Monday, September 30, 2013

Mother, Mother, by Koren Zailckas

Sometimes, what looks like a picture perfect family is really a portrait of dysfunction.  Violet is your typical rebellious teenager.  As the middle child, she is stuck between an older sister who fled to freedom, and a younger brother who is diagnosed with autism.  And controlling the whole family situation is Mother.  What lengths will Mother go to, in order to keep the family in order?

This book is, in a word, explosive.  For anyone who has encountered a controlling, and mentally ill person, this book rings very true.  Particularly if you have encountered someone with borderline personality disorder.  I thought the mother, Josephine, was an incredibly character, the kind you love to hate.  And my heart just ached for Violet.  Yes, she is troubled, and yes, she does some things that are wrong, but the hurt and manipulation that she endures in unbelievable.

I thought the storyline was well developed.  There were several plot twists that I did not anticipate.  The author writes with a very honest style, one that speaks from places of deep pain and healing.  That is what lends so much depth to this book; you are certain there are parts of the author imbedded in the story.  Fans of psychological thrillers, suspense, and drama will all find something to love in this book.

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

  tlc logo resized

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, by Wendy Lower

Over the years, countless books have discussed various aspects of the Holocaust and World War II.  Yet a large portion of the story is continuously overlooked: the women involved.  Some women were involved at a low level, such as teachers and secretaries.  Others were more complicit, such as the nurses ordered to kill patients, or the wives of high ranking Nazi officers.  This book dissects the various ways women were involved with the Nazi killing machine, and why it was so rare that female transgressors were brought to justice.

This book was everything I hoped it would be.  It thoroughly covered an area of World War II history that has, for years, been ignored.  The glaring deficiency of historical analysis regarding the role of women in the Holocaust is, in my opinion, deliberate.  Seen as maternal figures, humanity does not want to explore the darker, baser motivations of women.  If we focus on men as criminal perpetrators of war crimes, we can dismiss them as brutish animals.  With women, however, we are forced to focus on the humanity of these criminals, and realize how close any of us can be to becoming perpetrators.

I found the book to be incredibly insightful.  It is clear that this book was well researched, a feat that must have been difficult when covering such a groundbreaking angle.  But the book is also written in a way that is engaging, providing real, personal stories as opposed to just dry historical fact.  I was fascinated by the book, and learned a great deal.  The book will appeal to fans of historical non-fiction, particularly those with an interest in the Holocaust.

I received  review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

She Can Scream, by Melinda Leigh

Brooke is forever haunted by the murder of her roommate sixteen years ago.  She has made it her goal to help teach women how to protect themselves.  After one of her classes, she hears a scream, and upon investigation she finds a woman being attacked.  She saves the girl, but the attacker decides to target Brooke next.  Luckily, a friend of the family, Luke, can help keep an eye on Brooke.  But perhaps he wants to do more than just keep an eye on her.

Apparently this book is part of a series, but it is the first I have read by this author, and it functions well as a stand alone book.  I really enjoyed the blending of mystery, suspense, and romance.  I thought it was well done, and made the book appealing to a wide variety of readers.

I particularly liked Luke and Brooke as characters.  I thought their back stories were interesting, and lended extra depth to them as characters.  I liked the sub-story of the two of them together as well.  I felt like they were helping each other heal from the past.

I particularly liked the sections of the book written from the attacker's point of view, and was surprised to learn his identity at the end.  

All in all I think this is a solid story, appealing to fans of thriller, mystery, crime, and romance.

I received a review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

Nat and Archy are best friends and proprietors of  a record story in the an area known as Brokeland, where Oakland and Berkley meet.  When an ex-NFL star announces plans to open a mega store nearby, the friends begin to worry that it will ruin their business.  At the same time, their wives are navigating rough waters with their midwife practice.  Add to that the fact that Nat's son Julie is in love with Archy's long lost lovechild, Titus, and you see that lives intersect in ways you never considered.

