Friday, July 28, 2017

Julie's Review: The Party

Author: Robyn Harding
Series: None
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: For all the hype I was disappointed
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Summary: In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies. One invitation. A lifetime of regrets. Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong? But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed. If you loved Liane Moriarty’s and HBO's Big Little Lies, you’ll love The Party by Robyn Harding. This fast paced book exposes how even the most perfect of families can be shadowed by lies and betrayals. This is one page-turner you’re going to want to bring with you on vacation, to the beach, and add to your nightstand to be read.  

Review: So much hype around The Party this summer but for this reader it fell short of it. I will say that it's a quick read. I will say that you need to be prepared for the shallowness that is in this book. It's not just from the teens either, it's the parental units as well. Honestly, there aren't a lot of likable characters in the book but hey that's life as well.

The story is told from various points of view and I think it could have been narrowed down because it muddied the story for me. Now I'm sure that if I had not gotten all those points of view, I would have wanted them to some degree. What shocked me wasn't that the kids broke the rules, it was how that impacted and changed them. Hannah was the most changed and not in the best way; she became what she despised. I never felt that the truth about Hannah was exposed other than she wanted to be every other teenager and fit in, be popular. I think they would be more shocked about how their daughter acted due to the aftermath of the party.

While this could have been an great expose on teens, family and parenting, it fell a little flat. It's about over parenting (i.e. helicopter parenting), teen behavior and taking ownership for your actions. No child is perfect and no parent is perfect either; trying to be perfect leads to disaster.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Julie's Review: Saints for All Occasions

Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Series: None
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 352
Obtained: Library
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A wonderful family-centric novel about the secrets we keep
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Summary: Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the responsible sister; she's shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn't sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children: John, a successful, if opportunistic, political consultant; Bridget, quietly preparing to have a baby with her girlfriend; Brian, at loose ends after a failed baseball career; and Patrick, Nora's favorite, the beautiful boy who gives her no end of heartache. Estranged from her sister, Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. Until, after decades of silence, a sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago. A graceful, supremely moving novel from one of our most beloved writers, Saints for All Occasions explores the fascinating, funny, and sometimes achingly sad ways a secret at the heart of one family both breaks them and binds them together.  

Review: Saints for All Occasions makes you realize that every family is dysfunctional to some degree and our parents always are a bit different than we think they are. Nora and Theresa are sisters but Nora acts more like a mother to her younger sister given the fact that their mother died when they were younger. So it's no surprise that when they arrive in Boston, Theresa rebels a bit which ends up having consequences for the entire family. Something of which neither of them fully understands until it is too late.

Theresa escapes into the convent before realizing it was where she was meant to be her entire life. That isn't to say that Theresa doesn't still have some rash behaviors in her but she's definitely mellowed. She comes into her own and is someone the younger nuns look up to for advice. She also has the benefit of having her best friend there along side her, which means it isn't so lonely for her.

Nora, on the other hand, runs a fairly large Catholic family but is truly lonely. She's not happy and doesn't know how to be. She's at her best when pulling together a family function that she can concentrate on. She's taken over the role of matriarch but is closed off to her emotions. I know the book summary said that Patrick was her favorite but I never really got that impression. I understood that she felt like she needed to protect him because of how his life started out but not the favorite. I'm not sure Nora knew how to have a favorite because that would require more energy than she was willing to give.

Ms. Sullivan does a great job of making the reader think about how decision can affect things decades later. Sometimes you can only make decisions with the information you had in front of you. How well do you know your family, especially your parents? You only see the people they have become after having kids, who were they before? Should we have some inkling of who they were before us?

Saints for All Occasions is a novel that gets the complexities of families and how they shape who we become.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Julie's Review: All the Best People

Author: Sonja Yoerg
Series: None
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A look into the history of mental illness as it effects 3 generations of women
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Summary: Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else. But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother. An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy, All the Best People celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives.  

Review: With mental illness at the forefront of a great many discussions in the last year, All the Best People, comes at a time when we need to be reminded how far we've come and yet how far we have to go. The story is told in alternating view points by 3 generations of women in the same family: Solange, Carole and Allison.

As we delve in to each of their stories and view points, it is interesting to see how much their lives have been effected by either being afflicted or watching those you love deteriorate because of a disease. My heart went out to Allison because she was at a point in her life where she really needed her mother and her mother was struggling with her own issues that she wasn't sure how to talk about. Her aunt was even less help because she was so caught up in her own life, she couldn't see or perhaps didn't care that her sister was suffering.

Unfortunately, Solange's story was probably fairly typical for back in the 20's and 30's. Where if a wife didn't conform to her husband's wishes or brought shame up the family, he could institutionalize her with no way of getting out. So she was put in a mental hospital for being strong willed and wanting out of her marriage, with no way out. The things they did to that woman in the name of science and treatment were outrageous! They most definitely did more damage then the "hysteria" she was admitted for having.

