Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review - Our Fathers; Rebecca Wait

Our Fathers; Rebecca Wait
Europa - 2020

On a quiet, isolated island in Scotland, is a small community where everyone knows everyone else by their names. Twenty years earlier residents were shocked to learn that one of its own, John Baird, killed his wife Katrina, young son Nicky and infant daughter Beth before turning the shotgun on himself.  Middle son Tommy, 8 at the time, was upstairs hiding in a closet when the massacre occurred.  What causes a man to suddenly commit such a horrible act?

Fast forward twenty years and Tommy, has now returned to the island for a visit where his Uncle Malcolm, his father's brother, still lives. Tommy had lived with Malcolm and his now late wife after the incident, until he was old enough to leave the island.  Tommy is seeking answers to the many unanswered questions he has about his parents in the hopes it will ease his troubled soul.  Each day as he speaks with different people who knew his family he begins to see a more completed puzzle of the family he never really knew.

This is a beautifully written and thought provoking look at the human psyche. Tom's character is so finely drawn: quiet, introspective, angry about his past yet reflective. He also loves literature. He's constantly second guessing his past actions; his memory plays tricks on him.

The story is gripping and raw at times, yet so hard to put down. Honestly, this story is so well written, it's my favorite book of 2020 thus far.  I hope you will try it. I borrowed my copy from the library.

a few quotes that stuck with me --
  • "Sometimes Tom wondered if there were other people in the world who carried a burden like his, and if so, how it felt to them, how they could bear it. Some days he wished he was dead, survival had never felt like a blessing."

  • "Tom began to feel the weather was closing in on him.  There were gusts of anxiety moving through his body, but he was only tired he told himself. His sleep had been fitful."

  • "Although her daughter was so young, it was her sons Katrina feared for the most. They were both sensitive, both thoughtful and so considerate of one another that sometimes Katrina felt a lump in her throat when she watched them together. They were not made for conflict, and Katrina knew instinctively that they could never be the kind of sons John wanted.  As they grew older, this would become more and more apparent, and then nothing would protect them from his disappointment.  Katrina knew the chilling quality of this disappointment only too well. Somehow she thought she would have to save them.  But, she knew, hopelessly, that there was no defense against John. Not so long as you were near him."

Thursday, July 30, 2020

(2) lighter reads with hopeful messages during stressful times - A Little Bit of Grace; Phoebe Fox - What You Wish For; Katherine Center

 A Little Bit of Grace ; Phoebe Fox
Berkley - 2020

Another story with a perfect message during difficult times: choose joy.

Grace Adams McHale was raised to understand that family is everything.  This is despite the fact her father ran off with a younger woman when she was still a child and now her husband and law practice partner has another woman in his life as well. If that isn't bad enough, Grace's mother has just died and she's just not sure how to move on with her life in Missouri.

While sorting through her mother's things she discovers a letter from someone she doesn't know. She soon learns that she has a great aunt named Millie in Florida. It's someone her mother had never mentioned. Not only does Grace need some time away, she's curious about a family member that was never mentioned before, so off to Cypress Keys she goes to meet great aunt Millie.

Millie, is a full of energy 81 year old with a large network of friends. She is known for helping people move on with their lives when bad things have happened.  Millie is a fabulous character with a secret from her past that had severed her relationship with her family.  I went into this novel expecting a light, fluffy read but, ended up with so much more.  The setting is lovely, the characters will make you laugh but, there is also a serious side to the story with a theme of family and self discovery. READ IT (perfect for COVID times).

(eGalley - 4.5/5 stars)

What You Wish For; Katherine Center
Macmillan Audio - 2020

Samantha Casey is a school librarian in Texas who loves her job and the children she helps but, life wasn't also this happy for Sam.  Her school is well run by principal Max who is loved and respected by all.  When Max dies unexpectedly, the community is devastated but, things seem to get worse when Duncan Carpenter, the new principal, arrives as replacement principal.

Duncan is a shocking change, a rules and regulations enforcer. He knows bad things can happen in schools.  Sam knows Duncan from a previous school in California and this isn't the same man she had a secret crush on.  Can Sam's influence make Duncan come around?

I liked the way this story unfolded. Sam was a sympathetic character and I enjoyed getting to know Duncan (although I wish we learned even more about the old Duncan). The secondary characters were well written too. This is another story where I expected a light, fluffy read but, there were definitely some heavy topics to this novel as well. Fortunately, they did not overpower and take away from the joyful moments of the story.

The audio book was read by Therese Plummer who did a great job. The audio download was provided to me by MacMillan audio via NetGalley for my unbiased review.

