Friday, June 30, 2017

Julie's Review: The Book of Summer

Author: Michelle Gable
Series: None
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 416
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A story about the importance of memories and family
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: The ocean, the wild roses on the dunes and the stunning Cliff House, perched atop a bluff in Sconset, Nantucket. Inside the faded pages of the Cliff House guest book live the spellbinding stories of its female inhabitants: from Ruby, a bright-eyed newlywed on the eve of World War II to her granddaughter Bess, who returns to the beautiful summer estate. For the first time in four years, physician Bess Codman visits the compound her great-grandparents built almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Bess must now put aside her complicated memories in order to pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave. It’s not just memories of her family home Bess must face though, but also an old love that might hold new possibilities. In the midst of packing Bess rediscovers the forgotten family guest book. Bess’s grandmother and primary keeper of the book, Ruby, always said Cliff House was a house of women, and by the very last day of the very last summer at Cliff House, Bess will understand the truth of her grandmother’s words in ways she never imagined.  
Review: Book of Summer is a wonderful story about family history and the stories that can get lost from generation to generation. Bess Codman comes home to help her mom, Cissy Codman, move out of the family house that is about to fall into the sea. Cissy Codman doesn't go down without a fight and a fight is what she's going to give them. Of course Bess thinks she's going to help pack but she pretty much does everything but that, including run into old flame, Evan. Bess is also using this time to adjust to the fact that the person she married wasn't anywhere near who she thought and how to rebuild her life after a divorce. Luckily, she's got a great career to go back to and a new apartment. Bess hasn't told her family all the details surrounding the demise of her marriage. Somehow she feels just fine unloading it all to Evan.

Through the Book of Summer, we get to know her grandmother Ruby and her formative years in Cliff House. We learn about her romance with Sam, her playful younger brother Topper and her budding friendship with Hattie. We also see the change of the US's part in World War II through the eyes of Ruby who just wants her husband and brothers safe. She does her part by joining various women's organizations. I enjoyed reading about Ruby and Hattie's escapades together.

Not only does Ruby's past come to light but Cissy's been holding back her own secrets as well. Bess is a bit thrown by all the family drama, including her own. As Bess struggles with her own predicament, she realizes how good it feels to be back home and how much she missed Cliff House.

I really enjoyed  Book of Summer even if some of the parts were predictable. I enjoyed how family history is held in houses we occupy but most importantly the memories we create in the house rest in our hearts not in an object. If you are a fan of family drama, secrets and old houses you will want to pick up this book.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Julie's Review: The Night the Lights Went Out

Author: Karen White
Series: None
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 416
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line:A wonderful story about friendships that are cemented by similar experiences not age
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren’t helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail. Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee—something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past. Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother’s seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather's world. In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three

Review: The Night the Lights Went Out is about rebuilding your life, learning to trust those around you and letting go of the past. When Sugar Prescott rents her cottage to a recently divorced Merilee Dunlap she doesn't expect to be drawn to her and her children. She doesn't plan to infiltrate their lives but it happens.

Merilee Dunlap is looking to start over after she gets a divorce husband and the cottage seems like the perfect place for her and her two kids to move. They also will start a new school due to their father's affair with a teacher. Merilee quickly finds herself ensconced with Heather Blackford and the other mom's that run the school. As Merilee struggles to learn how to balance it all without having a husband there to help, she is easy to identify with and cheer for.

Merilee and Sugar have more in common than they even know until some of Merilee's past begins to come to light. Sugar finds herself wanting to protect and defend Merilee even though she thought she had closed off her heart.

There is much mystery in The Night the Lights Went Out as well. Both Merilee and Sugar have secrets and pain in their past. What secrets they are holding onto are slowly revealed in bread crumbs laid out for the reader. I loved both Sugar and Merilee but I think I found Sugar's past more fascinating than Merilee's but probably because I put Merilee's story together fairly early on.

