Friday, May 29, 2015

Julie's Review: The Far End of Happy

Author: Kathryn Craft
Series: None
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 368
Obtained: Author Via Suzy Missirlian
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Crime
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Gripping family drama that will have you quickly turning the pages to see the resolution
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Ronnie's husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage-and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie's fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family's lives depend on the choices she will make-but is what's best for her best for everyone? Based on a real event from the author's life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.  
Review: From the moment you start reading The Far End of Happy you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know that the book isn't going to have a happy ending. You pretty much feel it from the opening pages of the novel but while it does have a tragic ending, part of me truly thinks that Ronnie and her boys will be ok. Will the events haunt them? Yes. Will they always remember what happened? Yes. I also believe they will move on and be happy in their lives.

The novel is told from three different POVs: Ronnie, the wife; Beverly, the mother-in-law and Janet, Jeff's mother. The one we spend the most time with is Ronnie as Jeff's wife she is the one with the most insight into her husband's frame of mine. Beverly is wrestling with a hidden secret that has affected her for the past 35+ years. She doesn't know how to deal with the current situation without dealing with the past. She also knows she needs to come clean about the past with Ronnie. As with most things we hold close to us, there is never a right time to tell someone about a secret you've kept but I still wonder about Bev's timing on this one.

Janet doesn't understand what Jeff's doing. Early on she quickly blames it all on Ronnie. Ronnie is too demanding, she expects to much from her husband. As we slowly learn Janet's story, it isn't all that happy herself. We learn things about Jeff's background that might have been incredibly important to Ronnie.

What is crystal clear to me is that women carry things on our shoulders that are too hard to bear by ourselves; yet we don't ask for help. We want to be strong for ourselves, our children, our family but we also have to know when to lean on others. Bev needed to let go of the past and to quit romanticizing a past she didn't get to live. Ronnie needed to trust her gut and to be honest with others about her life. Janet needed to learn to show love through other means than money. The only way she knew how to help Jeff was to bail him out of his problems. Except sometimes when you think you are helping, you are really hindering.

The Far End of Happy is an intense novel. It will stir up all types of feelings in you, they won't all be easy to deal with at times. Ms. Craft does an excellent job of making you feel like you are right there with Ronnie, Janet and Beverly. These characters and what they have gone through will stay with you for a long time after you close the novel.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Julie's Review: Enchanted August

Author: Brenda Bowen
Series: None
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Publisher: Pamela Dorman
Pages: 320
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Fun, eclectic characters is a gorgeous setting
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: A sparkling summer debut of love and reawakening that transports the classic The Enchanted April to a picture-perfect island in Maine. Its a rainy summer in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when two unhappily married women, Lottie Wilkinson and Rose Arbuthnot, spot a tattered ad on their children's preschool bulletin board: Hopewell Cottage Little Lost Island, Maine. Old pretty cottage to rent Spring water, blueberries, sea glass. August. Neither can afford it, but they are smitten. To share expenses, they find two companions: Caroline Dester, the exquisite darling of the independent movie scene, and elderly Beverly Fisher, who is recovering from heartbreaking loss. Transformed by the refreshing summer breezes, steamed lobsters, and cocktail hours on the wrap-around porch, the unlikely quartet gradually begin to open up to one another, and ultimately rediscover their capacity to love and be loved. With a cast of quirky and endearing characters set against the beauty of an idyllic New England summer, Enchanted August brilliantly updates a beloved classic and offers readers a universal fantasy: one glorious summer month away from it all.  

Review: Enchanted August is the perfect summer read if you are curled up on the beach or pool. Ms. Bowen does a fantastic job of making you want to find a cottage on some remote island in Maine for a month. Now, as school around here goes back in session in August, I'm not sure I could take that whole month and really unless your uber-rich, who can. I like to suspend reality for these books and just wish I had that kind of money.

I liked the eclectic mix of characters and the fact that none of them are friends when they first arrive at the house. There is one big shocker when they all first arrive at the cottage and it does take a little bit to put aside your assumptions. It does take a while for the 4 of them to click since 2 of them really want to be left alone.

I wouldn't say that any particular character stood out for me because I really did like them together as a quartet. Beverly, Rose, Lottie and Carolyn are each trying to figure life out. I do think that perhaps Lottie has it figured out the best out of them. She knows that something is up with her husband but instead of hounding him about it, she takes off for a month leaving their son's care up to him. She just knows that he'll end up at the island as well. 

