Friday, November 27, 2015

Julie's Review: If You're Lucky

Author: Yvonne Prinz
Series: None
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 288
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  YA, Mystery
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Fascinating look at mental illness in young adults
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Is Georgia’s mind playing tricks on her, or is the entire town walking into the arms of a killer who has everyone but her fooled? When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe that Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart. He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend. Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating Lucky’s girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: Did Fin murder her brother in order to take over his whole life? Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head. She is certain she’s getting closer and closer to the truth about Fin, but as she does, her mental state becomes more and more precarious, and no one seems to trust what she’s saying. As the chilling narrative unfolds, the reader must decide whether Georgia’s descent into madness is causing her to see things that don’t exist--or to see the deadly truth.  

Review: If You're Lucky sucked me right in and pretty much didn't let me go until I closed the back cover. Even then, I'm pretty sure that Georgia and her struggle will stay with me for a long time.
It isn't as if Georgia hasn't suffered enough already but losing her brother Lucky puts her at the breaking point again. 

It's easy to like Georgia right off the bat, she's honest about who she is and her mental illness. She hasn't had it easy in school or at home. She's always thought of herself as the other child, so when her beloved brother dies, her parents and his friends are at a loss on what to do. You see, Lucky had it easy. He found making friends easy, had a zest for life and adventure. He was never in one place too long but managed to charm those people he came into contact to quickly.

Since Georgia is on medication for her illness, she can't feel much with the death of her brother. She often laments that she hasn't even cried and she can't stand the dull feeling of the medication. It isn't until she meets Lucky's charming and mysterious friend Fin that she feels something. She's quickly enamored with him. Until it seems, she isn't because something about him doesn't feel right. Knowing that people won't believe her because of her medication, Georgia is out to prove that Lucky didn't just die but he was murdered. First though, she needs to ween herself off the medication. I think we all know that this isn't a good idea.

Now, the ending of the novel isn't a surprise to me at all and it won't be to most adult readers enjoying this novel. What was eye-opening for me was how Ms. Prinz got us into the mind of a teen with a mental illness and how disastrous going off medication can really be for those suffering. As the book marches on, you feel almost as out of sorts as Georgia does and begin to wonder what is real and what isn't. Is Georgia's mind making her hallucinate or is her paranoia really warranted?

It's actually scary at how quickly the medication for these illnesses start to lose their effect as you lower the dosage. I can only imagine how it dulls their senses and emotions but the ramifications of not taking them are much more grave and dangerous.

If you are looking for a non-dystopian, YA novel with a mystery than you need to read  If You're Lucky.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Julie's Review: The Light Between Oceans

Author: M.L. Stedman
Series: None
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 354
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Life is not black and white but different shades of gray which this novel so beautifully demonstrates
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

Review: Light Between Oceans is a rare novel that slowly and meticulously unwinds it's story and secrets. This doesn't mean that it isn't a page turner because it is but it's a character study. Even though you know that Tom is hiding something about his past, you already can tell he's trustworthy and honest. He's also a man who lives by rules, for him there is no black and white.

His life is turned upside down when he is set to takeover the Janus Rock Lighthouse and happens to meet the young and vibrant Isabel Graysmark. It isn't too long before they are married and expecting their first child. With love comes much heartache as Isabel has miscarriages and a stillbirth, which puts a wedge between her and Tom. Once baby "Lucy" arrives, Isabel puts all her focus on caring and nurturing her. Every time Tom brings up doing the right thing and letting the mainland know that a boat with a deceased man and a baby came to the island, Isabel talks him out of it. So they raise Lucy as their own on Janus Rock.

Unfortunately you can't control how life moves forward or in this case unravels. Of course, as Isabel suffers from her miscarriages and her stillborn, your heart breaks for her. Although as the novel moves on, you start to wonder about Isabel's state of mind. Tom tries to be the voice of reason and compassion but Isabel refuses to listen to him. Tom has always wrestled with this situation in his conscious and wonders what kind of man it makes him to be raising someone else's child. He loves Isabel but this lie is taking a toll on his mind.

Light Between Oceans is an emotional novel. It is a novel that makes it hard to determine right from wrong but instead shows how life is full of shades of gray. Your heart breaks for all the families involved in how the story unfolds. What wasn't lost on me was the affect on Lucy both short-term and long-term but I think that it was lost on those who were to be looking out for her.

This novel touches on how frail the thread that holds our lives together really is and how hard it is to maintain the right touch on that thread. How our lives are all intersected and in ways we can't imagine.

If you are interested in a novel that will make you think and cause you to pause, then Light Between Oceans is one you should pick up. Beware, it will make you cry.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Julie's Review: Along the Infinite Sea

 photo Along the Infinite Sea_zpsunyono7t.jpg
Author: Beatriz Williams
Series: Schuyler Sister #2
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Putnam Books
Pages: 464
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Captivating
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: An epic story of star-crossed lovers in pre-war Europe collides with a woman on the run in the swinging '60s, in another riveting historical novel from the New York Times-bestselling author of A Hundred Summers and Tiny Little Thing. Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician. But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle's life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts. Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William's final book about the Schuyler sisters.