If you are a fan of mysteries and of Karen White's novels, then you definitely won't want to miss out on this one.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Julie's Review: The Confusion of Languages

Author: Siobhan Fallon
Series: None
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam
Pages: 336
Obtained: publisher via First to Read
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: How well do we know the people who we call friends?
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that’s about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie’s become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret’s toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie’s boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn’t Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret’s apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend’s whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret’s disappearance. With achingly honest prose and riveting characters, The Confusion of Languages plunges readers into a shattering collision between two women and two worlds, affirming Siobhan Fallon as a powerful voice in American fiction and a storyteller not to be missed.  

Review: The Confusion of Languages is the story of a friendship that is rooted in a mystery. Cassie and Margaret couldn't be more different. Cassie is a rule follow and Margaret ignores them but in Jordan not following the rules can cause issues. Truly the only thing that the women have in common is that they are there because their husbands are military. When their husbands are sent to Italy to help the Jordanian forces navigate NATO, the women have only each other to rely on. Cassie and Dan even throw Margaret and Crick a welcome party to make sure that they feel like they are part of a group.

Cassie and Margaret's friendship is tenuous at best. Cassie doesn't have a lot of patience for what she perceives to be flippancy on Margaret's part of the rules they need to abide by to honor the Jordanian culture. Margaret sees Cassie as being a bit of a stick in the mud. Yet somehow they enjoy each other's company. Although I'm pretty sure that had they met under different circumstances, neither of them would have befriended the other. I think they became friends because they were both lonely and they could relate to each other through that loneliness.

How well does Cassie really know Margaret? She seemed like such an open book but what was she hiding? Did she find herself in trouble in Jordan in such a short amount of time? Is there any way for Cassie to help her?

Both women are complex characters and each aren't what they seem. Cassie is bitter in a way that someone who is dealing with her circumstances can be. Margaret is dealing with a lot of pain from taking care of her mom and then her mom's death. This shaped Margaret's need for Crick and her son. Mather is an integral part of the story because if not for him Cassie wouldn't have stuck around when Margaret had to go deal with the accident report.

As the hours bleed into each other, we find out through Cassie snooping in Margaret's journal what she's been keeping from her friend and her husband but not all at once. It really is layered and you have to peel it back to get the heart of what happened. Who is at fault? Is there really any one to lay fault with?

Ms. Fallon has written an exquisite story about how well we know or don't know the people we call our friends. It is layered and multi-faceted that will keep you guessing the outcome until the end. It isn't a thriller but a story about how we keep some secrets close to us, not letting people know our inner most selves.

I highly recommend The Confusion of Languages.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Julie's Review: The Sunshine Sisters

Author: Jane Green
Series: None
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Berkeley
Pages: 384
Obtained: Publisher via First to Read
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: No one does family drama like Jane Green
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters. As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother’s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London—and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her. But now the Sunshine sisters are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy have never been close, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront the old jealousies and secret fears that have threatened to tear these sisters apart. As they face the loss of their mother, they will discover if blood might be thicker than water after all.  

Review: I haven't missed a Jane Green book since she started publishing them and The Sunshine Sisters  is what I expect from her; perfect blend of drama and humor. Ronni Sunshine isn't very likable and was a horrible mother. She was/is self-absorbed and rude. She, at least on her deathbed, recognizes what an ass she was to her girls. All of them have been effected in different ways but mostly they have moved on, until she summons them all home. The novel isn't so much about Ronni Sunshine as it is about the destruction she leaves in her wake.

Nell, the oldest, took the brunt of the moods while trying to shield Meredith and Lizzy from them. You can only shield them so much. Meredith was the sensitive one and didn't know how to back away from her mother when she was in her moods. Lizzy is the baby and pretty much got away with whatever she wanted. What Ronni did was not only alienate them from her but she alienated them from each other.
For years they lived separate lives, only calling when necessary. They were never there for each other and drifted apart. Meredith is getting married and none of her family is invited. Nell lives 20 minutes away from her mom running a farm and never sees her. Meredith took off for London and hasn't looked back. Lizzy has crafted a successful business of her own in NYC. 

