Reviews

Book Review: Beautiful Animals

Beautiful Animals: A Novel,

by Lawrence Osborne

Publication: Hogarth; July 18, 2017

beautanimalsAbout the book: 

On a hike during a white-hot summer break on the Greek island of Hydra, Naomi and Samantha make a startling discovery: a man named Faoud, sleeping heavily, exposed to the elements, but still alive. Naomi, the daughter of a wealthy British art collector who has owned a villa in the exclusive hills for decades, convinces Sam, a younger American girl on vacation with her family, to help this stranger. As the two women learn more about the man, a migrant from Syria and a casualty of the crisis raging across the Aegean Sea, their own burgeoning friendship intensifies. But when their seemingly simple plan to help Faoud unravels all must face the horrific consequences they have set in motion.

In this brilliant psychological study of manipulation and greed, Lawrence Osborne explores the dark heart of friendship and shows just how often the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions.

My Review:

Who, What, When, etc.

Beautiful Animals is a novel about a young woman named Naomi while vacationing with her father and stepmother at their summer home in Greece. Naomi is in her twenties, finished law school, but has already had an unsuccessful career. Naomi has a strained, yet somewhat affectionate relationship with her wealthy, art collector father and has a very cold and distant relationship with her stepmother. 

Samantha (Sam) is also a young woman vacationing on the Greek island of Hydra, a few years younger than Naomi and with a more close-knit family. Although also from a very wealthy family, Sam is much more naive and innocent than Naomi, thus beginning an interesting friendship. 

During a day excursion on Naomi’s family’s yacht, Naomi and Sam discover a man on the far end of the island, sleeping, and obviously injured. After some time they realize he is there illegally from Syria, but without him providing much detail regarding his circumstances. They decide they want to help him and the young women continue bringing him supplies, helping him with private places to stay, and eventually provide him with means to a great deal of wealth without truly considering the consequences. 

Thoughts & Reactions

Occasionally I will look at reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. prior to writing my review, simply because I wonder if a particular reaction is just me, or if others have felt the same. Beautiful Animals is one that I did look at other reviews prior to writing this, but it appears as if the things I enjoyed, most others didn’t, and vice versa. 

Let me start with the actual writing. Lawrence Osborne has crafted a beautiful novel. This is one of those novels that while reading, you feel as if you are floating on some perfect cloud of perfect imagery, description, and dialogue. This is masterful writing that requires thinking and feeling on your part as a reader. Moreover, I cannot imagine how anyone could read this book without developing overwhelming wanderlust. The descriptions of the landscape, food, alcohol, people, etc. have solidified my desire and need to visit Greece (and Italy).

Similar to an issue I had recently with another novel, there was not one character in this novel that I liked, or even respected for that matter. Naomi has lived an overly privileged life, with the exception of the death of her mother when Naomi was a teenager. Living in London with family homes in Italy and Greece, Naomi has been sheltered and spoiled beyond belief, although she was also extremely intelligent and independent. Her father Jimmie and her stepmother Phaine were basically narcissistic, alcoholic social climbers with even fewer redeeming qualities than Naomi. 

Sam and her family were wealthy New Yorkers, but much less pretentious than Naomi’s family. There were several references to Sam playing Scrabble with her father or going to the beach with her mother – things that would never have occurred with Naomi’s family. Remaining characters included the angry and diabolical maid Carissa, Faoed the illegal young man from Syria, and Jimmie’s friend and odd, secretive business partner Rockhold. All of them had equally unpleasant characteristics. 

Regarding the overall plot of the novel, I found it unique, engaging, and interesting. This wasn’t the best novel for me to take along on a weekend camping trip, but I did find myself captivated and unable to put it down. This wasn’t just a “rich girl helping a refugee story,”  but something much more complex about people in general. Why are people willing to risk so much for a stranger? Why do some people feel compelled to put their own family at risk for a cause? What has happened in a person’s life to make them completely numb to consequences of one’s behavior?

As always, I don’t want to give spoilers, but this novel is a shining example of a wealthy, spoiled woman that feels so entitled she is unable to look beyond herself. Naomi frequently plays the “I had a bad parent card” throughout the novel as a justification to herself and others, but it did nothing to inspire me to be more tolerant of her. 

Recommendations

Readers that enjoy higher-level writing that is thought-provoking (both good and bad), should enjoy and respect this novel. I loved the writing, as well as, the overall plot idea. However, if you need to make a connection with a particular character in order to enjoy a novel, Beautiful Animals is not the book for you. 

