Monday, July 28, 2014

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I had previously read "Don't Let Me Go" by Catherine Ryan Hyde and I loved it.  So when I was offered a copy of her new book, "The Language of Hoofbeats" by Net Galley in exchange for an honest review, I was pretty happy about it.
I read it in under four hours as I flew across the country.  Her books always deal with the most vulnerable population - children.  In this book, a same sex couple has three foster children, one of whom they have adopted.
They move into a small town with across the street from a bitterly unhappy old woman.  As they become entwined in each others lives, they begin to forge a bond that has the children as their common bond.
I love that her books don't always show a perfect solution, as these situations don't usually come with fairy tale endings.  People show their imperfections, their petty emotions, jealousy, anger, and just general assholed-ness.   But it is written in a way that shows that no one is truly all good and no one is truly all bad.  Just like real life.
Great book - definitely keeps you hooked.

A Better Place by Barbara Hall

This book revolved around the mid-life crisis of a failed actress who went to Hollywood to pursue an important life, and as it became clear that she wasn't going to experience the level of success that she felt entitled to, she begins obsessing about the small town life she left behind.

As the former Queen Bee of Maddock, her return stirs up all sorts of feelings in the people she left  behind, including her parents, best friends, ex-boyfriends and random townspeople.
The local deputy calls it the "dog days of summer" and continues to blame all of the strange happenings on this phenomenon rather than adults in the throes of a mid-life crisis behaving badly.

As I was reading this book, Thoreau's quote "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation....." kept popping into my head.  This was an interesting book, and a good read, but the overwhelming mood in the book was yearning and despair.  A little too realistic to be a fun beach read, but really hit the thoughts that go through this middle aged mom's head.  One character, an infertility specialist, Dr. Ross says, "Because you see, children prevent you from doing anything.  They completely occupy your time and attention.  You can't address your concerns and desires because you're so wrapped up in the children.  And they also provide a very nice reason to think in simplistic terms.  How many times have you heard people say, 'I didn't believe in the death penalty until I had children'?  They have the right, now, to believe in retribution and bloodletting because it's all wrapped in this sacramental blanket called children.  Children make it easier for us to be less questioning., less demanding of ourselves intellectually.  Passing out clean hypodermics to drug addicts?  Sorry, can't think about it.  I've got the children.  Poverty, world hunger?  Sorry, children.  And the more children you've got, the less you have to apply yourself to any other question."

Yikes.  I like to read to escape these type of thoughts going through my head, but this book definitely wasn't escapism.  Good book, brought out a strong emotional response in it's reader.

I received a free copy of this book via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell.....or Family....the Ties That Bind and Gag

Your family are the ties that bind, and in the case of this book, the ties that gag.  The House We Grew Up In grabbed me from the first few chapters as it told the story of a family that started out picture perfect, living in a beautiful house.  A hippy, earth mother, a quiet, loving father and four cute children searching for Easter eggs.  Looks perfect from the outside.
However, after an unexpected tragedy hits them, you see how delicate the bonds that held this family together really were.
The story followed the disintegration of the family over the years, but it was told in such a pitch perfect voice, that you never felt like there were villians or angels.  Just a group of imperfect people, bound together by blood, but maybe not meant to be in each other's lives.
I was given a free copy of this book by Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.  I honestly loved this book, and will be watching for this author in the future.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Night Garden by Lisa VanAllen.......