I enjoyed learning about all the sisters and their lives as adults. I found Meredith's story to be the one that I thought was probably the most real. She's the one that struggles from all the emotional abuse that her mother dosed out. She's the one that questions her decisions and then settles for a career and man who aren't worthy of her. Nell is the one who built a wall up around herself but I'm not so sure it has so much to do with Ronni as it does with having a child young and having the father walk out on you. Lizzy, well she's the entertaining one in the family. She's always needed to be the center of attention and now she has all the attention she wants from her career. She's not happy though and her priorities are messed up. Maybe being around her sisters can bring her back to reality. 

Jane always crafts a great story that is accessible and grounded in great characters. The Sunshine Sisters joins that history. The Sunshine Sisters  is about finding your way home and accepting who you are all the good bad and ugly of it.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Julie's Review: The Arrangement

Author: Sarah Dunn
Series: None
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Pages: 368
Obtained: Local Library
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: Fell flat
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Lucy and Owen, ambitious, thoroughly-therapized New Yorkers, have taken the plunge, trading in their crazy life in a cramped apartment for Beekman, a bucolic Hudson Valley exurb. They've got a two hundred year-old house, an autistic son obsessed with the Titanic, and 17 chickens, at last count. It's the kind of paradise where stay-at-home moms team up to cook the school's "hot lunch," dads grill grass-fed burgers, and, as Lucy observes, "chopping kale has become a certain kind of American housewife's version of chopping wood." When friends at a wine-soaked dinner party reveal they've made their marriage open, sensible Lucy balks. There's a part of her, though-the part that worries she's become too comfortable being invisible-that's intrigued. Why not try a short marital experiment? Six months, clear ground rules, zero questions asked. When an affair with a man in the city begins to seem more enticing than the happily-ever-after she's known for the past nine years, Lucy must decide what truly makes her happy-"real life," or the "experiment?"  

Review: I had huge hopes for The Arrangement based on the buzz and recommendation of some people I respect but it fell short for me. I was expecting the same kind of humor that I find in Ms. Dunn's show American Housewife but it wasn't there for me.

Lucy and Owen are yuppies to the nth degree. They moved to Beekman to have quality of life and to raise their son Wyatt. Wyatt is on the autism spectrum and is most definitely a handful. Lucy has lost herself to raising him and getting him the therapy he needs.  So she could careless that her hair is greasy, always in sweats and barely getting dinner on the table. Owen is helpful with Wyatt, as he should be, but he does get to leave and go socialize. One night while drinking a lot, they have a discussion with friends about an "open marriage".  What starts off as a joke quickly becomes something that they both agree to do but only for 6 months. 6 months is a long enough time for things to go very wrong.

There is no doubt in my mind that both Lucy and Owen are fantastic parents and I really do believe they loved each other but this 6 month experiment was the very wrong way to go about it. There are other ways to light the spark in your marriage to find yourself again. What pissed me off the most was how Owen assumed that Lucy would never partake in it, even if it was her idea. I mean, why not? Why do you have to be the only one to have all the fun? I think it's what insulted Lucy the most as well.

Trust me I have a sense of humor and I could even laugh at the concept of an open marriage if it was written a bit differently. I was actually expecting a more humorous look at it but didn't get it. There were parts of the novel that had me chuckling (Hello, Sunny Bang) but most of the time I just felt that Lucy and Owen were completely selfish. Not once did one of them say no, let's not do this.

How do you go from having a monogamous relationship to an open one? To me, that's something you go into a relationship knowing/doing and not change during the course. So this experiment was doomed from the start. Real life and marriage isn't dating. It's learning to live with some one faults and all through the peaks and valleys. Sometimes the valleys last longer than you hope but you climb your way out.

If your curious what all the hype is about with The Arrangement, read it, it won't take you long. If you decide to skip it though, you won't miss too much either.