Saturday, April 18, 2015

And ride off into your delusional sunset.

Stolen ChildStolen Child by Laura Elliot

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carla Kelley is a beautiful and famous model, whose career is only heightened by her pregnancy, as she advertises the maternity line, "Anticipation." Susanne Dowling, meanwhile, lives a quiet and sad life, punctuated by several heart-breaking miscarriages. Her last one seems destined to send her over the edge.

Shortly after Carla's baby, Isobel, is born, the baby vanishes from the hospital without a trace. The media descends upon the model and her husband, ruining his undercover detective career and threatening their marriage.

Meanwhile, Susanne and her husband, David, are basking in happiness: their new baby girl, Joy. Susanne finally has the baby she's always wanted. But is she happy?

The book alternates between Carla and Susanne's points of view and eventually, once she's old enough, we hear from Joy as well. While the story is compelling, I had a hard time getting into the novel as neither Carla and Susanne present as very sympathetic characters, despite their losses. The book becomes more interesting as Joy ages and can tell her side of the story. Much of the tale is more a study in personalities and psychology than a page-turning search for a child. The reader is always aware where the "stolen child" is, even if her parents are not.

Overall, it's an intriguing read (and an interesting description of a scenario that terrifies many parents - I know I felt agonized reading the moments where Isobel is stolen), if not a little slow at times, with some characters who, while human and complicated, won't always elicit a lot of sympathy.

(Note: I received a digital copy of this novel in return for an unbiased review.)

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What a beautiful, what a beautiful mess I'm in.

The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away by Bethany Chase

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sarina's life is going pretty smoothly -- she's busy with her own architecture firm, she's expecting to be engaged to her boyfriend, Noah, any day, and she has a good group of friends to hang out with while Noah is away in Argentina for work. She feels so secure she's finally ready to face Eamon Roy, a former Olympic swimmer and Sarina's former-one-night-stand (who broke her heart years ago), and who is making a visit to Austin, Texas.

Suddenly, though, Eamon's visit is no longer temporary, as he decides to move back to Austin and renovate a home -- a job for which he hires Sarina. The two become fast friends, and Sarina finds herself questioning everything she thought was so perfect about her life.

Overall, this was a really fun, enjoyable read. I breezed through it, because Sarina is a thoroughly engaging character. Further, Chase has a way of writing that pulls you in - when Sarina gets bad news, for instance, I felt myself feeling as if I'd been punched in the gut, too. It was refreshing to read a "chick lit" novel about an architect, versus the usual publicist or nanny or such. I enjoyed reading about Sarina's job and she was extremely driven as a businesswoman, which was great. Further, I enjoyed that the novel had a gay character (Sarina's roommate, Danny), who didn't seem completely steeped in stereotype. Also refreshing!

About my only beef was that it all became a bit much about two-thirds or so through the book, as Sarina continues to waffle about Noah and Eamon. For a bit, the book feels very junior high-esque as Sarina goes on and on about Eamon, then Noah, then dreaming of Eamon, then more wrangling, etc. I get that it was a big decision, and she and Noah had been together for four years, but sigh. Get it together, girl!

Otherwise, this was fun, fast-paced, novel, with just the right mix of serious, real-life plot thrown in. Sarina faces some tough choices in life (and not just as she deals with her feelings with Eamon and Noah), but with her parents/stepparents, her business, and more. It's refreshing to see a chick lit heroine deal with real life in such a way. Supposedly the Chase's next book features some characters who pop up in this one. I'll definitely be putting it on my to-read list. (Overall, I'd rate The One That Got Away at 3.5 stars.)

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

View all my reviews

High school rebel and the teenage queen.

All Our Pretty Songs (Metamorphoses, #1)All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two girls grow up, as close (or closer) as sisters, until a boy and a strange man (?) come between them. Aurora is the daughter of a famous musician, who died when she very young; her mother still spends most of her days in a drug-induced haze. It's up to her best friend (whose name we never learn -- she's simply the narrator of this tale) to protect Aurora, who is described as lovely and other-worldly, from herself. The girls spend their days together -- watching movies in Aurora's bed, partying hard, dancing in mosh pits at concerts, etc. One day they meet a musician named Jack, a beautiful man/boy, who enraptures the narrator, and seems to set them on a course to be torn apart.