*spoiler alerts on this review*

After my last nail biting, gritty read, Fiend, I wanted to relax and read a book that wouldn't stress me out.  It felt like some magical realism was in order.  So out came Night Garden, a book I had received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is the second book that I have read by Lisa VanAllen, the first being The Wishing Thread.  The first book was okay - it never felt like it really hit it's mark.  Her second offering has definitely improved in terms of storytelling.
Olivia is a lonely gardener who grows a garden maze, but keeps herself isolated, refusing to let anyone touch her.  Sam is her childhood sweetheart, who has just returned to town.  They want to be with each other, but both are hiding secrets.  The first half of the book dragged a bit, and overall, I would say it's about 50 pages too long.  It felt like the descriptive set up dragged on a bit too long, but it was still interesting.
Once Sam and Olivia admit that they still love each other and start trying to overcome their obstacles, the book picked up, and it felt like the story moved at a good pace.
The magical realism was done very well, much better than her first book.  The ending felt a bit abrupt, but maybe it was just that I wished I knew if Olivia weaned herself off of her poison garden at the end, or if she and Sam still couldn't touch - the baby was a surprise, that I wish I knew more about.
This book should be on the list of any fan of Alice Hoffman or Sarah Addison Allen.
I give Night Garden 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fiend by Peter Stenson..or.....WTF did I just read???

To an ER nurse, there's many patients worse than a meth head, especially one who is spun and has no desire to get clean.  And not many meth heads desire to get clean - the old joke, how do you know a junkie is lying? He's talking.
So when I received a copy of Fiend from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, I was a little taken aback, because I don't have much interest in junkie monkeys, but then I figured why not try my first ever zombie apocalypse book.
I loved I Am Legend, I'm a Walking Dead fan, but I've never read any of the books - and I know the book is always better than the movie.  The difference between these movies and Fiend is that Fiend has no clear hero.
Chase Daniels is the anti-hero.  The meth head who looks out the window while tweaked one day to see a little girl munching a Rottweiler.  And so the story begins........
Chase and his friend, Typewriter begin a their journey of survival, taking a detour to rescue Chase's ex-girlfriend and true love, KK, who dumped him because he wouldn't stay clean. The real kicker is that now she isn't clean either, but she still didn't come back.
Chase figures out pretty quickly that the antidote to the zombie virus is meth.  He tests his theory on KK's new junkie boyfriend, and a injection of meth brings him back from the brink of zombiehood.  Why would Chase bother?  Good question.  The answer is because Chase still has a trace of hero in him.
The positive is that the zombie apocalypse has made chasing meth legit because it's the only way to stay alive.  The negative is that now you're chasing down drug dealers while dodging the "Chucks", so named because they giggle as they try to eat your face.
This book was completely unlike anything I have ever read.  It was completely intense, and I felt like I was holding my breath most of the time while I read it.  But I also felt vaguely dirty reading it, as if I was plunged into the mind and reasoning of a junkie - which I was, because the character was really well written.
My next read is going to be a nice, sweet, chick lit book.  Because this was a gritty read.  But very well done.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

I think being a writer must be one of the most difficult and personally challenging careers you can choose.  It is truly staggering when you consider the amount of yourself that has to be invested in putting your ideas on paper, and creating characters that you then put out for strangers to either love, hate, or worst of all, not care about. 
Save Yourself is the strangest kind of book for me.  It's technically well written.  The story line draws together to what should be a shattering conclusion.  And yet it was missing that essential spark that takes it from a well written book that I am reading to being a story that I am drawn into.
None of the characters inspired any strong feelings in me.  The evangelical Christian parents, the goth-vampire aspiring cult leader, neither of them stirred up any strong feelings in me. I think because the author showed their good characteristics and only mentioned the bad in past tense, almost as a throwaway fact.
The brothers and Caro were obviously the losers of town.  But the best books make you care about the losers and passionately want them to win, even if it's just one thing in their life.  I felt a low level of despair reading about the three of them in their dead end lives, because you could see it wasn't going to change.  No one was trying to better themselves.  Even the love triangle was a bit puzzling to me, as I couldn't see why Caro, with her desire for stability, would choose the brother who worked night shift at a convenience store over the fully employed brother.  Neither option was a good one, but it wasn't like she was trading up.
The sister's story  was equally depressing.  Even if their parents had sued the school district, I find it hard to believe that all teachers would turn a blind eye to the kind of bullying that included setting a girl's hair on fire.
The older sister, Layla, starts grooming the younger sister, Verna, to join the little band of freaks she runs with, at the instruction of her boyfriend, wanna-be vampire, Justinian.  They are able to suck her in pretty quickly, and that doesn't really make much sense.  To go from stuffing prayer brochures to letting a someone cut you and drink your blood is a pretty radical change, and since it didn't change how she seemed to feel or make the bullying she was experiencing stop, I couldn't understand her motivation, or get invested in this story.
The obvious flaw I saw in the showdown at the convenience store is that Verna had a shotgun, knew that the cult leader planned to murder her parents, and that she just didn't turn around and shoot him, but rather went through this pages long debate in her head on what she should do.  By the time the conclusion came, I didn't care anymore who died, I just wanted to be done with this book.
Early on, I thought to myself that this book was about 100 pages too long.  And I still feel that way.  All those words, and I still left with no feeling.
One thing I will say, is that I wish I hadn't known about the author's relationship to the King family.  She's married to Owen King, and DIL to Stephen King.   I'm not sure if that colored my expectations or not.  If anyone can make you care passionately about a loser, it's Stephen King.  His writing is probably less technically good than this author's but he tells a story.  And that's what I felt like I was missing here.
I would read her again, because there were moments in the book where I almost felt it, it was so close.  But the spark never caught in this book.  I'll have my sister read it and see what she thinks.  I'm interested enough to want to hear someone else's opinion.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Summer Wind by Mary Alice Monroe