*Thanks to Blogging for Books for this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Purchase Beautiful Animals on Amazon!

Learn more about Lawrence Osborne by visiting his web page.

Reviews

Book Review: The Party

The Party, by Elizabeth Day

Publication: Little, Brown & Company; August 15, 2017

the partyAbout the book:

A taut psychological tale of obsession and betrayal set over the course of a dinner party, THE PARTY tells the story of two married couples who, in a single evening, will come to question everything they thought they knew about each other, as the long-buried secret at the heart of their friendship comes to the surface, culminating in an explosive act of violence.

Ben, who hails from old money, and Martin, who grew up poor but is slowly carving out a successful career as an art critic, have been inseparable since childhood. Ben’s wife Serena likes to jokingly refer to Martin as Ben’s dutiful Little Shadow.

Lucy is a devoted wife to Martin, even as she knows she’ll always be second best to his sacred friendship. When Ben throws a lavish 40th birthday party as his new palatial country home, Martin and Lucy attend, mixing with the very upper echelons of London society.

But why, the next morning, is Martin in a police station being interviewed about the events of last night? Why is Lucy being forced to answer questions about his husband and his past? What exactly happened at the party? And what has bound these two very different men together for so many years?

A cleverly built tour of intrigue, THE PARTY reads like a novelistic board game of Clue, taking us through the various half-truths and lies its characters weave, as the past and present collide in a way that its protagonists could never have anticipated.

My Review:

Who, What, When, etc.

Martin and his wife Lucy are invited to Martin’s best friend’s (Ben) 40th birthday party. Ben and his wife Serena have an amazing, sprawling home they purchased from monks, with more than enough room to host Martin and Lucy for the night, however, they are not invited to stay over and have to book a sub-par hotel. 

Shifting between the 1980’s to the present, the novel outlines Martin’s childhood, his attendance at a boarding school where he met Ben, through college, into adulthood. However, early in the novel, Martin is in the police station being questioned about Ben’s 40th birthday party and what happened. 

Thoughts and Reactions

If you have read The Dinner, by Herman Koch, chances are you already know the overall makeup of this novel. Don’t get me wrong, Elizabeth Day’s writing was impeccable, beautiful, and eloquent. However, I couldn’t get past the deja vu and the feeling that I had already read this story, just with different age groups and circumstances. 

There are several themes and issues in this novel including the power of family money, entitlement, struggling with sexual identity, mental illness, and so on. Very early in the novel, it is clear that there is something a little off about Martin. Although intelligent and creative, there’s this inner obsession that devours him, keeping him from leading a normal, healthy life. 

The time periods flip-flop throughout the novel between Martin and Ben growing into adulthood, the party, and after the party. During these shifts between time, it becomes evident that all of the involved parties are completely insane. Martin, his wife Lucy, Ben, his wife Serena, Ben’s family, and so on. There is a complete disconnect between these characters and any possible resemblance of moral compass. 

The plot and character development were satisfyingly complex, however, I struggled to connect, like, or even tolerate any of the characters in this novel. Each and every character was either self-absorbed, trying too hard to be different, or putting on a show of who they should be, rather than, who they really were. This was truly the most pretentious gathering of characters that I have ever seen, and I’m not sure it added to the novel in any way. 

This is another novel that is difficult to adequately review without spoilers, but I will leave you with these thoughts. The writing, once again, is impeccable. However, given that I was unable to connect with any of the characters and there were times the story seemed to drag, I can’t, in good faith, recommend this novel. Although, if by chance you are a fan of Herman Koch’s The Dinner, this novel will completely float your boat.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Pre-Order The Party on Amazon

Reviews

Book Review: The Heirs

The Heirs: A Novel, by Susan Rieger

Publication: Crown; May 23, 2017

heirsAbout the book: 

Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him.  The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him.  In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure.

Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together — Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm — and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.

A riveting portrait of a family told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century.

My Review:

Who, What, Where, When

The Heirs, by Susan Rieger, is her latest novel about a wealthy family in New York City, the Falkes. Rupert Falkes has recently passed away leaving his wife Eleanor and five sons: Harry, Will, Sam, Jack, and Tom. 

Rupert is from England, raised in an orphanage by a Reverand Falkes, but never knew his biological family. Basically a self-made man, he went to Yale Law School and went on to be extremely successful in his career. His marriage to Eleanor was pleasant and happy, but only included affection in the bedroom. He loved his sons but again was not affectionate. 

Eleanor loved raising her five boys and was a good parent despite being raised by a very cold and unaffectionate mother. Her first love was Jim Cardozo, but their marriage was forbidden due to differing religions.