This is a very strange book. The first half or so is actually pretty compelling and interesting. The story of Aurora and the narrator's friendship is fascinating, and their "girls gone wild" story is plausible, if not a little much. Aurora's mom could clearly care less where her daughter is. The narrator's mom, Cass, was friends with Aurora's mom, but they clearly fought when the girls were young and are not on speaking terms, though Cass cares deeply for Aurora. This is all good stuff.

Once Jack arrives and Aurora meets Minos, a bizarre music producer, things get weird. The book takes on this mystical, paranormal feel, and it's just strange. It almost feels like this part of the plot was forced into what was otherwise just a good (really, good) story about friendship and teenage girls and life. I won't go into many more details about the plot, but the narrator basically goes on a quest, which I didn't completely understand and then the book just ends, leaving you hanging and everything unresolved. And despite the fact that there is another book in the series, it looks to be about the girls' mothers, not the girls, therefore giving me no resolution whatsoever! Grr.

That's not to say that McCarry's writing isn't lovely. It's a beautiful, poetic book - almost too much at times, as I found myself practically skimming to get to the actual plot. The narrator was a compelling character, and the whole story was so well-written that I could imagine every person, every wild party, every journey. I just think that it almost would have been just as good, if not better, without all the crazy characters and odd mythology-type "stuff" thrown in. But what do I know, really? And I'll probably read the second book out of total curiosity because Maia (Aurora's mom) and Cass were pretty fascinating.

This was probably closer to 2.5 stars for my overall feeling at the end, but bumped up a bit for the beginning and the general writing. 

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 09, 2015

What kind of fool do you think I am.

Ms. ConceptionMs. Conception by Jen Cumming

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Abby is desperate to get pregnant. After several years of marriage (and trying to conceive), she and her husband, Jack, enter the roller coaster life of fertility clinics. Along the way, Abby is juggling a busy career, her slightly insane mother-in-law, and her own quirky mom and sister.

I tore through this book in two days, and I think my heart pounded through a good two thirds of it. Parts of it were almost too heart-breakingly painful to read. There are certainly some other recent novels (e.g. Amanda Eyre Ward's The Same Sky) that capture infertility in a more poetic manner, giving it more weight and tying more to the characters' backstories and current events. But Cumming's novel is like no other I've read in perfectly depicting the hard, emotional struggle of infertility.

There's so much I identified with in the novel, which certainly helped lead to my 4-star rating. I am not 100% sure that the book would resonate as much with those who haven't been through this, though I honestly wish I had had this book to give to all those "well-meaning" individuals who had "helpful" advice during my own infertility struggles, because I really do think it shows how hard the process is on a couple.

For instance, Cumming does an excellent job of showing how difficult it is for Abby to juggle her work and her infertility - there's a moment where she receives a call from the clinic about a negative pregnancy test and has to return to a meeting. I've so been there, and she wrote about the episode beautifully.

Cumming also does a good job of portraying humor in Abby's difficult journey - it's the only way Abby can survive. Her stories of the full bladder trials during IVF, for instance, are funny and spot on. So much, though, is serious and very carefully portrayed -- Abby's focus on a home project after each negative test; her studious avoidance of babies; dreaming nine months forward about potential holidays -- anyone who has struggled like Abby will identify. She captures the aching loss of Abby beautifully -- I actually hurt as I read this book.

Overall, I would have potentially liked to have seen a little more character development about Abby - you don't get much backstory about her yen for children. Still, the book is amazing in its ability to make you feel like Abby and hurt with each negative test and setback. It's the most accurate (yet compelling) fictional journey of infertility, IUIs, and IVF I've read in quite some time.

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

How can there be such trouble in this world.

Someone Is WatchingSomeone Is Watching by Joy Fielding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bailey Carpenter is a successful private investigator for a large law firm in Miami. While still reeling from the deaths of both of her parents, her life is fairly benign, until she is attacked one night while investigating a client.

