Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review of Robyn Carr's The Family Gathering

The Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing) by [Carr, Robyn]


About the Book:

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Comments:

A literary classic this is not, but it is a heartwarming enjoyable read with a villainess who is easy to hate and a hero who is easy to love.  As we watch Dakota come to town and discover the stability and love his siblings have found there we realize that much of the happiness we find in life is found because we choose to find it and live it, warts and all.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Sorority: My Review



About the Book:

Prep meets Girls in White Dresses in Genevieve Sly Crane’s deliciously addictive, compulsively readable exploration of female friendship and coming of age that will appeal to anyone who has ever been curious about what goes on in a sorority house…

Margot is dead.

There’s a rumor she died because she couldn’t take the pressure of being a pledge. You may not ask what happened to her. It’s not your business. But it wasn’t a suicide, if you’re wondering.

Spring Fling will not be cancelled. The deposit is non-refundable. And Margot would have wanted the sisterhood to continue in her absence, if only to protect her sisters’ secrets: Shannon is the thinnest girl in the house (the other sisters hate her for it, but they know her sacrifice: she only uses the bathroom by the laundry room); Kyra has slept with twenty-nine boys since she started college (they are all different and all the same); Amanda is a virgin (her mincing gait and sloping posture give it away); and while half the sisters are too new to have known Margot, Deirdre remembers her—she always remembers.

With a keen sense of character and unflinching, observant prose, Crane exposes the undercurrents of tension in a world where perfection comes at a cost and the best things in life are painful—if not impossible—to acquire: Beauty. A mother’s love. And friendship…or at least the appearance of it.

My Comments:

Does this sound like a book that is going make sorority girls look good?  I started reading it, and gave up after a few chapters.  I just couldn't find any of those girls to like. 

 I wasn't a sorority member, and my college didn't have national sororities, only local social clubs.  I wasn't a member and saw only the public parts of pledging.  I thought it was a lot of foolishness and couldn't understand why some girls were in tears over pledging activities and yet wanted to continue--if someone deliberately did things that got me upset I'll tell her to take a long walk on a short pier and go find something else to do. Still, all in all, most of the girls I knew who were in clubs were intelligent, competent, basically good people, whereas the characters in this book are all the stereotypical college girls with issues, and none of them really seem like they'd be fun to be around.  Maybe that's why they are all miserable.  

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.  DNF.  



Sunday, March 11, 2018

Not Perfect: My Review

Not Perfect: A Novel by [LaBan, Elizabeth]


About the Book:

Tabitha Brewer wakes up one morning to find her husband gone, leaving her no way to support herself and their two children, never mind their upscale Philadelphia lifestyle. She’d confess her situation to her friends—if it wasn’t for those dreadful words of warning in his goodbye note: “I’ll tell them what you did.”

Instead, she does her best to keep up appearances, even as months pass and she can barely put food on the table—much less replace a light bulb. While she looks for a job, she lives in fear that someone will see her stuffing toilet paper into her handbag or pinching basil from a neighbor’s window box.

Soon, blindsided by catastrophe, surprised by romance, and stunned by the kindness of a stranger, Tabitha realizes she can’t keep her secrets forever. Sooner or later, someone is bound to figure out that her life is far from perfect.

My Comments:

I guess it is easy to say that "I'd never do that" when you've never been in someone else's shoes, and I'll never be in Tabitha's shoes--if my husband ever left me, I have a job that will pay the basic bills around here and keep food on the table--but I can't imagine every doing what Tabitha did, and maybe that's why I never quite liked this book.  Here is this woman with a degree from a fancy school who has been a stay at home mom and wife to a well-paid lawyer.  They have all the trappings of their upper-middle class lifestyle, including private school for the kids, and a love for gourmet food.

After months she realizes that her husband isn't coming back and that she has no money and so she looks for a job, and is given one, albeit one she didn't apply for and is probably not well-paid.  Does she keep it, and keep looking, figuring some money is better than none?  No, she just continues in her angst-filled self-pitying world and avoids anyone who might be able to help her.  She steals basil from the neighbor's window boxes and toilet paper from friends but instead of selling her husband (presumeably expensive) cuff links she gives them away.  

Then there are the other characters.  One is an old woman who offers Tabitha pot-laced candy and who makes it easy for Tabitha to "borrow" money she needs by leaving it laying about the house.  The other is a man Tabitha meets at Stuart's alumni function who realizes she is an imposter (not an alumna) who becomes the new love interest in her life--and don't get me started on Stuart.  They all just seemed strange, not realistic at all.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.  I read the second half of the book at a pace between face and skimming so maybe I missed something, but I'm giving this one a "C", and hope that others enjoy it more than I did.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

Things to Do When It Is Raining: My Review



About the Book:

Mae Summers and Gabe Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge of the St. Lawrence River. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lilly and George. Their childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up, got over her heartbreak and started a life for herself in New York City.