I have long been a fan of Michael Chabon, and I have to say, this is pretty representative of his work.  His style can be a little too long winded and florid for some readers, but his style is one of the things I like best about his work.  He uses very indirect language and really makes the reader work for the story, and I like that.  I would not like to read books like that all the time, but this made for a welcome change from the typical, trite, predictable contemporary novels.

The author also creates some very vivid characters, with their own distinct story arcs.  One of my favorite characters in the book is Gwen, Archy's pregnant wife.  She sort of gets a raw deal for a lot of the book, but she has tremendous heart, and I really respect her as a character.  I also thought the dynamic between the two sons was interesting, complex, and brave.  There are a lot of issues touched upon in this book: urban life, racism, misogyny, gentrification of neighborhoods, nostalgia.  This book is a real cornucopia of themes, leading to a rich story.

This is the kind of book that you need to read more than once to fully grasp it.  I have re-read several of Chabons books, several times each, and every time I find something new.  I cannot wait to see what I find when I re-read this one.

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

   tlc logo resized

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wait for You, by J. Lynn

Avery hopes that by moving from Texas to West Virginia for college, she will be escaping her troubled past.  She quickly makes a few close friends, including her handsome neighbor Cam, who persistently asks her out.  Avery is not ready to deal with her past, and as a result, she cannot form a relationship with Cam.  As time goes by, Avery is forced to face up to the truth of what she has been through, and what direction she wants her life to take.

I am not a big fan of romance novels, so I went into this with low expectations.  I thought, there is no way a romance novel focusing on college kids is ever going to entertain me.  Boy, was I dead wrong.  I absolutely loved this book.  I started reading it at 8:30 last night, and could not put it down; I stayed up until 1:30 so I could finish it.  It totally sucked me in.  I think what hooked me was the great character development.  I really felt for Avery a lot, even before I knew her full story.  And Cam, well, he is the kind of character that gives single women hope.  He is wonderful, but not perfect, so he helps reinforce realistic expectations.  And their story is also not, perfect, there are bumps along the way.  

In my opinion, the story just felt real.  It sounded like real college kids talking, they acted like real college kids, the problems were realistic.  It just seemed very believable and relatable.

I also liked the way the sexuality was handled in the book.  It was sexy, but not trashy, and unlike most romance novels, there actually was some romance to the whole thing.

All in all a great book that fans of romance will be sure to love.

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

 tlc logo resized

Monday, September 16, 2013

Early Decision, by Lacy Crawford

Anne has an interesting job; she helps children from wealthy families get into college.  She helps groom them, polish their essays, and match them with suitable and realistic college choices.  She makes sure all applications are submitted on time, and then waits for the praise when the acceptance letters roll in.  But this can be a very delicate business, balancing the desires of the child with the desires of the bill paying parents.  Along the way, Anne realizes she had provided guidance to everyone but herself.

This book was a tough one to review.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the author;s writing style.  My own experience working in the field of higher education leads me to believe this is a frighteningly accurate portrayal of what the elite kids go through.  Often times the writing was wry and witty, heartbreaking and poignant, and overall the book serves as a decent introduction to life in the real world for teens.

However, I thought that the book smacked of white privilege and cynical snobbery.  The kids in the book, for the most part, are kind of one dimensional, and, along with their parents, sort of unlikable.  The majority of college students in the country do not deal with these situations, so it makes it hard for the everyday reader to relate.  I thought most of the characters were whiny, spoiled, and vapid.  The one "real" character is more of a caricature, someone on the opposite extreme; poor, minority, immigrant.  Do I know that these situations exist for elite families?  Sure.  But in no way do I have sympathy for these entitled offspring.

I think this author shows a lot of promise; the subject matter just struck a sour chord with me.