Suddenly, Bailey's life is turned upside down. She's unable to sleep, eat, or work. She spends her days (and nights) trapped inside her condo, suffering from crippling anxiety and nightmares, and wracked with guilt from the attack. She starts watching her neighbor in the building across the street using binoculars, but things get even more out of control when she realizes he may be watching her, too.

First of all, a definite trigger warning that this book depicts a pretty brutal rape. It's tough to read about, and I would hate for anyone to pick up this novel without realizing its subject. I do applaud Fielding for trying to cover such a hard subject, though I'm not sure it's always accurately portrayed.

The book gets off to a slow start - I almost put it down. It's a hard subject to read about, and Bailey is a little hard to like and understand at first. The storyline gets a bit incredulous, but it certainly picked up, and I tore through the second half of the book. It ties up a little easily - and I'm not sure I buy Bailey going from completely devastated to seemingly okay, but I appreciate Fielding trying to show how much rape can hurt and leave its victims feeling powerless.

Overall, it's an interesting read and Bailey's niece, Jade, is a fun character. It would be great to see the two of them appear together again.

Note: I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

View all my reviews

No matter what it takes someday I'm gonna break these chains, chains, shackles and chains.

The Second SisterThe Second Sister by Marie Bostwick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lucy Toomey is busy working on a Presidential campaign. Her days and nights are consumed by work and punctuated only by late night calls from her sister, Alice, who still lives in Lucy's hometown of Nilson's Bay, Wisconsin. We learn that Alice suffered an accident at 18, which left her mentally disabled, and for which Lucy still feels guilty, many years later. However, not even her guilt can convince her to return to Nilson's Bay. Until she receives a call that Alice has passed away.

As the campaign winds down, Lucy finds herself once again in her hometown, settling Alice's affairs, living in her old home, and trying to figure out her life.

Overall, this is a fairly easy read, though I found the beginning a bit slow. Lucy is not the most likeable of characters, though she did grow on me as she herself grows. The plot is rather predictable, though you don't find yourself fighting the ending much. Once I got through about the first third, the book went quickly and was a pleasant read, but nothing amazing. (It did make me want to visit Door County, Wisconsin, however! Well-done on that front.)

Note: I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

'Cause I was living on nothing but a young girl's dreams.

Breathe, Annie, BreatheBreathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I picked it up on a total whim (having received an ARC) and really enjoyed it. First, I have to state that apparently this is part of Kenneally's "Hundred Oaks" YA series, which I didn't know. It definitely can stand alone, however.

Annie is finishing up high school and training for a marathon. She's never been a runner - in fact, she hates it. However, Annie is running in honor of her late boyfriend Kyle, who never had a chance to run the marathon for which he was training. 

Annie is a very mature kid, which took a bit of getting used to. She was definitely in a very developed relationship early in life and she came across older than her years. However, we learn that she's been on her own a bit - her dad was never around and her Mom has been busy working multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. So her maturity works, overall.

Annie is struggling with guilt over Kyle's death. She starts to find relief in her marathon training. She also starts to find relief in Jeremiah, the brother of her training coach. Jeremiah is unlike anyone Annie has ever known.

This was a simple, YA love story. You pretty much know where it's going to go. But it was surprisingly sweet and touching and well-done. Annie is an extremely likable character. Her maturity lends her some credence not always found in YA characters. I also found myself quite swept up in Jeremiah (not unlike Annie), who was also different from the typical YA beau.

Finally, the running element was a fun add to the book. As someone training for a 5K (nowhere near a marathon, but I like to pretend, ha), it was enjoyable to watch Annie progress toward her goal.

Overall, this is probably really a 3.5 star novel, but I just enjoyed the story so much, I bumped it up to 4.

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

View all my reviews

So I go back and forth forever, all my thoughts they come in pairs.

I recently finished two very different books. They were each a little tough to read, though for rather different reasons.

