Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Driving Lessons, by Zoe Fishman

Sarah has spent years living in New York City, to the point where the city has become a part of her identity.  When her husband, Josh, takes a job in Virginia, she is faced with leaving everything she knows, and trying to find her true self.  Along the way, she is forced to confront her fears, examine her relationships, and help two other women in her life adjust to their own new realities.

I love a book about female characters who are lovably flawed, in ways with which I can fully relate.  As a woman the same age as Sarah, I found myself totally understanding her fears about her identity, both as a career woman, and as a woman contemplating motherhood.  I love that the three women in the book basically start out on somewhat similar paths, and find their journeys vastly different, yet interwoven and compatible.  It helped me see the irony in everyday situations.

I really loved Sarah as a character.  I thought she was well developed, and very likable, even in her slightly less likable moments.  She possesses a sweetness of spirit that I found refreshing.  Typically, sweet characters appear naive, but Sarah is not.  She is simply good, yet still flawed.  I really adored her compassion to her friend dealing with a crisis; the scenes between Sarah and Mona, the friend, are very tender in their own mildly acerbic way.  

This is a good book about female identity, relationships, independence, and interconnectedness.  I really loved it, and would recommend it to readers fond of books focusing on female characters which out being overt chick lit.  This should be on a lot of summer reading lists.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home, by Hazel Gaynor

Maggie Murphy is leaving everything she loves behind in her small town in Ireland.  She leaves her friends, her home, and her love Seamus, to travel to America on the Titanic.  We all know that tragedies befell the passengers of that ship, but we learn that Maggie survived, and many years later shares the story with her great granddaughter.

I am fascinated by the stories of the Titanic.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have lived at the time when this happened.  I cannot imagine how it would have felt as the nation mourned this tragedy.  As someone who has enjoyed other books and movies on the topic, I felt certain I would enjoy this book.  And I did, though it was uncertain for a while.

The book starts off with excellent character development of Maggie.  We learn her backstory, and why she is reluctant to read.  We also get to know some other minor characters from the past, as well as some characters from the future.  The thing that put me off, just the slightest bit, was the amount of narrative switching, between past, present, letter, journals, telegrams, and different characters.  It all got to be too much.  I was glad when things straightened out a little more, and there were less narrative devices and voices.

I think the story was an excellent concept, and the writing was mostly solid.  I just think the execution of the book was a just a tiny bit clumsy.  I am all for historical accuracy, but I could have done without a lot of the historical telegrams and such that really played no part in the story.  Had the story focused more on the actual boat and all its passengers and crew, this would have been necessary.  However, since it was mostly just about Maggie, it did not make sense to include those things.  Again, just too many different narrative devices; it chopped up the flow of the text.

In general, however, I found the book interesting.  I think it will appeal to fans of historical fiction, particularly readers looking for a nice, sweet romance story.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Black Chalk, by Christopher J. Yates

A group of students at Oxford create a complicated game that forces them into uncomfortable situations.  6 students begin the game, only 5 survive it, and only 1 can win it.  As the game's intensity progresses, it takes a toll on the players' education, friendships, and in at least one instance, sanity.  Is there really any way to actually win this game?

This book had be hooked from the very beginning.  There was something incredibly original in this storyline.  I thought the plot was well thought out, terribly clever, and totally riveting.  We meet the players one by one, and while they are well developed, they do not surrender all their secrets immediately.  By the time I realized the tricky nature of the narrative, I was certain that this book was going to take me places I did not expect.  That is a quality I admire in a thriller, and this one delivered on all its promises.

The nature of the writing is luxurious and extravagant.  Yates knows how to turn a phrase in a way seldom seen in contemporary writing.  The writing is smart, without being pretentious.  In short, this book surpassed all my expectations in those most wonderful ways.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley

Stella grows up in post-WWII England.  She lives through the tumult of the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Along the way she falls in love a few times, makes friends, becomes a mother, works a variety of jobs, and pursues her education.

I have to say I found this book terribly boring.  It started off strong, when Stella was a child being raised by a single mother.  The anecdotal stories from her youth were engaging, and in their own ways, beautiful.  All of this changes when Stella's mother remarries, and Stella develops into a bit of a brat.  She begins acting out and rebelling, and ends up, quite predictably, in trouble.

