Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Book: The Tumbling Turner Sisters
Author: Juliette Fay

In 1919, the Turner sisters and their parents are barely scraping by. Their father is a low-paid boot-stitcher in Johnson City, New York, and the family is always one paycheck away from eviction. When their father’s hand is crushed and he can no longer work, their irrepressible mother decides that the vaudeville stage is their best—and only—chance for survival.

Traveling by train from town to town, teenagers Gert, Winnie, and Kit, and recent widow Nell soon find a new kind of freedom in the company of performers who are as diverse as their acts. There is a seamier side to the business, however, and the young women face dangers and turns of fate they never could have anticipated. Heartwarming and surprising, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is ultimately a story of awakening—to unexpected possibilities, to love and heartbreak, and to the dawn of a new American era.-Goodreads

Review: "Listen to me," I said. "The only thing you are is Winnie Turner. After that, you make your own terms." - Gert

I absolutely adored this book. 'The Tumbling Turner Sisters' takes place in 1919. Four sisters find themselves working the vaudeville circuit when their father loses his job and the family is in desperate need for money. Told in alternating narratives, we follow 18 year old Gert, a beautiful young woman desperate to escape her hometown and experience life and 17 year old Winnie, an intelligent young woman who dreams of college. The girls and their sisters, along with their manager mother (think Kris Jenner, circa 1919) travel around country performing their acrobat act. Along the way they make friends, fall in love and learn some tough life lessons. 

I loved this book. The time period is extremely interesting. WWI has just ended, women's suffrage is coming, racial tensions are strained and...vaudeville! I loved the sisters and their relationships with each other. We even meet a young Cary Grant (before he was known was Cary Grant, and yes, he was a vaudeville performer at one point).

An absolutely wonderful read. 

Grade: 5/5


Book: Cherry
Author: Lindsey Rosin

To be honest, the sex pact wasn’t always part of the plan.

Layla started it. She announced it super casually to the rest of the girls between bites of frozen yogurt, as if it was just simply another addition to her massive, ever-evolving To Do List. She is determined to have sex for the first time before the end of high school. Initially, the rest of the crew is scandalized, but, once they all admit to wanting to lose their v-cards too, they embark on a quest to do the deed together... separately.

Layla’s got it in the bag. Her serious boyfriend, Logan, has been asking for months.

Alex has already done it. Or so she says.

Emma doesn’t know what the fuss is all about, but sure, she’ll give it a shot.

And Zoe, well, Zoe can’t even say the o word without bursting into giggles.

Will everything go according to plan? Probably not. But at least the girls have each other every hilarious, heart-warming, cringe-inducing step of the way.-Goodreads

Review: 'Cherry' is the story of 4 best friends who make a pact to lose their virginity before they graduate from high school. I had no expectations going into this, other than assuming it would be super cheesy. I was happy to find a funny story about friendship and dating. I was so immersed in the girls stories that I could barely put it down. 

Grade: 4/5

Whatever You Love

Book: Whatever You Love
Author: Louise Doughty

After the death of Laura's nine-year-old daughter, Betty, is ruled an accident in a hit-and-run, Laura decides to take revenge into her own hands, determined to track down the man responsible. All the while, her inner turmoil is reopening the old wounds of her passionate love affair with Betty's father, David, and his abandonment of the family for another woman.

Haunted by her past and driven to a breaking point by her thirst for retribution, Laura discovers the unforeseen lengths she is willing to go to for love and vengeance.-Goodreads

Review: Laura's 9 year old daughter Betty and her best friend are allowed to walk from school to dance by themselves for the first time ever. Disaster strikes when the girls are hit by a car and Betty is killed instantly. Laura, separated from her husband, is overwhelmed with grief and eventually finds the man responsible and seeks revenge. least that is what I thought I would read based on the book's jacket. In actuality, this book is a nicely written story about Laura's marriage to David-how they started dating, fall in love and eventually separate. When the narrative does finally follow Laura seeking revenge, her actions are so wacky, I could no imagine any mother, regardless of their grief, doing what she did. That really made me shake my head at the direction the author decided to take. 