Review: Along the Infinite Sea just might be my favorite Schuyler sister book and although Pepper is the sister in this novel, the narrative belonged to Annabelle. Annabelle Dommerich might just be my one of my favorite feisty heroines ever. Pepper is a great character but the minute Annabelle hits the page, her story, at least for me, moves to the background. It's not that I wasn't interested in her story but she is still the same reckless Pepper she was in the previously 2 novels. Although by the end of the novel, I'm hopeful she'll change and grown.

Annabelle is a force to be reckoned with and she's only a young woman when she makes some life altering decisions. It is how she responds in times of tragedy and triumph that make her character. Is how she moves on from the love of her life to preserve herself and to be a good wife, that makes her admirable. She loves her family, even her step-children. She grows fond of Johann as their life together starts to cement itself.

Although she's made herself a comfortable life with a man who adores her, Stefan is never far from her thoughts. Their lives came together in a hurried way and he exited from her life hurriedly as well. It is not something that someone can get over very quickly. Their lives intersect again and this time, Annabelle is unable to give him up. Of course things are never that simple as one would hope and she finds herself in some situations that will change her path in life yet again.

Ms. Williams does an excellent job of stringing you along with who Annabelle's husband was in the 60s. Just as I would think I had it figured out, she'd through another fork in the path causing me to question my thought process. It is a sign of a great writer when you don't get sick of these forks but embrace them and anticipate them.

As a huge Les Miserables fan, I loved the comparison of Johann and Stefan to Javert and Jean Valjean. It definitely seemed extremely fitting. Johann wasn't so reprehensible in the end but I think Ms. Williams was trying to show that some high ranking Nazi officials did it for the love of the country and what they believed was German Nationalism not hatred of the Jews. It is easy to get stuck somewhere and not be able to know how to leave or be able to leave because you will be killed.

There are some heart pounding moments throughout the novel and ones that will make you hold your breath. I loved the setting of Antibes and then Florida/Georgia in 1966.

Ms. Williams makes you believe in soulmates and that sometimes love does conquer all.

If you haven't read Ms. Williams Schuyler Sister books than you definitely should because they are  filled with wonderful characters throughout history. Plus you don't necessarily need to read them in order.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Julie's Review: The Muralist

 photo The Muralist_zpspu75ggsc.jpg
Author: B.A. Shapiro
Series: None
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Intriguing look at mental illness and art
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary:  When Alizée Benoit, a young American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), vanishes in New York City in 1940, no one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her arts patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends and fellow WPA painters, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who, while working at Christie’s auction house, uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind works by those now famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt?   Entwining the lives of both historical and fictional characters, and moving between the past and the present, The Muralist plunges readers into the divisiveness of prewar politics and the largely forgotten plight of European refugees refused entrance to the United States. It captures both the inner workings of New York’s art scene and the beginnings of the vibrant and quintessentially American school of Abstract Expressionism.  As she did in her bestselling novel The Art Forger, B. A. Shapiro tells a gripping story while exploring provocative themes. In Alizée and Danielle she has created two unforgettable women, artists both, who compel us to ask: What happens when luminous talent collides with unstoppable historical forces? Does great art have the power to change the world?

Review: While The Muralist floats back and forth between the late 1930s and early 1940s and present day, it really is Alizee's story even if Dani makes appearances. What I found intriguing was how manic Alizee got when she was being creative. What I found fascinating was how some scientists have linked mental illness with creative people. I have made a note to investigate this a bit further. I was hoping for a deeper look into the beginning of the abstract movement and those who were involved but they were really cursory to Alizee's story. It was about her journey to help those that were being affected by Nazi Germany, including those in her family.

Her great-niece is the one who starts to uncover the link between Alizee and the great abstract artists of America.  Dani has always been extremely curious about her great-aunt after her grand-pere especially because he had some of her paintings. So when she discovers what she thinks are part of her great-aunt's painting, she goes into obsessive mode, seeking out anything that will connect her.

Most of the novel is told through Alizee's eyes with Dani's point of view filling in the gaps. What we find is an extremely talented  young artist who starts to suffer from the stress of worrying about  her family is Nazi occupied France. As the war gets worse, Alizee starts to lose her control on reality but her painting is inspired as she takes current events to heart.

I always find it interesting how the artistic community is very small and intertwined especially during the beginning of great art movements. How they develop bonds and feed off of each others abilities and inspirations can mean that a lot of their art is similar in likeness.

While I enjoyed the mystery of what happened to Alizee but the ending was fairly easy to figure out.  This is a great novel but in my opinion Art Forger is a stronger novel. If you haven't read that one, then you must start there.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Julie's Review: A Window Opens

Author: Elizabeth Egan
Series: None
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 384
Obtained: from a friend
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A book that almost everyone can identify with
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It and Where’d You Go, Bernadette will cheer at this “fresh, funny take on the age-old struggle to have it all” (People) about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

 In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach. Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

Review: I've never been a stay at home mom/part-time employee to transition to full-time working mom but I can't imagine how hard that would be to do, especially when you liked your life the way it was happening. This is what happens to Alice Pearse when her husband doesn't make partner and wants to go out on his own. It's then that Alice realizes she's going to have to elevate her employment and go for a bigger paycheck.