After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline with their past unraveling around her. A lifetime of secrets stands in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?

From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a powerful story about guilt, forgiveness and the truth about families: that we can choose them, just as we choose to love.

My Comments:

This is one of those books that I can see other people enjoying a lot more than I did.  It is the story of four couples--Lilly and George, Lilly and Everett, Virginia (Lilly's daughter) and Chase and Mae (Virginia's daughter) and Gabe.  In some ways it may have been the story of Jonah (Gabe's father) and Virgina as well.  It is a story of love, of secrets and of pain.  It is the story of the end of life and the story of new life.  It takes place in different timelines and at first it is hard to follow how it all fits together.

Unfortunately, I never connected with the characters or felt real empathy for them.  While I finished the book, I was glad to be done. 

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade;  B-

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Sisters Like Us

Sisters Like Us (Mischief Bay) by [Mallery, Susan]


About the Book:

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can't afford and a teenage daughter who's pulling away. With her fledgling virtual-assistant business, she's scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper's fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn't prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn't inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey's husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she's already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

My Comments:

If you can get over the fact that the main characters all come across as caricatures, this isn't a bad read.  Harper feels guilty for not making fresh pasta (you know the kind you make with flour and ...I don't know,,, I did it once, definitely didn't think it was worth the trouble and she always layers the table cloths and place mats on her table to create a coordinated look.  She's beyond Suzy Homemaker but now that she is trying to run a business, she just doesn't have time for all that anymore.  

Lucas is Harper's age but dates the twenty year old airhead of the week--but is becoming more and more a part of Harper's life every day.  Where do you think this is going?

Stacey is the stereotypical science nerd.  She just doesn't "get" so many social things, but she marries a kind nurturing man who wants a baby, so she obliges, and is then terrified that she won't love her baby.  Stacey and her husband take in his nephew, who is eighteen.  When Stacey learns he is dating her niece, she gives him the condom talk--and then tells him how he needs to stimulate a woman to orgasm, but the scene comes off not as erotic but as a sadly funny reflection of Stacey's lack of social skills. 

Clearly this book is far more about the characters than about the plot line, which is pretty is obvious from the beginning.  Still, it was an enjoyable and relaxing read, so I'll give it a B. 

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Review: A History of the Church in 100 Objects

A History of the Church in 100 Objects by [Aquilina, Mike, Aquilina, Grace]


About the Book:

The star of Bethlehem exemplifies the birth of Jesus, the Wittenberg Door is synonymous with the Protestant Reformation, and “the pill” symbolizes the sexual revolution. It’s “stuff” that helps tell the story of Christianity.

In this unique, rich, and eye-catching book, popular Catholic author and EWTN host Mike Aquilina tells the Christian story through the examination of 100 objects and places. Some, like Michelangelo's Pietà, are priceless works of art. Others, like a union membership pen, don’t hold much monetary value. But through each of them, Aquilina offers a memorable and rewarding look at the history of the Church.

When Catholics tell their story, they don’t just write it in books. They preserve it in memorials, monuments, artifacts, and museums. They build grand basilicas to house tiny relics.

In this stunning book, Aquilina, together with his writer-daughter Grace, show how the history of the Church didn’t take place shrouded in the mists of time. It actually happened and continues to happen through things that we can see and sometimes hold in our hand.

The Christian answer to Neil MacGregor's New York Times bestseller A History of the World in 100 Objects, Aquilina’s A History of the Church in 100 Objects introduces you to:
The Cave of the Nativity (the importance of history, memory, and all things tangible)
Catacomb niches (the importance of Rome, bones, and relics of the faith)
Ancient Map of the World (the undoing of myths about medieval science)
Stained Glass (representative of Gothic cathedrals)
The Holy Grail (Romance literature and the emergence of writing for the laity)
Loaves and fish (a link from Jesus to the sacrament of the Eucharist)
The Wittenberg Door (Martin Luther and the onset of the Reformation)
Each of these and the 93 other items and places in the book tell part of the Christian story. Each is an essential piece of the story of our salvation.

God makes himself known and accessible through material things, always accommodating himself to our condition. It is, after all, the condition he created for us—spiritual and material—and the form he assumed for our salvation.

My Comments:

We Catholics like our "stuff".  While the trend in church buildings in the 1960's and 1970's may have been minimalist and utilitarian, today's new churches tend to look like churches with stained glass, statues and a sanctuary with a tabernacle front and center. We are physical beings and our senses can bring us closer to God.