(audio download -  4/5 stars)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - In Case of Emergency; E.G. Scott

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

In Case of Emergency, E. G. Scott
Dutton - August / 2020


"This is going to end badly.

It's chaos here. They're not listening to me. I've told them that we need to stop operating, but their talking over me, drowning me out.  I know what I'm doing. I'm an integral part of this team.  Hell, I'm the smartest person in the room.

Her vitals are a mess. Her breathing is shallow and labored. Her color is all off."

I started this one and it has really drawn me in. What do you think?

Monday, July 27, 2020

3 fun kids books to keep them entertained this summer - Candlewick Press, Nosy Crow

The Same but Different Too; Karl Newson (Ill. Kate Hindley)
Nosy Crow (2020)
(ages 2-5)

A delightful look at things children have in common with others yet, how very different we are as well.  Lovely illustrations - so colorful and fun. The illustrator does a fantastic job comparing small children to a multitude of critters - fun rhymes as well!

Nosy Crow (2019)
(Ages 10+)

Although targeted for ages 10+, our granddaughters 6 and 8 thought this was a fun book.  It takes a look at plenty of jobs someone might do that sound quirky, weird and sometimes fun especially to a child).  How about: fortune cookie writer, nail polish namer, mattress tester jumper and plenty more?  This book is so well illustrated and includes a short description of each job. I love that it challenges young children to be creative and think big.

Candlewick 2020
(ages 5-9)

The the kids or grandkids say they are bored, this is the perfect book to surprise them with.  It's a hardcover with a huge collection of favorite searches, games and activities.  It's a great book for car travel and includes plenty of 5-minute challenges like: math problems, word mazes, airport mazes, look for lost luggage challenges and messages to decode. There are colorful canines asking you to find specific ones, brain busters, bingo, number crunching and even messages in a bottle. How about coloring caves, skull and crosswords, memory games, word wheels and buried bones?

Over 200 pages of fun things and answers provided as well. A bargain book of fun and so well illustrated!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

2 mini audio book reviews - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Agatha Christie and Writers & Lovers; Lily King

Harper Audio (narrated by High Fraser)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is detective story mystery with loads of clues and red herrings to enable the reader to test their sleuth skills.

Roger Ackroyd is a a wealthy man who knew too much. He knew the woman he loved had poisoned her husband and was being blackmailed.  She, as a result, took her own life.  Before Roger has the final piece of the puzzle he is murdered, stabbed to death, in his study.  

In the small village of King's Abbot, it's Hercule Poirot that has come out of retirement to work the case. He is assisted by the town doctor Sheppard and his nosey sister Caroline who provide a lot of speculation and humor about who might be involved.

Interestingly, the story is narrated in the first person by Dr. Sheppard. This is clue-based crime fiction at its finest. Memorable characters, a lot of gossip, humor and terrific twists. It's the kind of mystery that you want to go back and revisit for  missed clues once the killer is revealed. First published in 1926, I can't believe it took me this long to read this one. 

By the way, the audio book narration was very good. (This was a library audio download)
Rating - 4.5/5

Writers & Lovers; Lily King
Blackstone Audio - 2020
(narrated by Stacey Glemboski)

Writers & Lovers, takes place in 1997 Boston. Casey Peabody is a 31 year old waitress serving Harvard elites. She is living in a terrible garage apartment and rides her banana bike along the Charles River.  Her mother has died, romance is on the rocks, but, she's in love with two very different men. She has $70,000 in college debt and after 6 years, she is still working on that first novel. She's stuck and seems to lack direction as she mourns her losses. Will she ever find her way?

I loved the first person narration and the Boston setting. I could really feel the surrounding vibe of the area throughout this novel. Definitely literary fiction here but, the writing is clear, touching and funny, the flow was easy and I was quickly drawn into Casey's life and struggles.  I enjoyed Casey's journey as she tried to wade through life and achieve her dream through self-discovery.  The characters are quirky and I thought the down on her luck Casey was easy to root for.

The audio download from my local library was read by Stacey Glemboski who did a wonderful job.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Our Fathers; Rebecca Wait

Welcome to
 First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Our Fathers; Rebecca Wait
Europa - 2020

"If she had survived, Katrina would have said what people always say: that it had been a day like any other.  That everything was normal.  She might have said, too, how strange it was that you only noticed normality after it ended, that by its nature it was invisible as long as you were in it."

I read an excellent review on this book and was surprised to see that everyone else that reviewed it seemed to feel the same way. I'm hoping I will be happy I read it."

