Thursday, August 24, 2017

Seven Days of Us

Seven Days of UsSeven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Birch family hasn't been close in many years, so spending an entire week together in quarantine over the Christmas holidays is an ordeal. Until they are certain that eldest daughter Olivia hasn't been infected with the deadly Haag virus while treating its victims in Liberia, they are virtually cut off from the outside world, holed up at the family's decrepit country manor house, each one desperately trying to keep his or her secrets hidden.

Other people have described this novel as both warm and funny, and I have to ask...what book were they reading? Despite some unbearably hot weather we had while I was reading, I felt chilled to the bone by the self-centered, dishonest characters and the gloomy, damp setting. Jesse irritated me the least, aside from Hornak's overuse of the word "like" in his speech (he's a grown man in his mid 30s--he wouldn't talk like a teenager). All the other characters were imprisoned in their individual silos of self-absorption. Obviously life isn't all sunshine and flowers, but honestly, it doesn't have to be that miserable--just tell the truth. Get over yourselves and pay attention to someone else for a change. Stop trying to hide cancer, job dissatisfaction, recently discovered children, forbidden relationships and protocol violations, sexual preferences, doubts, and all the other sources of anxiety. These things disconnect people from each other just as surely as they disconnected me from this whole cast of characters.

The story itself could have moved along more quickly, I felt. As soon as Jesse and Emma had their chat at the airport, I could see where that was headed, but it felt like an eternity before we got there. There was one twist at the end that I didn't see coming, but everything else was telegraphed way in advance. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me, but it didn't help matters, especially when combined with the loose ends left dangling. (For example, Jesse and George's first meeting stayed a secret. Really??)

The tone of this novel strongly reminds me of The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan--a book I've never been able to finish because I didn't like any of the characters--perhaps because both are British novels told from different points of view by deeply flawed characters? Thankfully for both authors, there are plenty of readers out there who enjoy spending time with people I can't stand.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting secondary. Loads of profanity, including some of my least favorite words. Some sexual content, references. No violence.

I received a free advance reading copy (ebook) from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Young Jane Young

Young Jane YoungYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Aviva Grossman was a young intern for a charismatic but married older congressman in South Florida, she had an affair with him and blogged anonymously about it, not realizing that her choices would ruin her reputation, destroy her budding career, and cause collateral damage to her family. Scandals never really vanish in today's internet world, and years after changing her name and rebuilding her life far away from Miami, hers erupts again when she runs for mayor of her small Maine town.

I am what is known to Nancy Pearl fans as a "character doorway" reader. Since this novel definitely has character as its primary doorway, I expected to really enjoy it. However, I never really connected with any of the characters, and the structure of the story didn't quite gel for me either--it lacked cohesion, which further distanced me from caring about the people in it. I really struggled to figure out what was going on when each section was narrated from the point of view of a different character, and some sections rambled or jumped around in time, making it incredibly difficult to construct a mental timeline or know what to pay attention to. I spent too much energy focusing on details of timing rather than becoming absorbed in the story itself. Had the book better matched its blurbs, particularly the one on Goodreads, I think I would have loved it. I'm sure plenty of readers would disagree with me, but I think tightening up the narration and not starting with Rachel's point of view would have made a world of difference. This novel strikes me as the book version of a student essay written without a clear thesis statement: nuggets of goodness but scattered, unfocused, and with loose ends dangling.

I don't mean to sound harsh. I didn't hate it, and I can see how some readers will absolutely love it. I did enjoy the narrative conceits of letters to a pen pal and choose-your-own-adventure. Even though it took me a while to finish, and the pace of the story arc was very slow, it still felt like it read fast, particularly the final chapters.

Readers' advisors will want to note that there is a fair amount of profanity, and since it's centered around a sex scandal, there are references to sexual activities, including anal sex, and plenty of face-palmingly poor decisions.

I received an advance reading copy from Bookbrowse and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Island Girls

Island GirlsIsland Girls by Nancy Thayer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Rory Randall died unexpectedly, his daughters discovered that his will stipulated they all spend an entire summer together in the house on Nantucket Island in order to inherit an equal share. Jenny has been living in the house for years, but Meg and Arden haven't been back since a selfish act by their stepmother resulted in the two of them being banished as teenagers. After a rocky start, the women learn to live with each other and with the past they cannot change.

I wasn't that keen on the sisters at the beginning--they felt one-dimensional--but they grew on me as they matured and softened. At first I just wanted to send them all to an Alison Armstrong workshop.

For readers' advisors: character doorway was primary, setting secondary. One sex scene but not explicit. I think there was an occasional mild swear word, but I can't really remember. A good beach read.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wicked Charms

Wicked Charms (Lizzy & Diesel, #3)Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Lizzy and Diesel are back, this time on the hunt for the Avaritia stone--the third of the powerful SALGLIA stones. Their search is complicated by an insane billionaire and his rabid acolytes, pirates, fires, kidnappings, obsessed treasure hunters, Diesel's cousin Wulf, and Wulf's loony minion Hatchet.

Fun romp of an adventure. Someone called it a "palate-cleansing" book, and I totally agree. It's just silly fun with ridiculous characters, rapid-fire patter, and fast-paced action.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, language (humor) secondary. Plenty of sexual banter and innuendo, but no explicit sex scenes. Also plenty of mild swearing. The violence comes off as more slapstick than anything, even when people die.