Hmmm....I've read one of Mary Alice Monroe's books before and I liked it enough to read the sequel.  So I was excited to get this advanced copy from NetGalley because I remember her as being a great beach read.
So I started the book with high hopes.  After about 50 pages, I started getting confused.  I felt like maybe I had read the book before.  After 75 pages, I was convinced I had read this book.
Thank God for Goodreads.  I went back and looked through my "read" history and found the book I had read.  It was "Swimming Lessons" and it was published in 2007.
So now I knew this couldn't be the same book, but the entire time I read it, I was feeling a little bored, because I felt like I knew how it was going to end.
Elderly women living in beach cottages, teaching their grown children and/or grandchildren life lessons, grown women with absentee alcoholic fathers, emotional connections to sea life, unhappy marriages due to following the rules of the southern belle.  All of the same story lines are present, just tweaked a little bit.
That isn't to say that it isn't a good book.  Both books are easy beach reads.  But it just felt a little like re-reading the same book, when it wasn't a five star book worth re-reading, so I actually felt a little hoodwinked.
After a little research, I discovered this is the second book in a three book series.  If I had nothing better to do, I might read the third book just to see how it all ends out, but I feel like there wouldn't be many surprises.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Good Sister by Jamie Kain

I come from a family of four sisters, so I know the love, jealousy, hate, loyalty and all encompassing relationship you can only have with a sister.  This is one of the few books that I have ever read that completely nails that bond.
The book begins with Sarah's death, and her view is a huge part of the story.  It felt reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, with her narrative woven throughout the story of her sisters trying to deal with the aftermath of losing her.  Asha and Rachel are basically raising themselves, left alone by a pseudo-hippie mother, who is really just too self-involved to parent, and a dad who has moved on to a child free life. 
I don't want to give away any spoilers, because I feel like this is a book that needs to be experienced by each person.  Maybe it won't strike others as deeply as it did me, but I think it will have an impact on anyone who has a sister.
The writing is so descriptive of the feelings that the girls invoke in each other, "She has a crazy way of doing that. I've never figured out what her game is, or where she gets her nerve, but she is an energy vortex. When she's near, I feel like I need to go take a nap.....I want her to stop sucking the energy out of me......But I can still feel her there, sucking, sucking, sucking.".
The story is intriguing, the writing is beautiful, I cared about the characters and their story.  There was no happy ending, just a broken family learning to move forward.
As Asha said, "She is everything I have ever known about love, and she's taught me how to know this feeling now."  That is what a sister is to me too.
I loved this book, and it's one of the few I willingly give 5 stars.  I can't wait to see the author's next book.
I was given a free ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review - and I only give honest reviews.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Vacation Reading........