All My Puny SorrowsAll My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a tough novel to read. Which isn't to say it's bad. It's not. At all. In fact, it's lovely and lyrical and beautiful. It's just tough. It chronicles the tale of two sisters, Yolandia (Yoli) and her older sister, Elfrieda (Elf). Yoli grows up in the shadow of the talented Elf, who is a famous pianist and an amazing free spirit. Yoli adores her from a young age, as Elf is the only one she knows who has the will and strength to fight against their religious Mennonite upbringing.

As adults, it seems like Elf has it all together - a loving partner, a successful career as a famous pianist, while Yoli is struggling - she's divorced (she's working on number two) and working to stay afloat as an author and raise her two kids.

However, underneath, we learn Elf has a great sadness, as the book covers her suicide attempts, including one as she is about to embark on a concert tour. Yoli rushes to her sister's side, but struggles to help her.

Overall, as I stated, the book is lovely, despite its sad subject matter (my heart hurts that apparently much of this is autobiographical for Toews). Having lost a loved one to suicide, reading a lot of this was very hard, indeed. I was very drawn to Yoli - she is a well-written character and you find yourself rooting for her, as she deals with her sister, her mother, and her crazy life. Even fragile Elf is beautiful. The girls' mother is quite a character; I loved her deeply. She was a trip.

I had to power through this one - sometimes all the bad things happening were overwhelming. The strength of character pulled me through it. I found myself a little frustrated at times ("why am I reading this?!"), but it truly is lovely, and if you've dealt with mental illness in any way (either yourself or with someone you love), while it will hurt, it's also a worthwhile read.

View all my reviews

 Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure about my review of this book: I have always just liked Lena Dunham and harbored secret fantasies of us becoming friends. I'm sure this influenced my review somewhat. I'll admit that I would have liked to have read a bit more about how she got into the business, versus just random thoughts, but I also recognize that wasn't really the purpose of this particular book.

I also had to remind myself that Lena comes from the oversharing generation. There is a lot in this book that could potentially make you cringe, but if you know her work on Girls or anything else, it won't really come as a surprise. Overall, I found her writing style easy to read, and interesting, if not particularly amazing. I also enjoyed the chance to see any parallels between her life and Girls.

If this hadn't been an ebook I borrowed from the library, I definitely would have dog-eared some of the pages where she talks about how a woman deserves to be treated. There's certainly a lot to be learned from many of her pages, and I found a lot of what she said to be fascinating, if not disturbing, at times.

It was an easy, quick read and gave me some good insight into her life. (And I still want to be friends with her. And Lamby.)

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 19, 2015

And she always expected the worst in the back of her mind.

The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London, #3)The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read nearly 3/4 of this book curled up in my easy chair while the kids napped, snow falling softly outside. It is rare that I get that much peace and quiet anymore, so I roared through the book, wanting to finish it before the twins awoke and shattered the peace.

Therefore, any nitpicks I have about anything in the book feeling rushed are no doubt of my own doing, as I manically flipped pages, wanting to find out what happened to Rory and the rest of the gang. When the series is over, I look forward to reading all the books again, and savoring them a bit more.

Needless to say, I loved this book. Definitely my favorite novel to date this year. I am sure Johnson's Shade of London series isn't for everyone, but I've fallen for American-based Rory, a transplant in London, who can now see ghosts. It sounds preposterous, but Johnson has made it work- and work well- in all three novels so far. I love Rory, I love her character, and I love the group of people she's come to surround herself in London - far away from the home she knows in New Orleans.

*spoilers if you haven't read the first two books - which you should, immediately!*

In book three, Rory is dealing with the grief of losing Stephen, as the team frantically tries to find his ghost. They are also trying to find her prefect, Charlotte, who was kidnapped by Rory's therapist, Jane. We learn more about Jane and her past involvement in an ancient cult and a likely string of murders. It all involves a much bigger plot involving London's ability to harness its dead, and the existence of a murky, rumored government organization who polices ghosts.