A few months after Rupert’s death, Eleanor receives notice from her attorneys that the estate is being sued by Vera Wolinski, claiming that Rupert had fathered her two sons and financially supported them while they were growing up. 

Thoughts and Reactions

The Heirs was a unique and beautifully written novel. Overall, it read more like a family case study than a fiction novel but was absolutely fascinating. The novel flashed back between the past and present allowing the reader to get to know Rupert prior to his death. The switch in time also provided further insight and Rupert and Eleanor’s life prior to meeting one another. 

The five sons were interesting in that they were so incredibly different in some ways, yet so strongly bound together in other ways. They all want to Princeton after Harry enrolled there and they all became successful in various ways in their careers. While growing up, they noticed a lack of physical affection between Rupert and Eleanor but never suspected any problems or unhappiness in their parents’ marriage. 

The reactions to Vera Wolinski and her sons varied throughout the family, however, it ranged from curiosity to anger, especially towards Eleanor. Perhaps their mother’s own solemn, calm reaction to the allegations sparked the anger, but regardless, Susan Rieger depicted a once picture perfect family suddenly start to realize their own immortality and their own abilities to make mistakes, fail, and feel regrets. 

The Heirs most certainly not an action-packed read, as I stated earlier, it is more of a reflection and history of a family. It serves as a reminder that everything is not always as it seems, despite years of stability and routine. Especially with Eleanor and her sons, it also serves as a reminder of the secrets we keep as women, daughters, parents, husbands, sons, and so on. Eleanor’s life may not have played out exactly as she had wished, but she enjoyed her life and created her own happiness. It wasn’t until her sons started asking personal questions about her and Rupert’s life together, that they realized that they may not always want to hear the answers. 

I liked Eleanor and Rupert’s characters, especially their back stories about their upbringing, but otherwise, there weren’t any other particularly likable characters. Perhaps Edward, Eleanor’s father, but otherwise, I felt no positive connection with any of the sons while reading. 

Again, the writing and imagery in The Heirs were outstanding and I am glad that I read it, however, there are not any life-changing moments in the novel. What made this novel good and in my mind, stand out among other novels, was the characterization of Eleanor and Rupert and their contentedness in their lives. 

*Many thanks to Blogging for Books for providing this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase The Heirs on Amazon!

Reviews

Book Review: Pipeliner

PIPELINER, BY SHAWN HARTJE

PUBLICATION: HELEN SPRINGS PRESS; NOVEMBER 30, 2016

pipelinerAbout the book:

For seventeen-year-old Jason Krabb, high school life in 1990s Idaho is a world of cargo shorts, cassette tapes, and junk food. Plagued equally by algebra and puberty, Jason sets out to find a girlfriend and become a rock guitarist. His quest is irreversibly jolted when he attends a bonfire and meets an alluring girl from the other side of town and a ragtag crew who are bringing gas lines through the desert in order to keep the lights on in Portland and Seattle, places where Jason hopes to find his nirvana as a guitarist.

Meanwhile, things deteriorate at home. Jason’s pediatrician mom, Leah, sadly faces the twilight of her parenting years while his father, Curtis, contends with the enormity of running a big ticket research laboratory and coming to terms with his son’s wayward path.

Pipeliner is at once a coming of age love story and a comical time stamp of early 90s family life. Set in the fictional Idaho town of Helen Springs, pop. 58,000, its characters are as vibrant as the lofty peaks and purple sunsets of the high desert. Here we find rich farmers, poor ranchers, dutiful Mormons, government honchos, disgruntled vets, drug-dealing bruisers, irksome teachers, and spirited students, all doing their best to keep the lights on.

My Review:

Who, what, where, and when:

Set in the 1990’s in Idaho, the main character is 17-year-old Jason Krabb. Jason wants to be a famous musician in Seattle or Portland, is struggling with Algebra, struggling with parental rules, and looking for a good time. The novel begins near the end of his junior year in high school and Jason is torn between going to work as a pipeliner or going back to complete his senior year in the fall. Jason lives in an upscale neighborhood with his Pediatrician mother, Leah and his researcher father, Curtis.

There is also an older brother, Robert, that arrives home from Princeton from his summer break and, much to his parents’ displeasure, is still undecided in his major and still in love with his Mormon girlfriend Mindy. 

There are numerous friends, family members, and teachers that are a part of the novel, but most significant to Jason is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks named Betsy and her sister’s boyfriend/pipeliner named Allen. 

