Thursday, March 31, 2016

Julie's Review: Three Martini Lunch

Author: Suzanne Rindell
Series: None
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Putnam Books
Pages: 512
Obtained: Edelweiss via publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: The characters will haunt you long after you close the book
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: In 1958, Greenwich Village buzzes with beatniks, jazz clubs, and new ideas—the ideal spot for three ambitious young people to meet. Cliff Nelson, the son of a successful book editor, is convinced he’s the next Kerouac, if only his father would notice. Eden Katz dreams of being an editor but is shocked when she encounters roadblocks to that ambition. And Miles Tillman, a talented black writer from Harlem, seeks to learn the truth about his father’s past, finding love in the process. Though different from one another, all three share a common goal: to succeed in the competitive and uncompromising world of book publishing. As they reach for what they want, they come to understand what they must sacrifice, conceal, and betray to achieve their goals, learning they must live with the consequences of their choices. In Three-Martini Lunch, Suzanne Rindell has written both a page-turning morality tale and a captivating look at a stylish, demanding era—and a world steeped in tradition that’s poised for great upheaval.  

Review: Three-Martini Lunch is a slow burning novel. It isn't full of action but there is a ton going on. I really enjoyed each of the 3 main characters perspective of what was going on during this time in publishing and in Greenwich Village. Cliff, Eden and Miles each bring something different to the novel. They all come to the publishing world in different ways. Cliff is the silver-spoon in his mouth aspiring writer; Miles is the bike messenger with dreams of graduating from Columbia and doing more with his life; Eden is the Midwestern girl who comes New York to become an Editor.

Their lives intersect in ways that can't even imagine when they first meet each other. They don't necessarily run in the same circles but they do come across each other fairly often.  Each of these characters are flawed but Miles' story resonates the most with me. He's a smart, education black man but even after graduating with a degree from Columbia and he's still working as an errand boy and bike messenger. He also travels across the country to find his dad's journals and turns them into a very personal journal of his own. It is his story that I feel will resonate with most readers because he is the one that struggles the most.

Next to Miles, Eden was my next favorite characters. She's got spunk but she's also not quite sure how to go about getting what she wants. She knows she want so be an Editor but how do you get the job when you aren't giving the opportunities to get there? When you are back-stabbed by someone you thought was mentoring you? Especially when it's a woman and there are so few of them in management to support each other. Her biggest trip up is marrying Cliff.

Let's talk about Cliff for a little bit. He's probably the biggest dreamer of them all. He graduates school with plans of becoming the next big novelist, after all his dad is a big time editor. He's also doesn't have much of a work ethic. So it wasn't any surprise when the events unfolded as they did. He's also a young man that wants his dad's approval more than anything, even though he doesn't like him. He feels that if his dad would support his choice to be a writer, then he could be successful.

Ms. Rindell writes this story as if you are there at these lunches, in Greenwich Village and with Miles in San Francisco. You feel the vibe of the late 1950s with how she sets the scenes with the words she chooses. I can only imagine how much research was put into getting all of these settings right. 

While this is very different than The Other Typist, it is just as well written. It's a wonderful character study of a time period that seemed much simpler but had it's own complexities.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Julie's Review: The Goldfinch

Author: Donna Tartt
Series: None
Publication Date: 
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Length:32 hours 29 minutes
Obtained: purchased via Audible
Narrator: David Pittu
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Story was solid and the characters were definitely flawed but needed some heavy editing that didn't get done
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art. As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love--and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.  

Review: The Goldfinch is a long ass novel. If I had actually lugged it around with me I'm sure it would have weighed about 2 bricks. That being said, I can see why the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature because it's wordy and at times pretentious.

Theo is a complicated character  and you feel horrible for him at the beginning of the story but then you want to smack him for the rest of it until the end when it seems he might have learned something from his path in life. Life has dealt him a shitty hand but there are people who love him and want to take care of him. In a lot of ways, he's lucky that he had such good friends take him in when the authorities couldn't find his dad and his grandfather didn't want him.

