. It is about trying to keep your head down and still being pulled into a war that you did not cause and do not want.

I found myself in the midst of Yasodhara and Saraswathie stories so easily. It was like was I was transported via Ms. Munaweera's words to war torn Sri Lanka. Most of the first part of the story surrounded Yasodhara's family history and then her young life in Sri Lanka. I loved learning about her grandparents and then her parents.  Growing up Yasodhara plays with Shiva, a young Tamil boy who's family rents the upstairs of their house. As kids, they don't understand the differences between Tamils and Sinhala's but the country is starting to separate based on these ethnicities.

Yasodhara and her family flee the war torn country to Los Angeles, where they encounter a whole host of difficult situations. I can only imagine how hard it is to be ripped from the only home you've known and thrown into a different country and different culture.

The second part of the novel focuses on Saraswathie and her family's struggles during the civil war between the Tigers (Tamils) and the Sinhalas. Her life growing up is a stark contrast to Yasodhara, her daily life is affected by war. Children disappear off the street, young men go off to fight to give their people a land of their own. Saraswathie's own brothers have gone off and given their lives to the cause.

It is what happens to Saraswathie and drove her to the path she chooses that ripped my heart out. It is these stories of civil war that broke my heart. It is the story of the innocent trapped in a war that they don't fully understand or want.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors is a rare find in a novel and I don't think my review has done it the justice it deserves. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. The way that Ms. Munaweera weaves their two stories together is amazing. As a reader you see it coming and you can't do anything about it; it rips your heart apart.

Ms. Munaweera's prose is elegant and harsh all at once. She wants the reader to feel the pain that the girls are feeling, along with the joy. Her writing pulls you immediately into their lives. I can't wait to see what she writes about next.

If you read one book for the rest of 2014, make it Island of a Thousand Mirrors. You won't regret it.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Alice's Review: The Good Sister

Author: Jamie Kain
Series: None
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 304
Obtained:  Publisher
Genre:   Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Beautifully dark and tragic novel about sisters.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary:  The Kinsey sisters live in an unconventional world. Their parents are former flower-children who still dont believe in rules. Their small, Northern California town is filled with free spirits and damaged souls seeking refuge from the real world. Without the anchor of authority, the three girls are adrift and have only each other to rely on. Rachel is wild. Asha is lost. Sarah, the good sister, is the glue that holds them together. But the forces of a mysterious fate have taken Sarahs life in a sudden and puzzling accident, sending her already fractured family into a tailspin of grief and confusion. Asha has questions. Rachel has secrets. And Sarah, waking up in the afterlife, must piece together how she got there.

Review:  The Good Sister is a poignant story about three teenagers so different from each other you wouldn’t believe they were even related, let alone sisters. The novel begins with the aftermath of Sarah’s death. It carries us through her transition to the afterlife and the impact her death has on her two younger sisters. It may sound a little hokey but it is far from it.

Asha’s struggle with Sarah’s death is heartbreaking to read. Sarah was her idol, her confidant, her friend. The void she feels is overwhelming and with no one to turn to, you can imagine how desolate her life is.

I just loved Rachel. I am so drawn to a character that is completely flawed almost to the point of no redemption. Rachel is that character. I loved that she was all kinds of broken and imperfect and evil and wrong. She was so incredibly ugly and cringeworthy, yet she was the one character I wanted to know more. I find characters like her a classic example of the Shrek Onion philosophy...ogre’s have many layers and so does Rachel.

As I got to know Sarah, I questioned whether or not she really was the good sister. She wasn’s perfect, no one is.

There is a lot to take from this novel, the most important being jealousy is an loathsome thing. There are also many questions you will ask yourself as you read it. Can there be redemption to selfish acts? Who do you turn to when you have no one?

I know this novel is for young adults, but it reads far more mature than the genre suggests. It's worth buying, it's worth reading.  The Good Sister is tragic, yet tragedy carries a certain beauty. It’s the kind of beauty you can’t find in happy endings. The Good Sister is beautiful.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Julie's Review: The Distance

Author: Helen Giltrow
Series: None
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via
Genre:  Thriller
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Those who love roller coaster rides will surely enjoy
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Charlotte Alton is an elegant socialite. But behind the locked doors of her sleek, high-security apartment in London's Docklands, she becomes Karla. Karla's business is information. Specifically, making it disappear. She's the unseen figure who, for a commanding price, will cover a criminal's tracks. A perfectionist, she's only made one slip in her career—several years ago she revealed her face to a man named Simon Johanssen, an ex-special forces sniper turned killer-for-hire. After a mob hit went horrifically wrong, Johanssen needed to disappear, and Karla helped him. He became a regular client, and then, one day, she stepped out of the shadows for reasons unclear to even herself. Now, after a long absence, Johanssen has resurfaced with a job, and he needs Karla's help again. The job is to take out an inmate—a woman—inside an experimental prison colony. But there's no record the target ever existed. That's not the only problem: the criminal boss from whom Johanssen has been hiding is incarcerated there. That doesn't stop him. It's Karla's job to get him out alive, and to do that she must uncover the truth. Who is this woman? Who wants her dead? Is the job a trap for Johanssen or for her? But every door she opens is a false one, and she's getting desperate to protect a man—a killer—to whom she's inexplicably drawn. Written in stylish, sophisticated prose, The Distance is a tense and satisfying debut in which every character, both criminal and law-abiding, wears two faces, and everyone is playing a double game.

Review: The Distance is an intriguing novel and totally up my alley but for the beginning of the novel, I was in a heavy London fog. There is a lot going on to establish the characters and the pace of the plot. This one pretty much shoots out of the gate and doesn't stop until you get to the finish line.

What I liked about this novel was that as a reader you were never truly sure who was good and who was bad. They are all pretty much different shades of grey. I think that makes the situations throughout this one that much more intriguing. The most mysterious of them all is Charlotte/Karla. We learn things about her but pretty much only that she wants to reveal. I have a feeling there is much more to her than we learn. Who is Johanssen? What is this connection that he has to and with Karla?

What is The Program? Why is the man running it, Quinlan, after Johanssen? Who is the mysterious client that has hired Johanssen to go after someone in the program? Will Johanssen be able to complete the task? Is Karla going to be able to manage him from the "outside"?

These are all things that make you keep turning the pages. How do the pieces of the puzzle all work together? How does Powell fit into all of this?

The Distance would make a great television series. It would be the kind that would hook you and then leave you with a cliffhanger wanting more. It's definitely the type of thing that I would definitely tune into.  I also think that there is definitely a series in here as well.

For those who like thrillers and those with a spy bent, then this one is for you.