One more day and I leave for Cozumel with three of my best friends!  Whenever, I plan a trip, before I even begin to pack my outfits, I start thinking about what I will read on the plane.
It's hard to pick the perfect book to read in front of strangers.  Let's face it, we all get skeeved when we have to sit next to someone reading "Fifty Shades of Grey".  I just try to look straight ahead and not make any sudden moves that could be interpreted as interest in being abused for pleasure.
I hate the time when you are taking off and landing where the mean stewardess forces you to turn off your iPad, even though you know the pilots are up front sexting their mistresses.  But if I bring magazines, I finish them and then I feel like people are judging me for being wasteful when I throw them away at the end of the flight.
I've got a few books loaded on my iPad, now I'm just trying to decide what I want to start.
I have the newest Janet Evanovich, "Top Secret Twenty-One".  I've had it for a couple of weeks, and haven't even had any desire to start it.  It's weird, because I used to wait for the release dates of the Stephanie Plum series.  But the last four or five, it just feels like she is phoning it in.  I think she peaked with "Four to Score".  That was a laugh out loud book, and I still like to go back and re-read it.
I've got Emily Giffin's new book, "The One & Only".  Even though I didn't love her last few books, "Something Borrowed" and "Something Blue" are old favorites.  Hmmm....I'm seeing a pattern, even after an author starts to suck, I stay hopeful.  I guess I'm an optimist after all.
I've got John Green's "Paper Towns", "Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline, and "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt.  They all seem too depressing to kick off a fun trip.  I need a fun read......any ideas?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top Three Books of My Last Year

1. Gone, Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I know it's everyone's #1, but I've loved her since her earlier work, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.  Here's hoping stupid Ben Affleck doesn't ruin the book.

2. This One is Mine by Maria Semple. I don't know why this one struck such an emotional chord with me, but it did. Mid-life crisis chord. Throw away everything in your life for something stupid chord.
I read  it because I was kept hearing about Semple's bestseller, "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?", and I was 455th on the waiting list at the library, so I decided to see if her other book was any good. Bernadette was a good book,  but Mine was infinitely better.

3. Mother, Mother by Koran Zailckas. Family crumbling under the weight of one person's mental illness. Mental illness is hard. When it's your mother and her illness is narcissim, well, that's really hard. Like who's really crazy? hard.

There aren't many books that I will say you MUST read.  Usually, I'm happy to make a suggestion of what you MIGHT like because reading is such a personal preference.
These three are MUST reads. And if you don't like them, I would remember you fondly. Or not so fondly.

Interference by Michelle Berry

Oh boy.  What to say.  This book had about 12,876 too many characters.  And really no point.  I believe that the author was trying to point out the desperation that hides behind the perfect facade of the suburban neighborhood.  But since I didn't care about ANY of the many characters, I didn't care about their desperation.  And I already know that suburbia is a facade, but it's better than living in a box, right? 

The whole setup seemed to lead towards a secret pedophile in the neighborhood that was moving towards a kidnapping.  When it finally happened, it was so completely bizarre, and unbelievable that it didn't even seem like anyone was bothered - the only indication that anyone was bothered was by the description of the yellow ribbons around the neighborhood trees when the girl (who was basically a runaway) walked home.

The runaway young mother with the (not so) scary ex, yawn.  Nothing happened.  The man with a shovel mark splitting his face that stares at the young girl.
Even the cover was more interesting than the book...
Nothing happened.  The cancer survivor with an unhappy marriage.  The most exciting thing that happened to her was that her teenaged son wants her to play on a Senior Ladies Hockey League (Hockey? Nothing happened).

Oh yeah, every kid in this book was kind of repulsive.  Even more so that the adults.  That's kind of hard to do, right?

The author appears to have talent, but I think she had so many characters, she couldn't focus on any of them, and never seemed to find the story.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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