Overall, I like the author's writing style but this was just an okay read. 

Grade: 2/5

Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World

Book: Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World
Author: Susan Silverman

Susan Silverman grew up with parents who were, both before and after a devastating loss, atheists. Yet, as a young adult, she shocked everyone who knew her ("But you were elected Class Flirt in high school!") and became a rabbi. What was not surprising, however, was that she built her own big, unwieldy family through both birth and adoption, something she had intended from childhood. With three daughters and two sons ("We produce girls and import boys"), this unique family becomes a metaphor for the world's contradictions and complexities-a microcosm of the tragedy and joy, hope and despair, cruelty and compassion, predictability and absurdity of this world we all live in. A meditation on identity, faith, and belonging-one that's as funny as it is moving-Casting Lots will resonate with anyone who has struggled to find their place in the world and to understand the significance of that place.-Goodreads
Review:  Susan Silverman has certainly lived an interesting life, but I found I was interested in things left off the pages. I was specifically interested in her vocation as a Rabbi. She goes into detail how she went to rabbinical school on a whim, didn't even know what rabbis do...and then the entire thing is dropped. Did she ever work as a rabbi? I have no idea. I think her parents were fascinating and my heart broke for their tragic loss. As for Susan herself...I found her extremely annoying. She says they had no money (they had to take out a 2nd mortgage on their house to pay for one of the adoptions), yet her children all attending private school. She goes into great detail about her insistence of her first adopted son being accepted as an Orthodox Jew...yet never mentions a thing about her 2nd adopted son. She also made it seem like the 4yr old son they adopted seamlessly joined their family, I find it hard to believe there weren't any issues.  One of her biological kids also seemed to have major issues (punching another child at school) and she brushed it off. 

Overall, an ok read and it was interesting to see how much easier adoption was in the 1990s compared to now, but not my cup of tea. 

Grade: 2/5

Never Let You Go

Book: Never Let You Go
Author: Chevy Stevens

Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband was sent to jail and she started over with a new life. Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her ex-husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she’s cut all ties. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he’s a different person. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?-Goodreads

Revew: This was a page turner. Told in alternating timelines, we follow Lindsey as a newly married young woman whose husband turns into an abuser. She struggles to deal with her violence and come up with a plan for escape. In present day, Lindsey is living on her own with her teenage daughter, running a cleaning business and trying to avoid the fact that her ex-husband is about to get out of prison. We also follow her daughter, who secretly establishes contact with her father, against her mother's wishes. 

Although the daughters actions were very frustrating, I can see how a teenager who behave like that. I figured out the 'twist' and while the reasoning was a little thin, I couldn't put this one down. 

Grade: 3/5

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Book: A Court of Wings and Ruin
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3
Author: Sarah J. Maas

A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.-Goodreads

Review: Don't hate me friends, this book was a huge disappointment for me. I wanted to love this so badly, especially after the wonderfulness of book #2 in the series (which I loved, loved, loved). This book started out fantastic, with Feyre undercover in the spring court. I loved her scheming! And I loved her escape to the winter court. Unfortunately, once she got to the winter court the entire plot stalled. It's tough when the love story is resolved before the end of the series-we lost all the fun flirting between Feyre and Rhys and I found they very boring together. I found myself skimming at times. I was also rolling my eyes at the overuse of the word "mate." I was very disappointed with Mor's entire storyline in this book. She came across as extremely weak and her treatment of Azriel (for so many years) really made me hate her a little. Her 'reason' seemed out of nowhere and did not justify her behavior. I am also questioning how Amren is #2 in the Night Court. She is rarely with the others and doesn't contribute much. 

Now..the ending. The whole book is building up to the big showdown with Hypern. I was confident (strongly hoping) this would prove to be a kick ass showdown and I would end of loving it. Instead, I kept thinking "wait a second, another person is really on their side...hold on..there are more ships coming for them....oh, here are some more." I'll avoid spoilers but while there are a few characters that die, none of them packed an emotional punch. It was just...too happy overall (man, there is something wrong with me, but I wanted to be overcome with emotion and CRY). 