A Window Opens is the story of a wife, mother, friend and employee who wants to have it all but doesn't really know how to balance it all. Plus one of Alice's favorite children books is by one of my favorite authors, Mo Willems. Alice's current magazine You doesn't have the space or the funds to make her a full-time employee, so she has to look somewhere else for an opportunity. It seems totally kismet that a woman from a new venture, Scroll, gets in contact with her via Twitter. As many people around Alice exclaim "people really find jobs on Twitter", I had the same thought. As she meets with Genevieve, they click and even more excited when she's offered the job.

It's pretty clear from the get go that Alice is out of her element at Scroll. They are a little too focused on acronyms to get any work done. Alice tries her best to fit in but it's not the easiest work environment. Genevieve is pretty much Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde from one minute to the next. It's pretty evident that she doesn't know how to manage or lead by example.

While Alice is trying to find ground at work, the ground at home crumbles beneath her feet. Her husband is struggling with the drink and getting his independent law firm up and going. She fills their recycling bin is more full with empties than his client list is full. Not to mention that her dad isn't doing well right now. She's got a lot of balls up in the air and it waiting for them all to fall down.

Ms. Egan does an excellent job of writing a harried, working woman trying to do it all. Sure she has people to lean on but she certainly feels that the kids are growing up too fast and she's missing out. I found the Scroll concept to be interesting and also very strange. I don't see how you can change concepts so quickly and think the name still applies.

I enjoyed the quick wit of the book and the aspects of a working mom. The marital issues seems a little too quick to be resolved but I'll let that go. I enjoyed her friendship with Susanna and how they rectified their friendship.

If you are looking for a quick, enjoyable read then I can definitely recommend A Window Opens for you.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Julie's Review: What The Lady Wants

Author: Renee Rosen
Series: None
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 448
Obtained: from a friend
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Captivating
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto: “Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer and led to an infamous love affair. The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watches the flames rise and consume what was the pioneer town of Chicago, she can’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world are about to change. Nor can she guess that the agent of that change will not simply be the fire, but more so the man she meets that night. Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store. He and his powerhouse coterie—including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation. But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.  

Review: What the Lady Wants A Novel of the Gilded Age is a fantastic journey into the past, the history of Chicago and the evolution of Marshall Field's. I LOVED the history in this novel. Being a native of the area, I enjoyed closing my eyes and picturing the Loop back in the late nineteenth-century. How electric it must  have been to help establish a city that no one thought would add value to the trade routes. Little did some people know that it would help establish some of the greatest railways and icons in the country.

Marshall Field was quite the visionary. He knew that women, specifically rich & sometimes bored women were the key to a successful business, even if his partner did not.  Its obvious that the partner goes bye-bye but it's not until later in the book do we know why. Frankly, it was a long time coming. Mr. Leiter is more suited to a small dry good store, not a grand shopping experience.

While I found parts of Marshall and Delia's romance intriguing, it really wasn't what kept me coming back and turning the pages. It was how Chicago grew into the Second City that had me turning the pages. I think Delia was a formidable woman for her time period but I do think her affair with Marshall, made her less powerful in society than she could have been. She could have made a real difference if she didn't let her affair cloud people's opinion of her.

It is clear that Ms. Rosen did a ton of research for this novel and I'm grateful for that. I love it when I can Google something I find interesting and see that an author got that detail correct. I think that's important when you are mixing fact with fiction.

I did admire the way that Delia took care of her family as they struggled during certain points in their lives. It made her a good sister, wife and aunt. I felt the recognition that she receives by family at the end of the novel was a long time coming for her.

If you are a history buff and specifically love the history of Chicago, then you should definitely pick up What the Lady Wants A Novel of the Gilded Age. If you are looking for a dynamic romance, then you might just want to focus on the history that lays at your feet with this one.

 I look forward to reading Renee Rosen's other novels as well.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Julie's Review: Forever, Interrupted

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Series: None
Publication Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 352
Obtained: gift from a friend
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: Makes you appreciate every day because you never know how a split second can change everything
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped. Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met—and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists. Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

 Review: It's a rare book that can make you cry and laugh at the same time. Forever Interrupted starts off with a sweet moment between newlyweds ends up in tragedy as one of them dies in an accident. What is left is a story about pain and healing. It is about how we are resilient and how just because someone dies doesn't mean they leave our hearts.

Elsie is endearing and you want to take her in when she deals with the loss of her husband. Luckily, she's got a supportive friend in Ana. Trust me, Ana must love Elsie to deal with moving Elsie through the stages of grief. What isn't easy is getting everyone to understand that while her and Ben have only known and loved each other for 6 months, it doesn't make it hurt any less because their time was short. In fact, it might hurt more because they had such limited amount of time together.

What I liked seeing is how Ms. Reid moved Elsie through the stages of grief and finds her an unlikely "coach" through this time. Family isn't always blood relation but family can be those you surround yourself with throughout your life.

Ms. Reid writes with a lot of heart and I can't wait to read her other 2 books that are sitting on my shelf.