His life took a turn for the worse and really so did the book, when he moved to Las Vegas with his dad and Xandra. It wasn't long before he had to fend for himself and he quickly turned to drugs. It didn't help that his only friend was Boris or as I liked to call him while listening, Boris the Borish. I couldn't stand him and while yes I think that was the point of the character, I was very unhappy to see him turn up in Theo's life back in NY.

Ms. Tartt spends so much of the novel in Las Vegas that I was worried we'd be buried out there by the mob. Thank god he ended up back in New York. It's not like it was wholly better for him but I felt that being back around Hoby was better than Boris. At least Hoby seemed to really want what was best for him.

There is so much good within this book but at times I feel it gets lost in the story and in the words. I feel like it really could have been edited more heavily in some parts as well. At some point I just wanted to know what was going to happen to the painting and that's all I cared about. I was past caring about Theo and his poor choices. I was pissed that Boris came back and I was even more ticked that Kitzy turned out to be a typical snob.

In the end, I wonder if Theo will ever really be happy and become settled. He lost more than his mom that day in the attack, he lost his sense of family and sense of worth. It was his mother's love that kept him whole, even at a young age.

The Goldfinch is a book that people either really love or it's one that leaves you wondering what you just spent time on. I will say that it won't be a book that I shake for a bit of time but that's because it seems to always come up in conversation with other bookish people.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Julie's Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

Author: Ruth Ware
Series: None
Publication Date: August 4, 2014
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pages: 320
Obtained: friend
Genre:  Psychological Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A page-turner that will have you wondering what the heck happened
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller. Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.  
Review: In a Dark Dark Wood is a novel that will have you wondering what the heck happened on a hen night when Nora wakes up in a hospital. It will have you turning the pages late into the night and up early to finish it. It makes you hesitant of people's true motivations.

Nora is an interesting character. She lives a life of solitude and seems to be ok with it. Although as the book goes on, you really wonder if she's ok with it. She's made a successful life by being a thriller writer and then she ends up in a real life situation that could resemble a plot line. The book is also told from Nora's point of view and there's something about her that doesn't scream "reliable". You also wonder what Clare's motivation is for inviting Nora after they haven't spoken or seen each other in 10 years.

The book has a spooky, atmospheric pulse to it. Perhaps it's the house that seems to be all glass in a dark forest that seems out of place. Perhaps it's the group of people that have gotten together to celebrate Clare, it seems like an eclectic group. Maybe it's Flo, who is wound a little tight and wants everything to be perfect for Clare's hen.

As the plot starts to come together, the pages turn themselves. You want to find out as badly as Nora what the heck happened on the last night of the party. Why can't she remember? Is she to blame? How does this all fit together? Will she ever remember?

If you like thrillers, then you will definitely want to pick up  In a Dark Dark Wood. I think it would make for a great movie as well.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Julie's Review: Somewhere Out There

Author: Amy Hatvany
Series: None
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 386
Obtained: friend
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Strong character driven novel about how early experiences shape who we are
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: What happens when two sisters who were torn apart when their young mother abandoned them—and grew up in tragically different circumstances—reunite thirty-five years later to find her? For readers who love Jodi Picoult, acclaimed author Amy Hatvany fearlessly explores complex family issues in her gripping, provocative new novel. Natalie Clark knew never to ask her sensitive adoptive mother questions about her past. She doesn’t even know her birth mother’s name—only that the young woman signed parental rights over to the state when Natalie was a baby. Now Natalie’s own daughter must complete a family tree project for school, and Natalie is determined to unearth the truth about her roots. Brooke Walker doesn’t have a family. At least, that’s what she tells herself after being separated from her mother and her little sister at age four. Having grown up in a state facility and countless foster homes, Brooke survives the only way she knows how, by relying on herself. So when she discovers she’s pregnant, Brooke faces a heart-wrenching decision: give up her baby or raise the child completely on her own. Scared and confused, she feels lost until a surprise encounter gives her hope for the future. How do our early experiences—the subtle and the traumatic—define us as adults? How do we build relationships when we’ve been deprived of real connection? Critically acclaimed author Amy Hatvany considers controversial and complicated questions about childhood through the lens of her finely crafted characters in this astute novel about mending wounds by diving into the truth of what first tore us apart.  