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Tale of Two Kitties

A Tale of Two Kitties (A Magical Cats Mystery #9)A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kathleen Paulson, head librarian for the Mayville Heights Free Public Library, is sadly accustomed to encountering dead bodies. The bright yellow, catnip-filled, Fred-the-Funky-Chicken versions that her cat Owen likes to decapitate are a nuisance, but the human ones who've departed the earth as a result of violence are infinitely more disturbing. This time the deceased is a relative of her youngest employee, which hits too close to home for Kathleen, so she and her preternaturally clever cats start sleuthing to help Marcus close the case faster and bring the killer to justice. Thank goodness for Owen's superpower saving the day once more!

I really enjoyed how Sofie Kelly carefully wove together the seemingly separate storylines about the Janes brothers' estrangement and the future library exhibit of 20-year-old photos and mail found inside a post office wall. Some of my guesses turned out to be accurate, and yet I didn't put all the pieces together until the end.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this volume in the series, however, was that Marcus and Kathleen's relationship was secure enough to withstand the potential love triangle Kelly hinted at in book #8 and developed in this one. What I don't understand is what is taking the two of them so long to get engaged & married!

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary. No sex or onscreen violence. Except for a smattering of mild swear words (mostly "damn" or "damned"), it would count as a "clean read." The series is best read in order, but you wouldn't have to read the first 8 books in order to understand what was going on in this one.

My advance reader's copy came with the novella "A Cat Burglar" at the end, but I don't know whether the published version will or not.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Ghostly Light

A Ghostly Light (Haunted Home Renovation Mystery, #7)A Ghostly Light by Juliet Blackwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mel Turner specializes in renovating and restoring historic homes, particularly haunted ones. Her latest project is helping her friend Alicia turn an abandoned San Francisco Bay-area lighthouse into a B&B. It's going to take an enormous amount of money and logistical maneuvering, but things are right on schedule...until Alicia's abusive ex-husband appears on the island and is killed soon after. Since Alicia finds him at the top of the lighthouse with a knife in his chest and tries to help him just before he falls down the stairs and dies, she's Suspect #1. Mel knows Alicia is innocent and starts doing some investigating of her own to help the police uncover the real culprit.

Meanwhile, the ghost of a former lighthouse keeper, Ida Vigilance, is desperate to know what happened to her son over a century ago, and her grief is causing difficulty with the renovations, so Mel recruits her friends Luz and Trish to help her search for clues among historical records.

The latest installment in the Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series has it all: plot twists; characters you wish you knew in real life; funny, snappy dialogue; and a setting you can practically see and feel. Although you could read book #7 by itself, it's best read in order to fully appreciate the character development, particularly Mel & Landon's relationship and her recent-onset vertigo.

For readers' advisors: all four doorways are strong, particularly story and character. No sex or onscreen violence. Only an occasional mild swear word.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read an advance copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review. This is probably my favorite book in the series so far. Looking forward to #8 now!

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1939, twelve-year-old Rill Foss lives with her parents, three younger sisters, and a toddler brother in a ramshackle shantyboat on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee. All is well in their world until the stormy night when their father has to rush their mother to the hospital across the river in a frantic attempt to save both her and the twin babies she's struggling to bring into the world. The next morning, while Rill and the fifteen-year-old ward of their family friend are in charge, the police come and force the five siblings into a car, saying they are taking the children to visit their folks in the hospital. Rill knows this is a lie but is powerless to prevent her siblings from being kidnapped and taken to the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage where Rill, her sisters, and her brother are plunged into a nightmare of abuse and separation.

In present-day South Carolina, Avery Stafford is a privileged daughter of a prominent family, a successful attorney, and engaged to marry a lifelong friend. While home helping her father the senator get through a health crisis, an elderly woman in a nursing home mistakes her for someone else...and changes Avery's life forever. Buried family secrets lead Avery to question who she is and what she wants in her life.

Rill and Avery's stories are told in alternating chapters, urgent and riveting, their paths slowly converging in ways both inevitable and unexpected. Bittersweet, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful.

4.5 stars, but I'm rounding up because the .5 off is solely due to my incomprehension over why the present-day characters feel the past should remain a secret. Who cares if it becomes public knowledge that nearly 80 years ago children were kidnapped and sold to adoptive families? The perpetrators are long since dead, and the victims deserve to have their stories told. How would it harm the senator if people knew his mother had been one of those children? This makes no sense to me.

For readers' advisors: all four doorways are strong, especially character & story. In some ways it qualifies as a "clean read," but the subject matter might not be what readers are looking for if they ask for that. The novel is based on real-life events wherein Georgia Tann ran a Memphis-based adoption organization that elevated the perception of adoption and orphans while simultaneously ripping families apart as she coordinated the kidnapping and sale of impoverished children to wealthy families across the country from the 1920s to 1950. Thousands of children endured horrific abuse, and hundreds died (or were killed).

I do not recommend reading this novel at bedtime because you won't be able to put it down, and if you did manage to put it down, you'd lay awake thinking about it instead of sleeping. Or at least, that's what happened to me!

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read an advanced reader's copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review.

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