I liked the idyllic sound of days spent going to the library, the market and getting the food brought in daily. I'm sure that last one isn't cheap either. I like the idea of doing a lobster boil on the beach but it does seem like a lot of work but one that might pay off in the end.

Ms. Bowen does a great job of wrapping the novel up in a way that you know the characters will be fine but it's not a perfectly wrapped bow. I liked that it was one of the more realistic points of the book.

I enjoy books like Enchanted August because you get caught up in them easily and finish them just as quickly.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Julie's Review: Yes, Please!

Author: Amy Poehler
Series: None
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Harper Collins
Length: 7 Hours, 31 Minutes
Narrator(s): Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Carole Burnett, Kathleen Turner, etc
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Memoir
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Was hoping for more funny than I got
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Amy Poehler is hosting a dinner party and you're invited! Welcome to the audiobook edition of Amy Poehler's Yes Please. The guest list is star-studded with vocal appearances from Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Michael Schur, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and even Amy's parents - Yes Please is the ultimate audiobook extravaganza. Also included? A one-night-only live performance at Poehler's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Hear Amy read a chapter live in front of a young and attractive Los Angeles audience. While listening to Yes Please, you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll become convinced that your phone is trying to kill you. Don't miss this collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haikus from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers. Offering Amy's thoughts on everything from her "too safe" childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and "the biz", the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a "face for wigs" - Yes Please is chock-full of words, and wisdom, to live by.  

Review: I adore Amy Poehler. I think she's funny and I think in a lot of ways she's continuing to pave the way in tv for females. She's also a huge advocate for positive images for young girls (see Smart Girls ). So, I was expecting a little more hilarity than what I got. That's not to say that it wasn't funny because it was but not the guttural laughing I expected.

I can't say that I'm surprised that at some point in Amy's life there was some drug usage. I was more amazed to learn that she doesn't even smoke dope when she writes. She needs her head clear when she writes.

I loved the various narrators along with Amy especially with Seth Meyers. Their chemistry is palpable even through the ear buds. Besides Tina Fey you can tell that they are best friends. I loved watching them together on SNL.

My favorite parts were the behind the scenes tidbits of SNL and Parks and Recreation. I love that the crew and cast of Parks and Recs called Rob Lowe "ROLO".

I liked hearing about her childhood and growing up in working class Boston.

I definitely will be keeping my eye on Amy and what she does now that Parks and Recs is over. I think she's very funny but I'm not sure if a memoir is the best use of her talents.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Julie's Review: Bellweather Rhapsody

Author: Kate Racculia
Series: None
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 352
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Captivating
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered in the hotel’s cavernous halls for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a colossal snowstorm is threatening to trap them all in the hotel. When a young prodigy goes missing from infamous room 712, the search for her entwines an eccentric cast of conductors and caretakers, failures and stars, teenagers on the verge and adults trapped in memories. A genre-bending page-turner, full of knowing nods to pop culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee, Bellweather Rhapsody is a wholly winning new novel from a writer to watch.  

Review: Bellweather Rhapsody is a coming-of-age and murder mystery rolled into one. It has the band and choir geeks that are competing at the state level. Some of them hope to become famous, some of them hope to just survive, and to also discover who they are or perhaps reveal who they are to others. We meet the Hatmaker twins, who are talented in their own ways; Alice dreams of being famous and Rabbit dreams of telling his secret.

There is also the mystery of what happens to semi-famous, Jill Faccelli, who seems to have killed herself but then the body disappeared. To add onto that mystery a big snowstorm is about to come down on the hotel as they ramp up for the concerts.

Minnie Graves also shows up to face her demons about that fateful night 15 years ago when she was witness to murder suicide. She's come back to reclaim her life. To put behind her the fears that have held her captive for almost 2 decades.  She and Alice bond over the mystery of room 712 and help each other face their fears. For all of her bravado, Alice had her own issues.

The adults in this book are a trip. For people who should be chaperon the teens, they are acting like teens themselves. In a lot of ways the adults were still searching for themselves just as much as the kids.

I adored Ms. Racculia's first book,This Must Be the Place and felt that it was perhaps a stronger book. She's a wonderful storyteller who has a way of writing strong but quirky characters. Although for anyone who has been in choir or band, you will understand the ins and outs of a competition like this. Plus it's set in the 1990s and well for those of us who were old enough to live through it, the trip to a more recent past was fun.