Review: Somewhere Out There is a story that will rip your heart out and slowly sew it back together. It is about finding out something about yourself and not letting it define you. It is about building yourself up so that your past doesn't always haunt your present and your future. It is about family and figuring out what that means to you.

Natalie is a married mother of 2 when her daughter's family tree project causes her to seek out her birth mother. Obviously this brings up long buried feelings for both her and her parents. Her mother especially. Her dad is more pragmatic about it.  She's nervous about finding her mother and how it will impact her life and her family's life. She's full of questions on why her mother gave them up.

Brooke has always found a way to survive. She relies on no one but herself and has a major wall up. Who can blame her since she was 4 when her mom signed away her rights to be their mother.  Now she has the chance to be a mother herself and she questions her abilities to do it right.

Jennifer was scared and alone with her girls. Barely surviving and scavenging to scrape by for the girls. Then she gets arrested and knows that the best thing for her girls will be the most painful thing for her: giving up her parental rights.

What Ms. Hatvany does is create characters that you feel for that you can identify with and want to see be happy. You want Brooke, Natalie and Jennifer to be ok but that will be different for each of them. I really enjoyed the ending. I liked that you got the sense they would all be ok but it wasn't wrapped up in a nice, neat bow. I liked that it was something that would happen in real life and real life is messy.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Julie's Review: The Daylight Marriage

 photo Pitlor_Daylight_pbk_RGB_HR_zpsgbmsrwd3.jpg
Author: Heidi Pitlor
Series: none
Publication Date: January 5, 2016 (Paperback)
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pages: 272
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A realistic look at a marriage when it is struggling
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Hannah was tall and graceful, naturally pretty, spirited and impulsive, the upper-class young woman who picked, of all men, Lovell---the introverted climate scientist who thought he could change the world if he could just get everyone to listen to reason. After a magical honeymoon, they settled in the suburbs to raise their two children. But over the years, Lovell and Hannah’s conversations have become charged with resentments and unspoken desires. She has become withdrawn. His work affords him a convenient distraction. And then, after one explosive argument, Hannah vanishes. For the first time, Lovell is forced to examine the trajectory of his marriage through the lens of memory. As he tries to piece together what happened to his wife--and to their life together--readers follow Hannah on that single day when a hasty decision proves irrevocable. With haunting intensity, a seamless balance of wit and heartbreak, and the emotional acuity that author Heidi Pitlor brings to every page, The Daylight Marriage mines the dark and delicate nature of a marriage.

Review: Daylight Marriage is an intense look at the inner workings of a marriage. No marriage is perfect and this is the case for Hannah and Lovell. Neither one of these characters is particularly likable but I ended up like Lovell more than Hannah. That isn't to say that I hated Hannah, I just wanted her to realize that her life didn't suck before it was too late.

For me, Hannah was never going to be happy because she didn't really want to be happy. She wanted something more out of her life but she didn't want to put the effort into it. Do I think she was depressed? Sure. I think she knew it as well but just didn't do anything about it. She wanted to put the blame all on Lovell. Was he to blame? Of course, the success of a marriage and the failure of a marriage is always on 2 people, not just one.

Lovell was obsessed with his work and a workaholic. Often ignoring his wife and his children for the need to be on the computer pulling together data or writing an article about his weather pattern theory. Unfortunately it took a huge, line-pushing fight with Hannah and her going to missing to wake him up. He begins to appreciate what Hannah does and that perhaps he wasn't such a good husband or father. He loves Hannah but realizes that maybe that isn't enough.