The rest of the book is so unremarkable.  It simple outlines the remainder of Stella's life, all the poor decisions she makes, the few redeeming choices she has, and basically a summary of an dull, ordinary life.  I found myself wholly unable to care about Stella as a character.  She seemed flat and undeveloped from a literary character standpoint.  The plot was also very plain, and nothing about it grabbed my attention in the least.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

The Deepest Secret, by Carla Buckley

Eve's son Tyler has a deadly condition.  Any contact with sunlight could literally kill Tyler.  As a result, Eve's family has learned to survive in a somewhat locked down existence.  Air tight and light tight rooms, Tyler only leaving the house at night.  But the strain has gotten worse as Tyler has gotten older.  Now his sister is acting out, his dad works out of town, and Eve has just about reached her limit.  When a tragedy occurs, the very existence of this family's situation is held in delicate balance.

This book?  Explosive.  This is not just your run of the mill thriller.  I mean, sure, there is the typical aspects of a thriller, with a crime being committed and consequently covered up.  But the aspect of Tyler's rare medical condition literally casts shade over the entire story.  And as we all know, everything looks spookier in the shadows.  

I thought the character development was superb in this story.  Eve and Tyler have a very complex relationship, one that totally dominates the family situation.  Eve really tugs on your heartstrings, you see the desperation in her, the extreme love she feels for her son.  And Tyler is absolutely smothered, between his condition and her love.  

I particularly like the aspect of the book that details Tyler's nighttime treks around the community.  In the dark, Tyler sees that everyone has secrets, and he alone is privy to them.  It makes the book so much more interesting, knowing that there are layers upon layers of mystery.  It made this one of the most intriguing thrillers I have read in years.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Fixer, by T. E. Woods

Lydia is a successful psychologist. She begins treating a mysterious new client, a woman named Savannah. Savannah is a tough nut to crack, playing by her own rules and making enigmatic statements about people in her life getting hurt. Savannah has put up walls of steel to protect herself, and Lydia wonders if she will be able to break through them enough to do any good for her client. It becomes apparent that Savannah feels responsible for some recent murders, so Lydia joins forces with the detectives to learn the truth, when nothing is as it seems.

I thought this was a pretty fantastic novel. I like a good crime thriller, particularly one that keeps me guessing, as this one did. I really enjoyed the development of the characters Lydia and Savannah. I did not anticipate the direction the book was going to take, in regards to their characters. I liked that the focus of the book was on strong women taking control, even if their methods were highly illegal.

The writing was sharp, and kept me glued to the pages. I thought the plot was solid, and the ending was a real shocker. The story took just the right amount of twists and turns to keep me guessing, without seeming confusing. The only thing I thought lacked a slight bit of credibility was the detective allowing Lydia to get so involved in the case without him questioning it more from the beginning. But, readers are willing to suspend disbelief when the story is good enough, and in this case, it certainly was good enough.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Isolation Door, by Anish Majumdar

Neil has grown up with the chaos of a schizophrenic mother.  His father becomes her primary caretaker, but to some degree he is in denial of the severity of his wife's condition.  Neil longs to break free of this chaos, and start his own life.  He sees education and an acting career as his escape.  As he begins to develop his own life, a life full of friendships and love, he realizes that all life is chaotic, and everyone has their own issues.

This novel feels so melancholy to me, and in a way, there is a beauty to that.  I felt like the story must have been somewhat autobiographical; there was just too much sadness and heartfelt emotion in it to simply be fiction.  I think that feeling leaps from the page.  Similarly, I feel like the characters, particularly of Neil and his parents, are so realistic, they must be based in truth.

Mental illness is just now starting to be less of a taboo topic.  We are hearing more and more prominent people talk about various mental health issues.  What we still do not hear much of are the voices of the family members.  Often, loved ones can become as much a casualty to one's mental health issues as the sufferer him or herself.  So, regardless of whether this is pure fiction or based in the author's own experiences, I am glad to see a book accurately portraying life as an adult child of a schizophrenic parent.  Honest, realistic books like this will help to continue to reduce the taboo of frank mental health discussions.  

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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