I adored how great Walt was with Carole when it all finally came to a head. He didn't berate her or scold her, he was loving and supportive. I don't think she was ever afraid that he wouldn't be but she didn't know how to talk about it. Even since the 70s, much has changed in how we treat mental illness, especially pharmacology. We still have a long way to go but progress isn't made overnight, either.

If you are looking for a book that addresses how mental illness can affect families, then look no further than All the Best People.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Julie's Review: Homegoing

Author: Yaa Gyasi
Series: None
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 320
Obtained: Library
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Grab this book immediately. It is special.
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Summary: The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day. Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.  

Review: You know how some books get a lot of hype, you read them and wonder what the hype is all about? Well, Homegoing is NOT one of these books. This book is so powerful and moving. The writing is striking and lyrical. It is a book that should not be missed.

We are first introduced to Effia and her life in her village and then in the Castle. How a family secret changes the course of her life and her descendants. Then we meet Esi who has a completely different fate in the Castle than Effia and how that affects her descendants. Which begs the question, do we have control over our own lives or is it already written? Do the choices of our ancestors affect our lives?

I loved and learned something different from each of these short stories. You never fully go back to the characters you are introduced to but you learn more about them from their offspring and their stories. You see history through different eyes and perhaps open your eyes to a different view.

Ms. Gyasi has a true gift. Her storytelling is wonderful. Her use of words evoke strong feelings towards the characters. I really can't wait to see what she has for us readers next. This is a book that you need to experience yourself and then recommend to everyone you see. So, go grab Homegoing now.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Julie's Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Series: None
Publication Date: June 3,2017
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: Not at all what I expected but it was wonderful
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Summary: Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career. Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.  

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a book about the choices we make and the consequences of those choice on our life and those we love the most. Evelyn Hugo is one of the most famous actresses from the 1950s and 1960s with her fair share of scandals. Now she's ready to tell her story without apologies. Although even at the beginning you have to wonder what is in it for her? What's her angle because Evelyn always has one.

Monique Grant is a journalist with Viviant magazine who Evelyn has requested to do a piece on her for the magazine, only that's not what she wants. Monique is to write her biography and to publish it after she dies. Which means that Monique will make millions off of it.  She just has to figure out how to handle it with her boss at Vivant.

I won't go into the details of all seven marriage of Evelyn's but each one took a piece of her and also helped her accomplish a goal. Evelyn wasn't anything if not resourceful and strategic. Evelyn very rarely felt remorse for the things that she had done. It is this and the fact that she states, several times, that she would do it all again even if it had the same outcomes and hurt the same people. How honest is that? It is what made me admire her just like Monique did.

This book might have been a stray from what Ms. Reid usually writes about but it still has her humor and eloquence. While the novel has several themes running throughout it, the main one is love. It always comes down to the ones we love the most and what we will do for them.

I highly recommend The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo for any one who wants a wonderful book that is character driven and centered around a strong female.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Julie's Review: Final Girls

Author: Riley Sager
Series: None
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher via Edelweiss
Genre:  Psychological Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A fast-paced thriller that will keep you turning the pages until the end
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Summary: Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet. Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancĂ©, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past. That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Blowing through Quincy's life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy's life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam's truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.  

Review: Let's get this out of the way first, Final Girls would be a fantastic film. It's part psychological thriller, suspense and slasher film. Thank goodness for most of the book that last part is alluded to and not described in detail. Quincy has been a survivor of a massacre for 10 years. She's powered through the aftermath and built a life for herself in NYC. She's got a popular food blog and a live-in boyfriend who she thinks is going to propose.

Then her life begins to slowly unravel as Lisa is found dead and Sam, who has been off the grid for years, shows up at her house. The life that Quincy has so carefully crafted is starting to fray at the seams as Sam pokes at the very things that she has tried to bury. Sam wants to make Quincy remember what happened at Pine Cottage but why? Why is it so important to her that Quinn remember? What's in it for Sam? It certainly isn't Quinn's mental health. As Sam causes Quinn to unleash her rage, it will have consequences for both of them and set in motion things that can't be stopped.

There are a few twists and turns throughout the book with puzzle pieces coming together. Honestly I felt that Ms. Sager was moving us in one direction with the story while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Throughout the whole book I kept thinking that I should really be figuring it out a lot quicker than I did. The ending to me though, wasn't the biggest reveal and twist; that came earlier for me. 

Quincy is a complex character. At times you truly feel sorry for her and want her to be ok and then other times you wonder if you even know her. You want her to be able to be her true-self but you also begin to doubt her and what she's forgotten. Has she really forgotten or is she just protecting herself? It's understandable that she doesn't let people in very easily. So it irked me that she so willingly opened her house and emotions up to Sam. The only thing they shared was a similar experience but other than that, their lives were vastly different.

You will turn the pages very quickly during this novel and you won't want to put it down until it's over. I highly suggest you start it when you have several hours to devour it. Final Girls is the epitome of a summer read because it sucks you in and doesn't let you go. I can't wait to see what Ms. Sager writes next.