Thoughts on the novel:

One of the greatest things about this novel was the time period and mention of several of my favorite music from that time (I graduated HS in 1993). Stone Temple Pilots, The Spin Doctors, Metallica, Sublime, and so on… Ahhh, I loved that music. 

Regarding writing style, Shawn Hartje’s writing is similar to that of a much more seasoned author. His word usage, dialogue, and descriptions were spectacular, getting his point across while also leaving things up to the readers’ imagination. 

Jason was such a complex and developed character. Granted, he was still an average teenage boy from that era, but the author painted such an in-depth picture of Jason that I felt like he was my own son by the time I finished reading. Well, that, or like tons of people that I knew in high school, lol. He wanted freedom, he wanted to party with his friends, he wanted to lose his virginity, he wanted to experiment with drugs, but most of all, he wanted to play guitar, sing, and write lyrics. His inner conflict over numerous situations was so real and the way he was sort of stumbling into adulthood was very relatable. 

I certainly identified with Jason’s mom as she struggled to accept his impending adulthood and his thirst for freedom without any real goals or objectives. Considering my baby goes off to college this fall, I know how it can tug at your heart watching them grow up. Couple that with her desire for Robert to come out of his shell and meet some new girls, Leah spent a lot of time frustrated in the novel. 

When Jason met Betsy she seemed so cool and mysterious to him and he was instantly hooked. However, as the novel progressed, the fragility of her home life became evident, as did the fact that Betsy was confused and lost.

Pipeliner is a funny and at times, disturbing novel about a young man trying to find his way in the world. Jason made several mistakes throughout the story but also had several victories. Which, isn’t that what that time of our life is for? You screw up, learn from it, and hopefully, over time stop repeating the same mistakes. Whether as a parent or a young adult yourself, I think any reader could find several things to identify with while reading this novel. This was a wonderful read from a very talented writer. 

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

Purchase Pipeliner on Amazon!

 

Reviews

Book Review: The Address

THE ADDRESS: A NOVEL, BY FIONA DAVIS

PUBLICATION: DUTTON; AUGUST 1, 2017

addressAbout the book: 

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else…and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a mad woman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

 

My Review:

I’m very excited today to bring you my review of Fiona Davis’ upcoming novel, The Address. This novel is set in the 1880’s with Sara and the 1980’s with Bailey, both of which have a connection to the famed Dakota Apartment Building, just in different time periods.  

Who, What, When, and Where:

In 1884, Sara was working as the executive housekeeper in a beautiful London hotel when she meets the Camden family.  Theodore Camden was one of the architects for the new Dakota in New York City and after Sara is such a help to his wife and children, he persuades her to come to New York to live and work at the Dakota. However, upon her arrival, she learns she will be operations manager (managerette, as they say in the novel), and finds herself struggling at first, but slowly learning the ropes. 

Fast forward to 1985 and to Bailey Camden. Bailey’s cousin Melinda is one of two heirs to the Camden fortune and is in need of someone to handle renovations and remodeling of the Dakota. Bailey has just left rehab and lost her job as an interior designer, so she accepts Melinda’s offer to live at the Dakota and oversee the changes to the interior. Bailey disagrees with her cousin’s vision but she needs a job and a roof over her head. 

It is known that an employee of the Dakota, Sara Smythe, killed Theodore Camden in his apartment in 1885, but it’s not until Bailey starts clearing out a storage area that she starts seeing several connections between Theodore and Sarah, other than the fact that she murdered him. 

Thoughts and Reaction:

Let me begin by saying that this was a brilliant, amazing novel. I don’t always love historical fiction, but The Address was wonderful. It started out slow for me and I honestly struggled with whether to continue on, which is proof that I should always finish what I’m reading. I was very quickly interested in Sara’s story, but Bailey really had to grow on me. Her partying days of booze and cocaine were gone, she had no job, no money, and quite honestly, irritated me with her woe is me attitude and jealousy of Melinda. However, as the novel progressed, I disliked her less and less because of her patience, intellect, and ease with most people. I never learned to like her, but that’s o.k.

Sara quickly earned my respect and I found her a fascinating character for the time period. Her professional success was one thing, but taking off to the United States all alone for a new job and new life was impressive for 1884. Although a stern manager, she also had a quiet kindness about her and would not hesitate to help anyone in need. Alas, in all great dramas, once Sara is living and working at the Dakota, she made some decisions that would change her life forever. Of course, I can’t go into those decisions without giving spoilers, but Sara faced several new challenges which were far worse than simply moving from London on her own. 

