Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Julie's Review: The Family Next Door

Author: Sally Hepworth
Series: None
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 352
Obtained: Great Thoughts, Great Readers Book Salon
Genre:  Suspense
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: No matter how pretty the door of the house, there's always secrets behind it
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Summary: Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets. From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren. But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby. When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood. Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie? As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light. The Family Next Door is Sally Hepworth at her very best: at once a deeply moving portrait of family drama and a compelling suburban mystery that will keep you hooked until the very last page.

Review: The Family Next Door is one of those books that highlights just how little we really know about our neighbors and maybe about the ones we love the most. I have always said that you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors of our friends, let alone your neighbors.

Each of the women is dealing with her own secret that could shatter their worlds. Some of it their own making, some of it is from outside sources. Each of them changes and become stronger. Essie, who struggled with Postpartum after the birth of Mia, is silently slipping back into it with her baby Polly. She's trying to keep it quiet but both her mother and husband are noticing that something is off. That and her sudden interest in friendship the new neighbor, Isabelle worries her mom.

Then you have Fran, who has taken up running with gusto, which makes her neighbor friends wonder why but none of them dig deep enough to find out why. Fran is wracked with guilt (but you'll have to read the book to figure out why). So she runs to try and ease her mind but really doesn't help.

Then there's Ange who thinks that her husband Lucas is pretty awesome. The real question though, is he pretty awesome or is she looking at him through rose colored glasses.  Is she really willing to look at him without them on? Is she willing to take the consequences of him not being everything she's built him up to be?

I kept thinking how alone these women were in their struggles and how if they would have reached out to each other they would have or could have supported each other. The problem is that when you are dealing with your own issues, sometimes you can't see what others are going through. What I did like is how all of their issues did end up bringing them all together in the end.

Ms. Hepworth sets it up so that you think one thing and then it turns out to be very different. I love when authors do that and can keep you guessing. Also, I appreciated that it made sense and wasn’t a 180 from where I originally thought it was going. 

This is the first Sally Hepworth book I’ve read and while I know it’s different than her others, I’ll be reading her other books. That being said, pick it up!


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Julie's Review: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties

Author: Camille Pagan
Series: None
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Press
Pages: 254
Obtained: Great Thoughts, Great Readers Book Salon
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: How to come back after a divorce
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Summary: At fifty-three, Maggie Harris has a good marriage and two mostly happy children. Perpetually anxious, she’s also accumulated a list of semi-reasonable fears: falling air conditioners, the IRS, identity theft, skydiving, and airbag recalls. But never once did Maggie worry that her husband of nearly thirty years would leave her. On the day Adam walks out the door, everything that makes Maggie secure goes with him. Only then does she realize that while she’s been busy caring for everyone else, she’s become invisible to the world—and to herself. Maggie cautiously begins to rebuild her life with a trip to Rome, a new career, and even a rebound romance. But when a fresh crisis strikes and an uncertain future looms, she must decide: How much will she risk to remain the woman she’s just become? ~amazon.com  

Review: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties deals with the issues of getting older, getting a divorce, dealing with loneliness and figuring out your new direction.

Maggie is a worrier. It’s who she is. When her husband tells her that he’s in love with someone else, 30 years of marriage passes before her eyes. She doesn’t know how to function without being married. She’s been a mom and a wife for most of her adult life. She spirals into a wine induced haze for the first few months after Adam leaves. She is reeling and she's not sure how to pull herself out of it. She thinks that there is hope when Adam agrees to come for a family Thanksgiving dinner. Her kids don't want her to get her hopes up but she's determined to make it a nice "family" dinner even if it's their last. Good intentions fly out the window when yet Adam throws another bomb on her that throws her in another direction.

As Maggie tries to figure out life without being a wife, she also tries to reconnect with who she was in her 30s, when she was in her prime and happy. I think what she learns is that while you might want to go back in time, you can never recreate that happiness again because you change and grow overtime. So happiness in her 50s will look different than it did in her 30s.

While I did like at the end that she stepped out of her comfort zone, it almost felt like she stepped too far out of it. I'm not sure anyone would ever stretch themselves completely out of who they were. Yes we need to do that to continue to grow but you can't change who you are at the core. 

 Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties is a book for those who might have lost their way but can have hope to find it again. It’s about learning to let go and have a leap of faith that things will be alright.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Julie's Review: No Time To Blink

Author: Dina Silver
Series: None
Publication Date: February 13, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Press
Pages: 384
Obtained: Great Thoughts, Great Readers Book Salon
Genre:  Suspense
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Emotionally intense
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Summary: He knows the one thing that would destroy me would be to separate me from my daughter…Catherine Clarke defied her family’s expectations when she married Gabriel, a handsome Lebanese businessman. After moving to Gabriel’s homeland and welcoming a baby daughter, Catherine knew she had to acclimate herself to the strange new world. Yet both her husband and her surroundings became more volatile and threatening than she could have ever imagined. When Gabriel forbids her to return to the States, Catherine devises a plan to deceive him, but she vastly underestimates how far he will go to punish her. And after her daughter, Ann Marie, is abducted and taken deep into the mountains of Beirut—protected by family, culture, and law—the only thing on Catherine’s side is the fierceness of a mother’s love. She’s prepared to move heaven and earth to find her child. Told from alternating points of view—that of a daughter whose past is a mystery and of a mother with painful secrets to share—this profoundly moving story of impossible risks will resonate with anyone whose love has no boundaries. ~amazon.com

Review: No Time to Blink is one of those books that is short in page length but big on emotional punch. We are told the story of Ann Marie's past via flashbacks to the early 1970s with her mom, CC and dad, Gabriel. We are told of their whirlwind romance through Catherine's eyes.

We are then told of Ann Marie's current life from her point of view. Ann Marie's life is in upheaval due to her husband being a jack ass. There is no wallowing by Ann Marie, she's got 3 boys to take care of and a life to move on with. By some intervention of fate, she uses the same lawyer for her divorce as her mother had used all those years ago. An off-handed comment by the lawyer makes Ann Marie wonder if there isn't more to her parent's divorce that has been hidden from her.

CC's flashbacks were harrowing because you knew that things weren't going to be great for her once the honeymoon period passed them by. Especially since her and Gabriel were moving back to Lebanon where the culture for women isn't as open as it is in the U.S. She is told by her neighbor and friend not to be so confrontational with Gabriel; to not argue. CC isn't exactly a shrinking violet so that's not really going to work for her. Gabriel turns out to be much different than the man she thought she married.

I loved the bond between CC and Ann Marie. Ann Marie admired her so much and loved her exponentially. She knew that her mother had something to tell her but she also knew there was another side to the story that she might not ever know; her father's. Through her mother's journals, Ann Marie begins to uncover what might have happened to her all those years ago. Her father was never allowed to be mentioned in the house growing up around her aunt's and grandparents; now she will understand the why.

I was shocked in the end by my emotional response to this book. I found my self shedding tears in the end. It is a fast-paced read but there are emotional layers to this novel that are gratifying. I highly recommend that you pick up No Time to Blink immediately.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Julie's Review: Everything Here is Beautiful

Author: Mira T. Lee
Series: None
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: I enjoyed it but wanted a bit more emotion from it
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Summary: Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth. Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them? Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all. ~amazon.com  

Review: The cover for Everything Here Is Beautiful is gorgeous as are the words on the pages but this one fell a bit short for me. I wanted it to evoke more emotion from me. We are introduced to both Miranda and Lucia when they are young kids and then reintroduced when they are older adults and dealing with the death of their mother.

Miranda constantly worries about Lucia not only because she's the older sister but Lucia has had some mental instability in her past. Lucia is carefree and fun until she starts to go start having issues with her stability. How far will Miranda go to save her sister, maybe in sacrificing her own health? Is it her responsibility to take care of Lucia now that she's an adult? At what point should Lucia be in charge of her own health? Can she even manage it?

I did appreciate was how Ms. Lee wrote and presented mental illness. She shows it from all points of view, including Lucia who is the one with the illness. She shows the effects of mental illness on everyone and the weariness.

I would like to see more books deal with the reality of mental illness like Ms. Lee does in Everything Here Is Beautiful.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Julie's Review: Next Year In Havana

Author: Chanel Cleeton
Series: None
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 400
Obtained: Great Thoughts for Great Readers Book Salon
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Seemed a bit scattered to me
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Summary: After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution... Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage. ~amazon.com

Review: Let’s just start by saying that the cover for this is gorgeous! As someone who isn’t very familiar with the history of Cuba and the revolution, this part was eye opening. The people you expect to be your saviors don’t always turn out that way which was the case in Fidel.

Marisol is in Cuba writing an article about tourism but she’s really there to scatter her grandmother’s ashes. Growing up her grandmother used to fill Marisol's head with stories of Cuba before Fidel came to be in power. She knew that her grandmother's wish was to have her ashes spread in her homeland but exactly where was something that Marisol would need to decide. As a Cuban-American, Marisol wants to understand the country that is her heritage and why her family had to flee. What she doesn’t expect is to uncover her grandmother’s life and love before she moved to Miami.

Ms. Cleeton chose to tell the story from both Elisa and Marisol's point of views. What this gives us is a glimpse into the time in Cuba during the revolution and the fear that the wealthy lived in. They lived in fear of what Batista would do to them if he felt they weren't closely aligned to him and they feared Castro afterwards because of how quickly he changed the landscape of the country.

I loved the past a bit more than the contemporary parts just because I have limited knowledge on Cuba and it's history. I also felt that Marisol's story was a bit predictable.  Next Year in Havana is about finding out your family history and realizing you have more in common with them then you thought.