We also meet a new character in this novel, Freddie (a girl), who is quite bright, but of whom I still remain suspicious - silly, perhaps, but it's so hard to trust new people coming into the gang. We see more of Jerome, which is nice, and Boo and Callum, of course. There's actually less focus on actual ghosts than you'd think and more on some big conspiracies, but it all works, really well. The camaraderie of the team, and the way Johnson voices Rory is just lovely, and the book reads so well. Even what should be a crazy plot is made readable and believable through the lens of these developed characters.

As always, I'm left a bit bereft, waiting for the next book. (And, for the record, I finished the last few pages right before the twins woke up. I feel like that's fate, right?)

View all my reviews

And his mouth so quick to mock.

 True to my word, I read a book about Michael Jordan after my last couple of less than fruitful reads.

Michael Jordan: The LifeMichael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge Michael Jordan fan, so I was excited to read this book. It was definitely a worthwhile read, especially if you're a basketball, MJ, or Chicago Bulls fan. The level of detail is amazing, and I learned a lot about Michael's early years, especially, as well as some great facts about his college selection process, his first deals with Nike and such. If you're a sports geek, you'll eat this stuff up.

The book picks up speed once Michael joins the Bulls and sort of blows through his Championships. I get it - there are plenty of other reads about those events (including some by Lazenby himself, I believe), but I wouldn't have minded a few more details about some of his years with the Bulls.

If those years go by quickly in the book, his time after the Bulls is really glossed over. For me, that was the one real disappointment of this biography. That's sort of the part of MJ that's such a mystery and it was a little sad not to know more about what he's up to these days. There is, however, some great information about his time with the Wizards organization.

All told, even when some of the years pass by quickly, the book is a worthy read. I think it presents a pretty fair portrait of Jordan. He's recognized as a hero to many, but Lazenby certainly brings in quotes and perspectives from all sides, including those who don't always sing his praises. You learn a lot about MJ's childhood and family make-up and how it created the determined, competitive individual that he is. If you're a fan, there are some quotes that will make you laugh out loud and other passages that will fascinate you. And there are plenty of little tidbits you can trot out at dinner parties... (ok, ok, maybe just with your other sports nerds friends. But there are lots of fun stories and facts throughout the book!)

By the end you'll know a lot about Michael, but still be left wondering a bit. But perhaps that's the key to Jordan all along.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 27, 2015

'Cause when I close my eyes, I'm somewhere with you.

I've been incredibly swamped with work and kids and life lately, but I did manage to read Eight Hundred Grapes, by Laura Dave. I feel torn about the rating for this book, which probably truly clocks in at 3.5 stars. For a decent part of this novel, I felt slightly annoyed with its protagonist, Georgia. Georgia returns to her parents' home in disgrace a few days before her wedding, after finding out her fiance has been keeping a crazy secret from her.

Her parents' home is a vineyard in California, where Georgia grew up with her older twin brothers, Finn and Bobby. She expects to find the comfort she always experienced as a kid (but also ran away from - she's very clear that she left the vineyard for a life as a more glamorous lawyer). But upon arriving home, she finds that no one is really happy -- not her parents, not Bobby and his wife, and not Finn.Yet, she finds herself longing for life at the vineyard more and more, even as everything is falling apart around her. Hmm.

There are several plotlines in this novel that, when combined, all seem a little ludicrous. Georgia's fiance Ben's secret involves a movie star. The crazy issues between the brothers. The problems and arrangement between her parents. What happens with the vineyard. Even the ending. One or two of the storylines, perhaps, I would have found more believable. All together, it is a bit much. Add in Georgia's constant vacillating (I'm getting married! I'm not! I am!), and it gets to be a bit old.

However, I have to cut Georgia some slack, as I realize, despite the lawyerly job and upcoming wedding, she's young, and she has had quite a shock. She eventually grew on me a bit as the storyline progressed and she herself grew up a bit. And, as silly and as "neat" (as in, neatly tied up) the ending was, it warmed my heart a bit and made me end the book on a good note.

Still, I think I may pick up a Michael Jordan biography next. I'm a little tired of flighty thirty-somethings! Time for a clever, genius, and sometimes angry athlete for a change of pace.

(Note: I received an advance ebook copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)