Although historical fiction, The Address is a creative blend of fact and fiction. The Dakota is a real building imagined and built in the 1880’s by Henry Hardenbergh and Edward Clark. There is also mention of a journalist named Nellie that goes undercover in the asylum on Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island. Davis also accessed and utilized names of actual tenants at the time the Dakota opened. There are more facts blended into fiction, but of course, Theodore and Sara’s fantastic story is all fiction.

Again, this started slowly for me, but it was well worth pressing onward because it resulted in me devouring this novel. After reading, it also led me to a few hours of internet searches regarding the Dakota and its endless list of famous residents, Blackwell’s Island, the architects of the project, and so on. I’m kind of nerdy that way, but it happens. Don’t be afraid of the one hundred year time difference between Sara and Bailey because it flows together seamlessly. The imagery, characterization, and realism make for a gem of a novel. I highly recommend this to any fiction lover, but especially fans of historical fiction and fiction with a surprising twist.

*Special thanks to First to Read for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Pre-Order The Address on Amazon!

Learn more about Fiona Davis by visiting her web site.

Reviews

Review: The Bookshop at Water’s End

THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER’S END, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

PUBLICATION: BERKLEY; JULY 11, 2017

bookshopAbout the book: The women who spent their childhood summers in a small southern town discover it harbors secrets as lush as the marshes that surround it…

Bonny Blankenship’s most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey’s mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide.

My Review:

I’m so happy to bring you my review of Patti Callahan Henry’s upcoming novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End. This was such a beautiful novel full of sadness, happiness, closure, and new beginnings. 

Bonny is a successful ER doctor, in a loveless marriage, and makes a horrible mistake one hectic night while on duty. Needing to take some time for herself, she heads to her family’s cottage in Watersend, SC. Piper, Bonny’s twenty-year-old daughter comes along reluctantly after a string of troubles and her boyfriend heading to Europe with another girl. Bonny also convinces her best friend Lainey and her children to join them at the river house for vacation, although Lainey doesn’t want to return to the place with such horrible memories. 

Bonny and Lainey were the best of friends when they visited the house in Watersend as children. Lainey’s older brother Owen was typically with them, resulting in his becoming Bonny’s first love. Now that they are adults, Bonny and Owen have stayed in touch throughout the years, expressing their affections, however, Bonny has been busy with her career, her daughter, and stuck in an unhappy marriage. Owen, on the other hand, has been living a life of adventure traveling from one place to the next – but never settling down. Lainey still tries to locate her mother, wondering if she is dead or alive, and constantly misses her brother, wondering why he won’t answer and/or return her calls, longing to re-connect with her only family. Immediately, the bond between Bonny and Lainey was evident, although, it didn’t take long to notice the strain between them, which was Owen. 

Piper has made some not unusual teenage/young adult mistakes including failing out of school, drinking, etc. She starts her summer at Watersend miserable about her boyfriend leaving the country with another girl, but quickly finds her own niche in Mimi’s bookshop. She also meets a handsome and incredibly kind young man, Fletch, who she finds herself quickly drawn to. Most surprisingly is Piper’s relationship with Lainey’s young children George and Daisy. Where Piper initially dreaded having to help take care of them for the summer, she quickly bonds with the young children and enjoys their time together. 

This novel portrays three very different women facing very different challenges in their lives, yet there is still a strong bond between them. They have good days and bad days, hurt each other and pick the other up when needed. The author demonstrates that no matter what age, profession, marital status, etc., we all face challenges stemming from our pasts and what to do with our futures. They each were holding onto good things and painful things in their lives, as well as, trying to figure out meaning and purpose in their lives. 

Patti Callahan Henry’s writing was beautiful and flawless as always, prompting me to re-read several lines while reading simply because the words touched me. The novel touches on love, friendship, fear, regret, guilt, and hope. It reminded me that sometimes we choose our family or they choose us, and there is no one meaning of happiness. Various times throughout the novel, particularly related to Lainey and her mother that disappeared, the author references part of a poem which fit perfectly into this novel:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
(taken from Mary Oliver’s, “Wild Geese“)

The beauty of that verse from the poem is that it applied to everyone in the novel, as well as, to so many people in our own lives.

The Bookshop at Water’s End is absolutely one of the best novels that I have read. It embodies so much emotion and experience that it’s impossible not to reflect on your own life after reading. I cannot recommend this one enough, and it releases July 11. 

*Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Learn more about Patti Callahan Henry by visiting her web page. 

Pre-Order The Bookshop at Water’s End on Amazon!