A History of the Church in 100 Objects uses pictures of our "stuff" as leadoffs for chapters on the history of our faith.  If you click the Amazon link above and page though the sample pages, you'll see that it is a beautiful book.  As a history buff and a Catholic I found it fascinating and learned some new stories (because what is history of not his (and her) story?  

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+

Review: The Promise Between Us

The Promise Between Us by [White, Barbara Claypole]


About the Book:

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

My Comments:

I loved this book and highly recommend it. 

When someone becomes physically ill--whether with the 24 hour stomach bug or cancer or chicken pox--they generally garner the sympathy of those around them.  It is expected that if the disease lasts more than a day or two that a trip to the doctor has at least been considered, and it is assumed that decent health insurance will cover that visit.  We may all joke about how men's colds are so much worse than Mom's colds but we rarely blame the person who is physically ill for his or her disease.

Mental illness is different.  Somehow, many of us think that if the mentally ill would just get their acts together and quit acting that way, their illnesses would disappear--or we think that the illness is caused by weakness on the part of the one who is ill.

The main character in The Promise Between Us is Katie, and Katie is mentally ill.  Katie is also a very strong and selfless woman who has nearly lost her life to that illness.  Katie has OCD and anxiety and in this book we stand in her shoes and see the world through her eyes.  We see her cope (sometimes well, sometimes not so well) with the voices inside her head.  We see how her mental illness affects her relationships.  

Two other adult characters in the book suffer from a mental illness and for one of them, denial is his drug of choice.  In both cases we see how seemly sane people can suffer greatly from mental problems even though they appear, at least on the surface, to be happy and successful.

Finally, there is Maisy, a bright well-loved child who is starting to show signs of OCD.  She has four adults in her life who love her and want the best for her; they just disagree about what that is when it comes to her OCD and to their relationships with each other.  

Barbara Claypole White's niche seems to be novels dealing with mental illness as you will note if you click her name under this post.  As I've noted about her other books, White does a great job of making her characters more than their illness, though the illness is the focus of this story.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  A

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz


The Tattooist of Auschwitz

About the Book:

Based on the incredible true story of Lale Sokolov 

Heart-breaking  - a tale of love and survival amidst the horrors of Auschwitz.

Human - the real story behind one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust - the blue numbers tattooed on prisoners' arms.

Inspirational - the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Unforgettable - a story untold for over seventy years is finally shared.

Life-affirming - one man's determination to survive and live a full life with the woman he loved.

Fully verified - Lale Sokolov's background and story has been fact-checked against all available documentary evidence.

My Comments:

One of the iconic symbols of the Holocaust is the numbers tattooed onto the forearms of those chosen to survive the selection process that sent most of those arriving at death camps to the gas chambers.  Lale Lokolov was the person who applied many of those tattoos.

I've read that those who survived the concentration camps were generally young adults who were in good physical shape when they arrived, were able to make friends who helped them survive and who were either there for a relatively short time, or who managed in one way or another to get extra food.  Lale was an early arrival at Auschwitz but other than that, he fit the profile of the survivor.  For whatever reason, those running the camp deemed him worthy of extra rations and private sleeping quarters.  Further, he was able to befriend a local villager who worked in the camp and women who sorted the luggage of new arrivals, and to broker trades of valuables found in the luggage for food for himself and others.  

One day while on duty as a tattooist, Lale had to apply a tattoo to Gita, to whom he was immediately attracted.  He managed to meet her, carry on a romance with her, and after they were free, re-connect with her and marry her.  

Lale was the quintessential "people person" who knew how to read people, how to get along with them, and yes, how (within the confines of the situation) to get them to do what he wanted.  A particular guard was assigned to be his "keeper" and while he and Lale were by no means friends, a part of me thinks that had they met in a different time at a different place, they might have been. 

The story follows Lale from his arrival at Auschwitz through his escape from the Nazis near the end of the war, through working for the Russians (and escaping from them) to finally reuniting with Gita and marrying her.  The book ends with a list of the fates of some of the major characters, which I found interesting.

The book is classified as historical fiction and I suppose this is one of those times that having the liberty to make up conversations, characters or even events can help tell more truth than sticking strictly to that which could be remembered by an old man or verified through documentary evidence.  Still, I'd be curious to know what in the book actually happened, and what was a figment of the author's imagination.

While I enjoyed the book, the writing style struck me as less than professional--the book rambled at times and the sentence structure was very simplistic in parts of the book.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book (as much as you can use the word "enjoy" to describe visiting a place designed to torture and kill people) and give it a B.  I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley. 

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