Curious? Read more or pass?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Little Bit of Grace; Phoebe Fox

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Berkley - 2020


"My mother used to say that when she read me bedtime stories, my favorite time of the evening because I finally had her all to myself, I would stop her midway through and tell her what was going to happen to the characters whose lives she was spinning for me.  The stories I guessed correctly I had her read to me over and over.  The few that I couldn't I put in the back of the bookshelf never to come off it again."

I've been in a bit of a reading slump for about a week now, reading a chapter here and there but nothing has thrilled me. I liked the sound of this intro and so I hope it will be a winner.

What do you think. Read more or pass?

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Book Reviews - Nothing to See Here; Kevin Wilson and Tomorrow There Will Be Sun; Dana Reinhardt

AUTHOR:  Kevin Wilson
PUBLISHER:  Harper Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: TN and GA
Format: audio
Rating - 4/5

Lilian and Madison first met as unlikely roommates at an exclusive boarding school. Lilian was an over achiever and scholarship student while Madison came from a wealthy family and a bit of a party girl.  Despite their differences, the two girls became fast friends.  However, when an incident that resulted in expulsion occurs, and Madison was the guilty one, it is Lilian that takes the fall for her friend, and is forced to leave school in light of the scandal.

While Madison's life moves along onward and upward, now a wealthy heiress with an older husband in line to be the next Secretary of State, Lilian is stuck. So when Lilian receives a surprise letter from Madison with an urgent offer for employment as a governess to her husband's twin 10 year old children Bessie and Roland, Lilian is more than surprised.

The mother of the children has died and the children are a bit of a challenge. When the kids are stressed, upset or angry, they heat up and can burst into flames.  Of course, their father wants to keep this information quiet so that it won't have a negative affect on his political agenda. So Lilian is in for a big challenge after having accepted the job.

I felt badly for these two children who had been treated as an after thought during their young life. When Lilian steps in you can tell early on that this is going to be a win-win for her and the children.

Funny and tender, and so many themes like: social classes, loneliness and the power of love. I enjoyed this story even though it was a bit predictable. A creative plot line, I loved how it combined humor and tenderness and that the children finally began to feel love and security. 

TITLE:  Tomorrow There Will Be Sun
AUTHOR:  Dana Reinhardt
PUBLISHER:  Pamela Dorman Books
PUB. YEAR: 2019
Setting: Mexico
Format: print
Rating - 2.5/5

Two families complete with teenagers decide to vacation together at a 5-star resort in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. What could possibly go wrong?

Peter is celebrating his 50th birthday and he and Solly are also business partners. Before too long it seems like the two families have very little in common as they quickly begin to get on each others nerves.

The story covers a lot of people issues: marriage, children, aging and friendship. The writing is ofter both cynical and funny but, the lack of likable characters spoiled this one for me. Moral of the story for me: don't vacation with friends!  I actually read this one over a month ago but, felt uninspired to write anything about it until now.  Although I do like vacation themed books, this one wasn't a favorite.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Father Melancholy's Daughter; Gail Godwin

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

William Morrow - 1971

Sept 13: Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr of Carthage, 258
--The Calendar of the Church Year


"Although I did not know it then, my life of unpremeditated childhood ended on Wednesday, September 13, 1972.  The weather that day in Romulus, Virginia was warm and sunny; the sky an unclouded Shenandoah blue.  I had been in first grade for three weeks.  The schoolwork I found easy, insultingly so.  It was the social side of things, the winning over of other children that was going to demand my subtler energies. I was, and was destined to remain, an only child, and was more practiced in the management of adults."

I've had this 1971, first edition on my shelf for many years and recall purchasing it used more than 10 years ago because it sounded good and I've enjoyed other books by this author. Finally, when looking for my next book, this one spoke to me. I like the first person narrator, a child already.

Read more of pass?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Book Review - This Little Family; Ines Bayard

AUTHOR:  Ines Bayard
PUBLISHER:  Other Press
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Paris
Format: ARC
Rating - 4.5/5

Did you ever read a book that gets darker and horrific with each new page yet, for some reason you just can't stop yourself from turning reading more? This is that kind of book.

The reader knows from that very first paragraph that this is not going to be a pleasant read:

"Little Thomas didn't have time to finish his stewed apple. His mother hadn't given him the slightest chance.  The speed at which the poison circulated through his blood simply meant he didn't suffer when he died.  Only Marie's body was still upright, securely wedged against the back of her chair, her head tipped back.  She must have struggled to ensure this was noticed.  Laurent had been served first.  Few people stumbling across these three ashen bodies could have imagined the warm laughter filling the room just moments before the tragedy occurred."