Grade: 2/5

Her Every Fear

Book: Her Every Fear
Author: Peter Swanson

Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full-blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

Soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own—curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey’s. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey’s place, yet he’s denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman’s old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves--until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment and accidentally learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? What about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn’t sure. Jet-lagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself, so how could she take the chance on a stranger she’s just met?-Goodreads

Review: This was a fun, fast paced, page turner. I think my favorite part of the book is that there is no guessing as to who or what Kate and Corbin are. We are very plainly told their history and motivations. 

If you enjoy thrillers, give this one a try! 

Grade: 4/5


Book: Heartless
Author: Marissa Meyer

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.-Goodreads

Review: 'Heartless' is a prequel (of sorts) to Alice in Wonderland that tells the story of the girl who becomes the Queen of Hearts. Catherine's only desire is to open a successful bakery in Hearts, but as the only daughter of wealthy parents, that is an unlikely dream. When the king sets his sights on her, her mother is thrilled her daughter could be queen. Catherine does not welcome the kings affection and things become complicated for her when she falls in love with the new court jester, Jest. 

I'm in the minority here, but this book didn't work for me (neither did Cinder, another book most of my friends loved by this author..sorry people). I love the idea of seeing how the evil Queen of Hearts became evil but the story never grabbed me. Catherine's relationship with Jest seemed so undeveloped, her actions at the end didn't ring true. I love fantasy, urban fantasy and science-fiction but I couldn't visualize this world at all. I also thought it was odd that elements of Edgar Allen Poe were added to the story, as well as the nursery rhyme Peter Piper. 

Grade: 2/5

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Mothers

Book: The Mothers
Author: Brit Bennett

Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett's mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.

All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance--and the subsequent cover-up--will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a -what if- can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.-Goodreads

Review:  After Nadia Turner's mother commits suicide, she starts partying and hooking up with the pastor's son, Luke. Luke is insistent they keep their summer fling on the DL and when she becomes pregnant, he gives her money for an abortion. Nadia eventually leaves town for college and law school, while Luke stays home and marries Nadia's best friend, Aubrey. Nadia eventually comes back when her father is sick and secrets come out. 

On one hand, the writing itself was beautiful although I find the 'mothers' narrative at the beginning of each chapter odd and out of place. The author kind of tied it together at the very end but it still felt disjointed. If they book jacket didn't tell me this was based in California, I would have thought it was some southern town. My biggest challenge with this book were the characters of Nadia and Luke. I found them completely insufferable, especially their actions when she came back home. For the life of me, I cannot believe she was held up on him for so many years. I felt very bad for Aubrey and found her the only sympathetic character. 

Grade: 2/5

The Brief History of the Dead

Book: The Brief History of the Dead
Author: Kevin Brockmeier

The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two storylines to create a lyrical and haunting story about love, loss and the power of memory.-Goodreads

Review: The idea is this book is excellent-when people die they go to The City, a place where you stay as long as you are remembered by someone on Earth. The book follows some characters in The City, as well as a researcher in the Antarctic, Laura. 

So, remember how I said the idea of the book is excellent? It is, absolutely fantastic. What I didn't think was so great was what the author did (or rather didn't do) with the idea. People in The City live just like they did on earth. They have their memories, jobs, see friends and relatives. They live in furnished apartments, eat food and consume beverages. I kept wondering if there was money exchanging hands. Why were these people working? Did they really enjoy it? What happened with criminals, they certainly live in living people's memories as well, where were they? Alas, none of my burning questions were answered. We also never delved enough into these peoples lives for me to care about them as characters. We did find out that people were dying on earth due to a biological weapon of sorts being distributed through Coke (the company Coca Cola is actually referenced and I'm shocked their corporate office allowed this to be printed). It was also cool when people in The City realized they had one person in common, Laura. 

