Monday, March 26, 2018

Julie's Reviews: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah
Series: None
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 448
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Wow!
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves. In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Review: Great Alone is one of those books that will grabs you by the heart and never lets go. I wouldn't have thought that a book about living in the remote Alaskan wilderness would be so utterly engaging.

Alaska itself is its own character and drive the story as much as the Allbright family. It is also the coming of age story of Leni and the power of love. She shows the possibilities of it and the impossibilities of it. It is about being able to survive all of the things you think you couldn't and being stronger for it. Leni is a strong teenager and it a lot of ways she's the only adult in her house. Her mom's happiness is tied to the stability of her father and that is something that is sporadic.

She learns that love is both light and dark. Her mom and her try to stick together throughout her dad's highs and lows. She protects her mom as much as she can until her dad's rage is turned towards her.
Ms. Hannah highlights how war affects people and can change who they are. How sometimes not even love can heal them no matter how hard you try. They also have to want to help themselves.

Great Alone is one of those books that you will want to keep turning the pages on until late into the night. Ms. Hannah is one of the premier storytellers of our time. In this novel she made Alaska come alive.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Julie's Review: Sometimes I Lie

Author: Alice Feeney
Series: None
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 272
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: Not jumping aboard this buzz train
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 1. I’m in a coma. 2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore. 3. Sometimes I lie. Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it's the truth?
 Review: Sometimes I Lie is one of those books that has been getting a lot of buzz about the twists and turns. I know a few people who devoured this book. This book should have been a quicker read than it was for me. I love psychological thrillers and I even enjoy the unreliable narrator.

For me I found it very scattered and at times hard to follow. I felt like it was twisted to the point of distortion. I did like the coma aspect of the narrative and how she was aware of what was going on around her but was unable to communicate with those around her. Amber and Claire's relationship was very strange and doesn't make sense until it does. I did figure out who Amber's tormentor was pretty easily and was just waiting for the those in the book to catch on.

The ending did take everything you had learned and thought throughout the first 75% of the book and turns it on a dime. Still in the end though I wasn't sure who to believe and who was whom.

If this sounds right up your alley, then go and grab it. Unfortunately, it didn't strike a cord with me.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Julie's Review: Speak No Evil

Author: Uzodinma Iweala
Series: None
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 224
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Emotionally intense
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him. When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

Review: Speak No Evil is a book told from two view points but not in tandem. Niru is a young man fighting his sexuality but when he finally admits it to his best friend, Meredith, she pushes him to just embrace it. She even takes liberties with his phone and adds dating apps. Which, of course she can't possibly know will change the trajectory of his life and hers. Niru comes from a strict Nigerian household, because of their culture and religion being gay is not acceptable. It is something that they believe needs to be exorcised from Niru's personality. This being the case, Niru's father takes him home to Nigeria to get the spiritual attention he needs. Except Niru isn't sure it's he who has to change but he's not sure how to do get his parents to accept who he is when he's still struggling to accept it himself.

Niru and Meredith's stories converge as Niru runs to her when he's at his most desperate. This is when Meredith's story takes over.  It is her story that will rip your heart out. You will read parts of her story a couple times to realize what just happened.

Both Niru and Meredith are empathetic characters but in very different ways. Your heart goes out to Niru for the way he is shunned by both of his parents but in very different ways. His father only accepts him being gay when it helps his narrative. His mother, trying to keep the peace shuts Niru out in her own way by not defending him to his father. Meredith will carry guilt with her for the rest of her life.

While Niru’s sexuality is the catalyst for the novel, it is truly about how to accept yourself when those closest to you can’t handle your truth. How do you make others accept you when you are just beginning to accept yourself? It is about understanding how different cultures view various subject matters even if we don't agree with their views. Mr. Iweala doesn't give us the answers to these issues but lets us in to understand how different we all are and how we all struggle.