Reviews

Book Review: Conversations with Friends

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS, BY SALLY ROONEY

PUBLICATION: HOGARTH; JULY 11, 2017

conversationsAbout the book: 

Frances is a cool-headed and darkly observant young woman, vaguely pursuing a career in writing while studying in Dublin. Her best friend and comrade-in-arms is the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi. At a local poetry performance one night, Frances and Bobbi catch the eye of Melissa, a well-known photographer, and as the girls are then gradually drawn into Melissa’s world, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband, Nick. However amusing and ironic Frances and Nick’s flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy, and Frances’s friendship with Bobbi begins to fracture. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally, terribly, with Bobbi.
 
Desperate to reconcile her inner life to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment. Written with gem-like precision and marked by a sly sense of humor, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship.

My Review:

Readers, if you have not yet discovered new author Sally Rooney, this is an author to watch. I just finished her novel Conversations with Friends and am so full of thoughts I’m not sure where to begin!

Main character, Frances is a twenty-one-year-old student, poet, and intern at a literary agency in Dublin. She does live readings of her poetry with her best friend and former girlfriend Bobbi, where one night they meet a well-known photographer, Melissa. After Melissa invites them home with her for drinks, the evening continues with discussions of art, literature, photography, and politics. Frances and Bobbi meet Melissa’s husband, the actor Nick Conway, and Melissa snaps several pictures of the young women as they drink and talk well into the early morning hours. Thus begins a friendship of sorts between the four of them, where Bobbi is drawn more and more into Melissa’s world and Frances finds herself attracted to Nick. Relationships between the four adults develop, diminish, change, and are reborn throughout this story of Frances learning about herself, her emotions, and her sexuality. 

As odd as this may sound considering how much I admire this novel, none of the main characters are very likable. Not trying to be holier than thou by any means, but there was hardly a moral fiber at all between all four of them. Everyone seemed to put on a facade of some sort pretending not to care about this or that, or pretending to care when it came to dinner parties full of important social issues. However, in all honestly, the main characters are quite possibly the most selfish and shallow that I have read about. But it worked beautifully. Frances and Bobbi had been a couple previously, but after Bobbi ending the relationship, they moved back into a close friendship without acknowledging reasons or emotions surrounding their break-up. Nick and Melissa appeared to be “unhappy but o.k. with the status quo,” yet their desires for other people seemed to strengthen their marriage in some bizarre way. Everyone was keeping secrets from everyone, leading to the breakdown of the dynamics between them all, yet they kept making the same mistakes.

Frances claimed to not really have emotions with there being nothing that she really cared about. But as she and Bobbi become closer to Nick and Melissa, the reader sees how untrue this is as she develops feelings for Nick and feels more left out of Bobbi and Melissa’s friendship. Along with the odd inner-workings of those relationships, Frances starts struggling with health issues and the residual effects of her father’s alcoholism. As the novel progresses Frances suffers from numerous issues involving her sexuality, self-esteem, self-harm, and the heartbreak of broken relationships.

Sally Rooney’s writing in Conversations with Friends is raw, emotional, and compelling. The set-up of dialogue takes getting used to regarding who is speaking when, but then it flows effortlessly. The changes with each of the characters are honest and noticeable as things become more tense and intense throughout the story. Rooney perfectly captures the effects of trying to be someone that you are not, as well as, the trap people can fall into making unhealthy choices for themselves emotionally. The conversations vary between shades of honesty, dishonesty, assertiveness, and holding back. Did I respect any of the characters? No, not really. Was I really fond of any of the characters? Not at all. However, I was unable to put this wonderfully written novel down and was moved by the way the author exposed and revealed her characters. 

This one may not be everyone’s taste but I strongly recommend giving this one a shot and definitely keep an eye out for more incredible writing from Sally Rooney. 

*Thanks to First to Read and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Pre-Order Conversations with Friends on Amazon!

 

Reviews

Book Review: The Little French Bistro

THE LITTLE FRENCH BISTRO, BY NINA GEORGE

PUBLICATION: CROWN, JUNE 13, 2017

little frenchAbout the book: 

Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world.”

Here she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals who surprise her with their warm welcome, and the natural ease they all seem to have, taking pleasure in life’s small moments. And, as the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

With all the buoyant charm that made The Little Paris Bookshop a beloved bestseller, The Little French Bistro is a tale of second chances and a delightful embrace of the joys of life in France.

My Review:

I was so excited when I got my hands on a copy of The Little French Bistro, full of anticipation after loving The Little Paris Bookshop so much! While I enjoyed Nina George’s latest novel, unfortunately, I was not as moved by this as I was by her previous novel.

