Tuesday, April 28, 2015

And have a little trust in us when fear obscures the path.

The Guest CottageThe Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sophie leads a calm and predictable life, but not necessarily a happy and fulfilling one, especially in the love department. When her husband announces he's leaving her, she decides to rent a cottage on Nantucket for the summer, along with her kids, Jonah and Lacey. At the same time, Trevor Black, a young widower with a four-year-old son named Leo, decides to rent a cottage on Nantucket, hoping it will get Leo (and himself) away from the memories of Leo's late mother.

All is well until Sophie and Trevor arrive on the island and realize they've rented the same house. The two decide to share the large house for the summer and quickly become fast friends. But are Sophie and Trevor destined to become more than friends?

I usually enjoy the occasional book like this, where the plot is predictable, but comfortable and sort of cozy. However, I just couldn't get into this one, especially the first half or so. In fact, I almost gave up, which I rarely ever do on a book. I couldn't find myself empathizing with Sophie or her predicament - she came across as a bland character, who gave you little reason to root for her. Also, while I know these books are based a bit on absurdity and implausibility, this one seemed particularly so. The fact that Sophie and Trevor so easily melded together in the house was amazing and that Sophie's older kids played so well with his younger one. Hmm. I can't imagine going on vacation and just agreeing to share my rental with another family!

The book picked up a little over halfway through, when Sophie took more control over her life and we finally found more about her back-story. Still, the book uses Sophie's piano-playing as a sort of backdrop, but it rings hollow at times, and is a little strange. I couldn't get into it - but that may just be me. I did enjoy the second half of the book more than the first and it certainly went faster and was more what I was expecting. Sophie became a bit more engaging and likable.

Overall, though, if you're looking for a light and fluffy beach read, there are definitely better ones out there.

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I'm wide awake and you're still my dream

Wishful ThinkingWishful Thinking by Kamy Wicoff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jennifer is a busy single mom, struggling to keep up at work while still spending enough time with her two young boys. One day her lost smartphone shows up on her doorstep and Jennifer discovers a new app has been installed. This app, she soon comes to realize, allows her to time travel -- to basically be in two places at the same time. Suddenly Jennifer is able to keep the long hours her boss is demanding, while still picking her boys up from school and getting in quality time Mom/kid time. She is the superwoman she's always dreamed of being. But is it too good to be true?

I'll confess that a good portion of this book made me cringe. Not because it's bad. In fact, it's the opposite. It's a smartly written, captivating novel with a harried heroine who captures your heart pretty quickly. For me, the book was stressful because it hit home! A busy working mother who has demands at the office, but who also wants to spend time with her kids? That certainly describes a lot of us. Much like when I'm watching an action or horror movie for a first time, I felt myself tensing, anxiously wondering what was going to happen to Jennifer. Was she going to get caught using the app? Was the Jennifer at the office going to somehow show up with her kids? Would her co-workers find out? Her kids? Would the app make her sick? This couldn't go on forever, right?

And that's basically the premise behind Wicoff's clever novel. Of course, being in two (and over time, as Jennifer becomes dependent on the app, three places) places isn't all it's cracked up to be. Jennifer is tired, experiencing some strange sensations, potentially losing friendships, and wait, is she aging rapidly when she's living two days in the span of what should only be one?

Wicoff does a great job of showing the pressures many working parents feel. It's true - sometimes you do feel like you have to be a superwoman! Her book is also populated with fun characters -- in particular, Dr. Sexton, Jennifer's kooky neighbor, who also happens to be a genius scientist and inventor of said app.

If it all sounds a little improbable, it is, and you'll have to be prepared to suspend disbelief a bit, but Wicoff does such a great job, that it isn't really that hard. The book veers off a bit in its final quarter, turning more from the harried working mom scene, to a bit of an almost mystery/avenger plot, which is also completely improbable, and a very strange twist, but it's fun, too. You can't help but rooting for Jennifer (and Dr. Sexton, too). Overall, a crazy 3.5 star rating.

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

View all my reviews

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