I liked the realistic exchange between Lovell and his daughter, Janine. I felt that it would definitely be discussions/disagreements with a teenager. Janine also sees things through her eyes which can lead to a lack of understanding. Things aren't always as black and white as she tends to see them. She's mad at Lovell because she believes it's his fault her mom is gone. Whereas, it's misplaced blame. If Hannah wasn't looking for validation outside her marriage, perhaps she would still be around.

I liked that we got Lovell's point of view for a few chapters before we got to Hannah's. It was a good change to see that perhaps jumping to the conclusion of the "spouse is guilty" isn't always the correct assumption.

If you enjoy books that look at the darker side of relationships but not necessarily twisted, then Daylight Marriage is for you.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Julie's Review: The Madwoman Upstairs

Author: Catherine Lowell
Series: None
Publication Date: March 2, 2016
Publisher: Touchstone
Pages: 339
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Spectacular novel about the things we hold the closest and the things we need to let go of
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the familys long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind. Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, shes rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontës literary estate—diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts—a hidden fortune thats never been shown outside of the family. But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesnt exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible—namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her. But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her fathers handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the worlds greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës own writing. A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

Review: Madwoman Upstairs is a spectacular debut novel about finding out what it means to be family and what it means to come into your own. For so long Samantha Whipple has been Tristan Whipple's daughter. So much so that even in death, he still overshadowed her life. It's not only that she's Tristan's daughter but it's who they are descendants of: The Brontë Family.  Can you imagine being the legacy of one of the most famous literary families? Not only that but one that was all women?! How do you live up to that? How do you down play it?

Samantha is awkward but tries to pass herself off as witty and self-assured. It is in her meetings with her Professor/Advisor Orville that she is at her most awkward. This is where her homeschooling did her a disservice because her father never gave her the socialization she needs to understand body language. She doesn't have a lot of social graces but she's smart. She's also been a little lost since the death of her father when she was 15. She has no direction because she was waiting for her dad to give it to her. As a reader you shudder when her way of thinking gets her into trouble or she makes a joke when it isn't the appropriate time.

When her dad send her messages from beyond the grave, Samantha digs for much deeper meaning that might not necessarily be the true intent. She is searching for meaning when there might not anything more than what it seems.

This book is an adventure. It is unique with the premise of a literary treasure hunt that I enjoyed every single minute of. I loved that it led Samantha to the truth of her "inheritance" and what her father wanted her to get out of it. She grew up a bit but still had miles to go. There's a point at the end of the novel where she and Orville are having a pretty serious discussion and he says something to her that was fantastic and truly spoke to the kind of man he was and what he wanted for her.

I actually have no idea if I read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in school but I know this, I will be reading them soon with a different mindset. Reading Madwoman UpstairsI know will skew my view of these literary classics but I hope in a good way.

If you love literary novels and mysteries, then this one puts them in one fantastic package for you. I highly recommend.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Julie's Review: Flight of Dreams

Author: Ariel Lawhon
Series: None
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 336
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Perfect blend of fiction and historical disaster
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.  Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them. Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

Review: Flight of Dreams is part historical fiction and part mystery but all fantastic! We all know about the Hindenburg disaster but they never solved it. Ms. Lawhon takes liberty with that to come up with her own fictionalized tale of what might have happened. It is her focus on the people aboard that brings this disaster from the history books to life.

The passengers and crew of the Hindenburg all have secrets but some are more deadly than others. Each of the passengers is interesting and engaging. There is one man who is particularly intriguing and totally up to something. He has peeked the interest of journalist, Gertrud Adelt and her husband Leonhard. Gertrud is my kind of lady. She's outspoken, driven, determined and curious. Her outspoken nature is what got her journalist pass revoked by the Nazis. It is also why they are on the Hindenburg and not at home with their young son. They need to pay retribution to the Reich by going on a US tour for her husband's new novel. Her mind is always working and there is something about this mysterious passenger that has her mind working.

Then there is Emilie Imhoff who is the first female stewardess aboard a Nazi airship. Her position was quite touted in the papers and therefore her secret must be kept extra close to her heart. It doesn't help that she's struggling with a budding love affair with Max Zabel.