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

  tlc logo resized

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Human Remains, by Elizabeth Haynes

Annabel lives a quiet life, but not one she would particularly call lonely.   Lonely would be more like her neighbor, whose decaying body Annabel discovers.  This prompts Annabel to lead an investigation into similar cases of deceased people who have gone undiscovered for some time, a phenomena which had taken a disturbing uptick in her part of town.  When she suffers a tremendous personal loss, her life feels empty, and she becomes a perfect target for monster prowling on these lonely people.

Whew, this book is dark.  I mean, really dark.  But I really loved it.  I found it unique in so many ways.  First off, we learn relatively quickly who the bad guy is.  Sure, it does take a little while to get there, but is is not exactly a mystery.  Yet, somehow, that added to the thrill for me, knowing who this person was, watching their every evil move, and waiting to see if they would get caught.

I also thought the character development was unique.  Sure, the main characters are richly developed, and fleshed out completely, making them real to the reader.  But I loved that many of the victims are well developed in quite short amounts of time.  This made me empathize with and care about them more than I would have expected.

Having read the two previous books by this author, I knew, at least I thought I did, what to expect, in terms of tone and imagery within the writing.  Yet this was much darker that those previous two books.  I was sucked in from the very first pages.  This is a thriller unlike any I have ever read before.  I was disgusted and enthralled all at the same time.  Brilliantly done.

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

  tlc logo resized

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mystery Girl, by David Gordon

Sam finds himself in a pit of failure- his marriage, his job, his writing.  In an attempt to win back his wife, and perhaps some self respect, he takes a job as an assistant detective, following around a mysterious woman.  He begins to finds himself not just intrigued, but also a bit enamored with the woman, and as a result gets pulled into a bizarre world.

I really struggled with this book.  There were so many things about it that were appealing.  The new take on pulpy noir writing certainly jumped out at me.  I am a fan of noir, even when it gets a little campy, so I liked the idea that the story has a nice shadowy edge to it.  And the characters are really well developed, particularly Sam.  I felt like we were really able to tap into his feelings.  The characters had depth and dimension, and I thought the writing itself was interesting.

Where I seemed to struggle was the organization and flow of the plot.  I felt like the rhythm of the story changed part way through the book.  There were so many strange things going on throughout the story, and I never really felt like I got good resolution on all of them.  The resolutions we do get felt a little forced, or rushed maybe.  All I know is, in the end, I was left a little unsatisfied.

I think this book will appeal to fans of noir crime writing, and fans of dark mysteries.  

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

 tlc logo resized

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Swimming in the Moon, by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Lucia was born in Naples, to a serving girl named Teresa.  As Lucian grew, she came to realize that her mother had terrible fits of anger.  During one of these fits, Teresa does something that causes the pair of them to need to hide.  Lucia suggests they travel to America.  Once in their new country, Teresa transforms herself into a vaudeville singer, while Lucia studies in an American high school.  But Teresa's episodes continue to get worse, and eventually Lucia's life is changed once again by her mother.

Set against the backdrop of early 20th century Cleveland, this book examines the reality of immigrant life, as well as the early stirrings of labor rights and suffragism.  As the story begins to unfold, we learn of the history of Lucia and Teresa in Naples.  The scene is set so brilliantly, I swear I could see the ocean out of the corner of my eye as I read.  When the setting changes to industrial Cleveland, once again the writing is so vivid, I felt as if I was there.  Very rarely have I encountered a book that so thoroughly captured two such different storyworlds, showing beauty in the most unusual ways.  That alone was enough to make me adore this book.

However, the glorious writing does not end with setting the scene; we are also delivered very rich, complex characters in each setting.  While our two main characters, Lucia and Teresa, written in such a heartbreaking and lovely way, are the major focus of the story, there are several groups of supporting characters that sparkle as well.  The author did a wonderful job of capturing the struggle of different immigrant groups, as well as the tenuous labor situation of the time.  Also, the topics of mental illness and institutionalization are deftly covered within the story.  I felt like the book played out in my mind as a movie would, it was that vivid. 

I think fans of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy this truly wonderful novel.

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

  tlc logo resized