Now, let's get to Laura. She's a researcher in Antarctica and finds herself trapped. We quickly realize she's the only human left on earth. She starts a trek across the frozen tundra to find more people and I initially was excited by this adventure. I was hoping for a Martian type experience (you know, she was going to Maverick/engineer her way through survival) but it was quickly apparent that she was going to die, it was not a matter of if, just a matter of when. 

So overall-while I found the idea of this book unique, the execution was lacking. I could not connect to the characters. 

Grade: 2/5

All the Lies We Tell

Book: All the Lies We Tell
Series: Quarry Road #1
Author: Megan Hart

Everyone knew Alicia Harrison’s marriage to Ilya Stern wouldn’t last. They’d grown up on a remote stretch of Quarry Street, where there were two houses, two sets of siblings, and eventually, a tangled mess of betrayal, longing, and loss. Tragedy catapulted Allie and Ilya together, but divorce—even as neighbors—has been relatively uncomplicated.

Then Ilya’s brother, Nikolai, comes home for their grandmother’s last days. He’s the guy who teased and fought with Allie, infuriated her, then fled town without a good-bye. Now Niko makes her feel something else entirely—a rush of connection and pure desire that she’s been trying to quench since one secret kiss years ago. Niko’s not sticking around. She’s not going to leave. And after all that’s happened between their families, this can’t be anything more than brief pleasure and a bad idea.

But the lies we tell ourselves can’t compete with the truths our hearts refuse to let go…-Goodreads

Review: I was expecting a steamy romance and instead read...fiction with a small dose of mystery. It's hard to classify this. Told in alternating narratives, we follow Alicia, Ilya and Nikolai in present day and when they were teenagers. 

**this review may contain spoilers**

As teenagers, Ilya and Alicia's older sister had a casual fling while Alicia and Nikolai kissed once. When Alicia's sister dies in a nearby quarry (this death was clearly not an accident and I suspect the boy's stepfather killed her..which should be addressed in the next book), Nikoali leaves town resulting in Alicia and Ilya to get married (in their grief/rebound). This marriage lasts 10 years and they are divorced another 10 in the present day timeline. Although Alicia and Ilya are divorced, they still live across the street from each other and own a business together. When Ilya's beloved grandmother becomes sick and passes away, Nikolai and the boys estranged, crazy mother all return home. Alicia and Nikolai have a secret relationship while drunk and a complete waste of space the entire book. 

Reading this, I was reminded of Joe Biden's sons. The widow of one son is now marrying the other son. My gut reaction is "yuck" to that and even though we know Alicia and Ilya weren't a good match and she and Niko shared a sweet kiss at teens...I was still thinking "yuck" throughout this book. Beyond the ick factor, I wasn't engaged in the story and beyond the first chapter, I see zero appeal for Ilya. The  next book is focused on him and MH will have to do a great job portraying him in a positive light. He seemed so gross and nasty throughout this entire book. 

Grade: 2/5


Book: Hatchet
Series: Brian's Saga #1
Author: Gary Paulsen

Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake--and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.

Brian had been distraught over his parents' impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day's challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous?

Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage--an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive. -Goodreads

Review: My 3rd grade daughter was reading this in school and told me it was 'very violent' so I decided to download it and see what it was about. Brian, a 13-year old boy, is flying to Canada in a small prop-plane to visit his father when the pilot suffers a heart attack and the plane crashes. Brian, a city kid who was clearly never a boy scout, must figure out how to survive. 

This book is recommended for grades 6-8 and I'm guessing that is due to the multiple references to 'the Secret' and a reference to suicide. Essentially, Brian sees his mother kissing another man while she is still married to his father and that is why his parents are divorced. And there is one paragraph where he references giving up hope and trying to kill himself. That being said, my 8-year old seemed to brush over these scenes without really comprehending what was going on and focused on the survival aspect of the book. Although the writing was EXTREMELY repetitive, I enjoyed the core story of survival. 

Grade: 3/5