Marianne is sixty years old and traveling in Paris with her husband Lothar. There’s is a boring, loveless marriage and she has decided to end her life. When her suicide attempts fail, she heads for the coast in search of a new life, with hopes of rediscovering herself and happiness. 

I liked Marianne’s character, feeling “better late than never” towards her journey of self-discovery. Her life had passed her by without any great love or passion with a cheating and controlling husband. She sets off on a journey after being mesmerized by the beauty of painted tile, ending up in a small, coastal town in France. Being German, she doesn’t understand the French dialect there, but with the help of a chef, she begins to pick up the language. I also loved all of the characters she met. Emile and his ailing wife Pascale, Yann the artist, Laurine the waitress, Simon and Paul, Collete and Simonie, and so on. Each and every character had their own unique story but shared the common bond of wanting great love, experiencing great love, and the loss of great love. The only unlikeable character was Marianne’s husband Lothar, but “unlikeable” seems too passive of a word. I despised the man. 

Despite the beautiful, descriptive writing, colorful and interesting characters, and the promise of Marianne’s journey of self-discovery, the overall storyline just fell flat with me. My first issue was the slight absurdity of Marianne’s experiences. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I will just say that this was one very lucky woman to run across such good fortune and good people. I realize it’s a work of fiction, but I struggled with wrapping my arms around all of it. Marianne transformed from a suicidal housewife to a successful, helpful, caring, and well-liked woman in the matter of days and weeks. She got an amazing job, an amazing guest room, was able to do what she wanted, was given a car, and so forth. I think my point is that it was too perfect for me to really get into it. But then all of her supposed growth just vanished at sight of Lothar or the sound of his voice, making me wonder, was she just playing a part in a make-believe world rather than really gaining strength and confidence?

Again, there are many wonderful aspects to The Little French Bistro and I am certainly glad to have read it. It has especially romantic qualities in that so many of the characters are older adults yet still yearning for and finding love, despite their ages. Love stories involving older adults is not something you read every day and it was quite refreshing! More focus on her evolving and less fantastical luck would have improved this read for me. 

*Thanks to the publisher for providing this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Purchase The Little French Bistro on Amazon.

Learn more about Nina George by visiting her web page.

 

 

Reviews

Book Review: Who is Rich?

WHO IS RICH?: A NOVEL, BY MATTHEW KLAM

PUBLICATION:  RANDOM HOUSE; JULY 4, 2017

who is richAbout the book: 

Every summer, a once-sort-of-famous cartoonist named Rich Fischer leaves his wife and two kids behind to teach a class at a weeklong arts conference in a charming New England beachside town. It’s a place where, every year, students—nature poets and driftwood sculptors, widowed seniors, teenagers away from home for the first time—show up to study with an esteemed faculty made up of prize-winning playwrights, actors, and historians; drunkards and perverts; members of the cultural elite; unknown nobodies, midlist somebodies, and legitimate stars—a place where drum circles happen on the beach at midnight, clothing optional.

One of the attendees this year is a forty-one-year-old painting student named Amy O’Donnell. Amy is a mother of three, unhappily married to a brutish Wall Street titan who runs a multibillion-dollar investment fund and commutes to work via helicopter. Rich and Amy met at the conference a year ago, shared a moment of passion, then spent the winter exchanging inappropriate texts and emails and counting the days until they could see each other again. Now they’re back.

Once more, Rich finds himself, in this seaside paradise, worrying about his family’s nights without him and trying not to think about his book, now out of print, or his future as an illustrator at a glossy magazine about to go under, or his back taxes, or the shameless shenanigans of his colleagues at this summer make-out festival, or his own very real desire for love and human contact. He can’t decide whether Amy is going to rescue or destroy him.

Who Is Rich? is a warped and exhilarating tale of love and lust, a study in midlife alienation, erotic pleasure, envy, and bitterness in the new gilded age that goes far beyond humor and satire to address deeper questions: of family, monogamy, the intoxicating beauty of children, and the challenging interdependence of two soulful, sensitive creatures in a confusing domestic alliance.

My Review: 

I just finished reading Who is Rich? by Matthew Klam, and overall I really enjoyed this novel. It was not a normal, everyday read, but a complex glimpse into the life of a married, middle-aged Cartoonist named Rich. Rich and his wife Robin do not have a very warm and fuzzy marriage, they struggle financially, have two small children, and basically tolerate one another day to day. However, it’s time for his once a year art conference where he holds cartooning workshops in a small beach town. This also means that he will see Amy, a super rich, unhappy wife and mother whom he has been intimate with before, as well as, carrying on communication with over the past year. 