Yet, what drives a woman to this level of despair that she felt she had no choice but to poison herself, her husband and her young son?   Will any survive?

As the story unfolds, you learn what has happened to Marie. I can't say much more without giving spoilers, but, Marie has suffered in silence pretending all was well until she just couldn't go on another day.

I read this book, fewer than 275 pages, in just one sitting, I couldn't look away. The translation from the French was excellent.  The story drew me in and was such a compulsive read, however, it was so graphic that even someone like me who is not easily shocked found myself cringing at times. This is definitely not a book for everyone.

BEWARE: Dark, graphic, shocking and potential triggers for some readers.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Book Review - Home Before Dark; Riley Sager

AUTHOR:  Riley Sager
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Vermont
Format: eGalley
Rating - 5/5

It there was ever was ever a twisty, edge of your seat thrill ride that even made me bite my nails a bit, this was it.

Baneberry Hall, a huge victorian estate with a dark past is located deep in the woods of Vermont.  Twenty five years earlier when Maggie was just 5 years old, her parents Ewan and Jess purchased the house and after just spending three weeks living in it, they fled in the middle of the night never to return.

The parents separated and Ewan subsequently wrote a hugely successful tell all book about Baneberry Hall. The non fiction book was called, The House of Horrors. Maggie believed the book was largely fabricated as she didn't recall any of the unearthly happenings reported in the book, many of which had involved her.  The house which she believed her father had sold years earlier remained vacant but, Maggie learns she has inherited the house as part of her deceased father's estate.

Maggie, now 30, renovates houses for a living, her plan is to return to Baneberry to renovate the Vermont "house of horrors" and list it for sale.  As Maggie settles in, almost immediately, strange and frightening things begin to occur and, the more that happens, the more she begins to realize what her father wrote about the house is now true.

I really loved this book; it's so well crafted. The style alternates between chapters written by her father in "The House of Horrors" and the present day as Maggie works on restoring the house and tries to uncover its dark past.  Home Before Dark is a creepy, page-turning delight. Read it!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Review - Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family; Robert Kolker

AUTHOR:  Robert Kolker
PUBLISHER:  Doubleday
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Colorado
Format: eGalley 
Rating - 3.5/5

Hidden Valley Road is a well-written, yet often upsetting, story about one family devastated by mental illness.

Mimi and Don Galvin were married in 1945 and had (12) children. The first (10) were boys and the last (2) were girls. The family, at least in the 50s and 60s seemed to be an all American family. Don a driven man,  military service and then a successful businessman. He was a womanizer and rarely home but, wife Mimi, held down the fort overseeing things on the home front. Things changed in the 1970s when (6) of the couple's boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. As the sons behavior and violence grew more out of control, they boys spent time in hospitals as their diagnosis was not well understood.  Their story became the subject of research by the National Institute of Health.

The author does a great job with research and interviews from medical professionals to family members. Everyone from Mimi to all of the adult siblings spoken often had different stories to report.  I was fascinated by the more technical aspects of this book regarding mental illness advances and breakthroughs.  I found it difficult to get through some of the details in which the young sisters were sexually abused by older brothers when they were as young as 5 years of age.  Some of the abuse was pretty specific.

I couldn't help from being a bit judgmental as I read. I didn't understand Mini's mindset. She had a husband who was rarely home, he was a womanizer and yet she bore (12) children with him. How do you fail to protect your other younger or more vulnerable children from the violent ones suffering from mental illness.  I definitely can't say that I'm happy I read this book. Not only was it upsetting at times it also felt repetitive as well.  Again, while the medical component was deep and informative, I would have preferred more editing and less detail about the harsh reality of the family dysfunction.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Book Review - The Sea of Lost Girls; Carol Goodman

AUTHOR:  Carol Goodman
PUBLISHER:  Harper Audo
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Maine
Format: audio/library download
Rating - 3.5/5

Tess Henshaw is a woman with secrets. She's married to Harmon, a professor at The Haywood Academy, an elite boarding school in Maine. Tess also works at the school.

As the story begins Tess receives a middle of the night call from her 17 year old troubled son from a previous marriage. Rudy is scared and asks his mother to meet him at their secret "safe space."  When the two connect, Rudy is soaking wet and has a dark stain on his sweatshirt.  Several hours later they learn that Lila, Rudy's girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach.

This is a story with more than one suspect and an unreliable narrator. Although the story kept me guessing, I thought there were too many characters, many women who had been taken advantage of by powerful men. As psychological thrillers go, this one was just okay. The audio version was narrated by Natalie Naudus, who did a good job.