I know that Ms. Racculia has sold the rights for the movie to this book and frankly I can't wait to see it on the big screen. Bellweather Rhapsody is definitely a book that will transfer well onto film. I am anxious to see who they chose to cast in the movie. Ms. Racculia has a way of writing eclectic characters in a way where you see a little of yourself in the characters.

I look forward to whatever Ms. Racculia writes next and will definitely read it.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Julie's Review: Sisters of Heart and Snow

Author: Margaret Dilloway
Series: None
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Putnam
Pages: 400
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: Family focused on the ties the bind us and the ones that separate us
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: The critically acclaimed, award-winning author of How to Be an American Housewife returns with a poignant story of estranged sisters reunited when a request from their ailing mother reveals a long-buried family secret. Rachel and Drew Snow are sisters. Though they were confidants and cohorts as little girls, their lives have followed completely different paths. In fact, as adults they appear to occupy different planets. Rachel hasn't returned to her childhood home since being kicked out by her strict father after an act of careless teenage rebellion. Despite the estrangement from her parents, Rachel married a good man and is a mother to two strong-minded teens—she has a full, authentic life. Drew, younger by four years, followed her passion for music and works a variety of side jobs to supplement gigs and recording sessions. Shes now at an impasse, longing for the stability that has always eluded her. Both sisters recall how close they were, but the distance between them seems more than they can bridge. When their deferential Japanese mother, Haruki, is diagnosed with dementia, the family is surprised when she gives Rachel power of attorney. But no one is more surprised—and angered—than Rachel's domineering father, Killian. Killian's relentless anger, Haruki's seeming favoritism: each is a wedge in the gulf dividing the sisters. In a rare moment of lucidity, Haruki mysteriously asks Rachel to find a book in her sewing room. To get into the house, let alone find the book, Rachel needs her sisters help. But finding the book turns out to be just the beginning. The book—which tells the tale of real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen, an epic saga of love, loss, and conflict during twelfth-century Japan—reveals truths about Drew and Rachel's relationship that resonate across the centuries, and helps them connect in a way that turns their differences into their strongest asset. The two sisters realize that courage is not just for the bold warrior women of ancient times, but for them, as well.  

Review: Sisters of Heart and Snow is one of the best books I've read yet this year. I loved the focus on sisters who were bound by family and torn by family. I also loved the historical story of two women who should have been enemies because of their situation and found a way to be sisters. It is the weaving of these stories together that gives Sisters of Heart and Snow a strong story. Rachel and Drew have been separated and estranged since Rachel was kicked out of the house at 16. They have kept in touch over the years but aren't particularly close. Neither one understands the other and frankly they don't take the time to get to know each other. It isn't until their mother is sick and in a nursing home that they begin to seek out each other.

It is in their quest to understand the book that their mother left to them where they start to bond. This is not to say that things aren't bumpy along the way because they are. It really is like they are strangers learning the ins and outs of their personalities. Rachel has been independent and married for 20 years with her own family, whom she has come to rely on. Drew is a bit lost. An extremely talented musician who has drifted from job to job. It isn't until she stays with Rachel for a bit that she begins to feel grounded and at home. While Drew wasn't kicked out of the house, it wasn't exactly a picnic living at home for her either. To sum it up pretty easily, their dad is an ass. I'll let you read the book to count the ways. And while his secret about Haruki might have been damning in the beginning, it certainly isn't when he reveals it to Rachel. Although we do know what he was holding over her head all these years and why she couldn't break free of him.

Interwoven into the story is the story of Tomoe Gozen who's strength and bravery speak to both Rachel and Drew but in different ways. Tomoe is a female samurai who is one of the strongest and most feared of the army. The men listen to her and respect her because she is skilled but also because she has the respect of their leader. It is her friendship/sisterhood with another woman that should have been her enemy that Rachel and Drew draw strength from during their tribulations.

I loved learning about Tomoe and her skills, bravery, loyalty and beauty. I can only imagine how men both feared and re veered her. This is my first book by Ms. Dilloway but I can tell you that it won't be my last. I loved how she wove both tales of "sisterly" love into a stunning, heartfelt novel. I could identify with each of the women in the novel for various reasons.

If you are looking for a novel that brings the family drama and that you can fall into immediately, then look no further than Sisters of Heart and Snow