This novel is told entirely from Rich’s point of view which I liked, but sometimes his thoughts or feelings wandered a bit too far away for me. Rich is obviously a very devoted father but is cynical about life in general. He struggles over his career not becoming what he had hoped, he feels slighted and beaten down by Robin (rightfully so), and appears completely confused about his ever-changing feelings, or lack thereof, for Amy. I love the honest exploration into Rich’s life and feelings about who he is, but there were also times it bordered on a pity-party. Money was a huge player in this novel, not only because he struggled with making and responsibly spending money, but also Amy’s enormous wealth as compared to his own. On one hand he wanted her to rescue him financially, but on the other hand, he refused any financial help and felt certain they could never really co-exist as a couple because of her wealth. 

I was torn throughout the entire novel as to whether Rich and Amy had any genuine feelings for one another, but I’m inclined towards it just being an escape and a moment to connect with someone. Sex seemed to make them both happy then sad then happy then sad again. It was almost as if they each gave too much power to sexual acts, expecting miracles from it, but instead felt dirty and disappointed in themselves afterwards. My hopes are that by the end of the novel, Rich came to realize his own enormous because of his two children, but I’m not sure because there was still the joy-sucking wife of his that was consistently uncaring and bitter. Rich also seemed to struggle with other social relationships, frequently replacing conversation with sarcasm and rhetorical questions, but this also prevented him from really looking at himself and the choices that he has made. 

Matthew Klam’s writing was beautiful, detailed, and honest. He truly provided a window into Rich’s soul and revealed so much about this man who so often doubted himself and others. I can’t say it left me feeling happy with my spirits lifted, but I appreciated the overall themes of his internal and external struggles. Rich is not a character that I will soon forget and I am rooting for him to enjoy a happier life!

*Thanks to First to Read and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Pre-Order Who Is Rich? on Amazon!

Learn more about Matthew Klam by visiting his web page. 

Reviews

Book Review: The Party

THE PARTY, BY ROBYN HARDING

PUBLICATION: GALLERY/SCOUT PRESS; JUNE 6, 2017

The PartyAbout the book: 

In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.

One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.

Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?

But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

My Review:

Holy crap readers, I don’t know where to begin with this one! Talking about a disturbing read for parents of teenagers… I’m not sure whether to advise all parents to read this book before allowing their child to have and/or participate in a sleepover or if I should say to never read this because it will put the fear of God in you!

Jeff and Kim live in a beautiful home, have beautiful cars, beautiful boat, and of course – two beautiful children. It’s their daughter Hannah’s sweet sixteen and she is having four girlfriends over for a sleepover. They order pizza and Kim prepares plenty of healthy snacks and sodas for the girls. Oh, and she also threatens them regarding any smoking, drinking, drugs, boys, or porn. All seems well until Kim and Jeff are woken up in the middle of the night and see Hannah standing in their bedroom crying and covered in blood and vomit. 

To begin, this was an incredible novel. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time and evoked every emotion imaginable. Fear, disgust, disappointment, shock, sadness, and on and on. I can’t talk about the plot much because so many things happen that all add up to the unraveling of Jeff and Kim’s family, plus several others. However, I think my most frequent reaction while reading this was, “No! What the hell are you thinking? Don’t do that or say that!” Every mistake known to mankind was made by these characters – and that is not an exaggeration. However, they are all mistakes that any of us could easily make. Not all of us would do all of these things, but I could easily see any average man, woman, child doing these things. 

Take Mean Girls, The Dinner, and Crazy, Stupid Love – mix them together and you will get The Party. The terrifying thing about The Party is that this story is something that could happen to anyone. Granted, their lives were not as pretty as they pretended, but so many lives fell apart throughout this novel – all because of one evening with a bunch of teenage kids doing things that shouldn’t have done. What’s frightening is most of us have done the same things they did at some point while we were growing up. As I said earlier, if you have teenagers this novel could quite possibly scare the crap out of you… But the lesson in this dark story is that our lives can change in an instant and things we think are “secrets” will usually come out eventually. Therefore – be honest, don’t lie, and for God’s sake don’t let your girls have a sleepover!

Last thing – if you have read this I would love your take on the last page or so regarding the text that Hannah sent…  Did things happen the way she said or was she just looking for revenge?

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review. 

Pre-Order The Party on Amazon!

Learn more about Robyn Harding by visiting her web page.