Mr. Iweala packs a powerful punch in less than 250 pages. His writing is succinct but never lacking in description and depth. He writes characters that you have empathy for and realize that these kids could be someone you know. Speak No Evil should be read by everyone. 


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Julie's Review: She Regrets Nothing

Author: Andrea Dunlop
Series: None
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: More Money More Problems
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before. Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.  

Review: She Regrets Nothing is the kind of book that you want to read after you've read a lot of heavily themed novels. It definitely has a soap opera-y feel to it with all the drama and deceit. You know from the minute Laila moves to NYC she's going to get herself into heaps of trouble. She's a fish out of water who wants to grow legs and belong. She's definitely not as naive as you think in the beginning and as the book goes on you realize that she seized the opportunity with gusto. Unfortunately, her new cousins see her as a naive Midwesterner and for a while she feeds into that stereotype. Laila acts like she's there for the relationships with Liberty, Leo and Nora but really she's all about the benjamins.

Liberty is the most grounded of the 3 cousins. She's got a job that she loves and doesn't take her family's money for granted. She's got a best friend who really is like her sister, Reece and is pretty satisfied with her life overall. Nora and Leo are the self-absorbed twins. They are all about how super rich they can still be without having to work for any of it. They are all about parties (charity or otherwise), clubs and shopping. Nora is attention seeker and Leo can't decide what he wants.

Here's the thing about the super wealthy (I've learned it all from books and tv) is they are suspicious of newbies. It won't matter that Laila is a "Lawrence" it will matter that she didn't grow up with the rest of them. Money, or lack there of it, does funny things to people. It can bring out the worst in people or it can bring out the best. Laila was an example of the worst, while her cousin Liberty was the best. Ms. Dunlop does an excellent job of ensuring these characters aren't too cartoonish while also showing that in some ways they are exactly that.

The novel starts off a bit slow but it builds and builds and builds until everything happens at once. Laila's carefully constructs mirage evaporates. She can never imagine the harm that her lies and deceit will do but she doesn't really care.

I definitely enjoyed She Regrets Nothing and would recommend it. It would be a great read for Spring Break (or any other time).


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Julie's Review: Surprise Me

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Series: None
Publication Date: February 13, 2018
Publisher: The Dial Press
Pages: 432
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Not one of her best but still entertaining
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: After ten years together, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and beautiful twin girls, and they communicate so seamlessly they finish each other’s sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it’s casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years . . . and panic sets in. They decide to bring surprises into their marriage to keep it fresh and fun. But in their pursuit of Project Surprise Me—from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to sexy photo shoots—mishaps arise, with disastrous and comical results. Gradually, surprises turn to shocking truths. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other at all.

Review: Sylvie and Dan are worried about their marriage becoming boring, after all they've been together for 10 years and based on their health will be together for almost seven more decades; so how will they keep that spark? Of course when you tell someone to surprise you, you don't always get what you bargain for. Plus I would think that it would be impossible to keep that up on a regular basis.

Sylvie has lived in a bubble her whole life. In many ways, she still lives in a bubble. She really doesn't know what real problems are and honestly this is what leads her to perhaps blow things out of proportion. She's got a husband that adores her and 2 lovely young girls. She's got a job that she enjoys even if it's not challenging. All in all her life is pretty good.

So when Dan starts acting closed off and secretive, Sylvie's alarm bells go off and she's off thinking the affair. As the reader this seems a little too obvious and I was hoping that we weren't going to be falling into that cliche here. I am pleased that it wasn't that cliche.

Honestly, I read Sophie Kinsella to laugh out loud but at least chuckle and with this one there wasn’t a lot of that going on. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I did but it’s just different than her other books. I did enjoy that instead of a singleton, her main character is married and a working mom. There were a couple moments where I could feel the story shift into a different direction, which I was happy for. Overall, Surprise Me isn’t her best book in my opinion but I’ll still keep reading her. Her characters are at least silly and fun.