Max is desperate to get Emilie to admit to her feelings and marry him. He spends most of his time aboard the ship, when he's not navigating, trying to convince her. That is until he finds out that she's hiding something from him. Being a man, his pride is hurt and he turns his back to her.

What Flight of Dreams really is, is a study of human behavior in confined spaces. How we interact with each other when we are forced to because of circumstances. It is about the things we hold closest to ourselves for survival both physical and emotional.

If you love conspiracy theories, then you will love Ms. Lawhon's take on what caused the airship to come down: revenge. It is extremely evident that Ms. Lawhon did her research. I can only imagine the hours and the hard work that went into make sure the specs of the Hindenburg were correct.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Julie's Review: Losing the Light

Author: Andrea Dunlop
Series: None
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 336
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: When you know it's not going to end well from the first line but you need to read the last line to know what happens.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: A smart, obsessive debut novel about a young woman studying abroad who becomes caught up in a seductive French world—and a complex web of love and lust. When thirty-year-old Brooke Thompson unexpectedly runs into a man from her past, she’s plunged headlong into memories she’s long tried to forget about the year she spent in France following a disastrous affair with a professor. As a newly arrived exchange student in the picturesque city of Nantes, young Brooke develops a deep and complicated friendship with Sophie, a fellow American and stunning blonde, whose golden girl façade hides a precarious emotional fragility. Sophie and Brooke soon become inseparable and find themselves intoxicated by their new surroundings—and each other. But their lives are forever changed when they meet a sly, stylish French student, Veronique, and her impossibly sexy older cousin, Alex. The cousins draw Sophie and Brooke into an irresistible world of art, money, decadence, and ultimately, a disastrous love triangle that consumes them both. And of the two of them, only one will make it home.  

Review: Losing the Light is a novel about first love, friendship, finding your place and learning what it is to be yourself. We meet Brooke when she's in her 20s and about to leave NYC for the suburbs and embark on her new life with her fiance. She goes to a party hosted by her friend and bumps into someone that she knew 10 years prior. It is in the rest of the book as a flashback, we get to know a younger Brooke and her experience in France.

While Brooke seems a little innocent and naive, it turns out she's got a little bit of a wild streak in her. It's what gets her the trip for a school year to France. It is through this program that she meets and strikes up a friendship with Sophie. Frankly, I think that this is a friendship of circumstance rather than one with deep ties. I'm not sure that Brooke and Sophie would have been friends if they wouldn't have had a shared experience or had stayed in California. That's not to say that there wasn't affection between the friends but at times it didn't seem genuine to me. Brooke was insecure when she was around Sophie. She thought that Sophie lit up a room when she walked in and discounted herself when around Sophie. I actually wanted Brooke to wake up and realize that she had more to offer than Sophie. It wasn't to say that Sophie wasn't bright and fun but Brooke was those things as well but just more reserved. Brooke and Sophie begin to distance themselves from the other American students at the institute but hanging out with a local girl, Veronique and her cousin, Alex. It is evident to the reader that Alex is someone not to trust but our sweet and a bit naive, Brooke is going to have to learn that the hard way.

You know what is going to happen, it's not really a shock but it is amazing how it takes Brooke a while to figure it all out. I think she probably knew what was going on but chose to ignore it because she was so enamored with Alex and the French way of life. While I liked Sophie, I will admit I didn't totally trust her. Maybe it's because I could see how things were going to go down or maybe I felt she was fake. I also didn't think she was the best influence or genuine friend to Brooke. Sophie always seemed to be trying to prove herself.

Ms. Dunlop did a fantastic job of making you feel like you were right with Brooke while she was having her experience in Nantes. You could feel the sun on your face when they were at the beach in Cap Ferrat. You could feel Brooke's jealousy and her elation through the pages. The fact that I could connect on that kind of level with Brooke enhanced my reading experience.

If you are looking for a great coming into adulthood novel, then Losing the Light is one for you. I am definitely looking forward to what Ms. Dunlop writes next.