Tag Archives: fiction

The Perfect Child by Lucinda Berry

Christopher and Hannah are a happily married surgeon and nurse with picture-perfect lives. All that’s missing is a child. When Janie, an abandoned six-year-old, turns up at their hospital, Christopher forms an instant connection with her, and he convinces Hannah they should take her home as their own.
But Janie is no ordinary child, and her damaged psyche proves to be more than her new parents were expecting. Janie is fiercely devoted to Christopher, but she acts out in increasingly disturbing ways, directing all her rage at Hannah. Unable to bond with Janie, Hannah is drowning under the pressure, and Christopher refuses to see Janie’s true nature.
Hannah knows that Janie is manipulating Christopher and isolating him from her, despite Hannah’s attempts to bring them all together. But as Janie’s behavior threatens to tear Christopher and Hannah apart, the truth behind Janie’s past may be enough to push them all over the edge.

I read the Kindle edition

Warning: this review may contain spoilers. In fact, I will just be blunt. The following will contain spoilers so read at your own risk.

The thought I had immediately after finishing this novel was literally…omfg, why! I then proceeded to spend the next ten minutes or so bitching at my husband about the end of this novel…or rather, the lack of ending. I can understand ending a book on a cliffhanger but should be used carefully if the book is a standalone.

But I will get to that.

The plot of the story was good. In fact, it is one of those stories that completely grabbed my attention and I just could not stop thinking about it when I wasn’t actively reading. It was intense and as I tweeted at one point, it was causing me anxiety. It was a book that truly messes with your mind and makes you question everything you think you know about the characters. The characters weren’t great. They weren’t very well developed but then again, the plot propelled the story forward and the characters lack of development was forgivable.

But then the ending happened. Suddenly, as if the power suddenly went out, the story concluded and nothing was explained. It was a complete disappointment. After nearly 400 pages, it wasn’t something that was expected and ended up being one of the most disappointing ending to any books I have ever read.

Rating: two out of five stars

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.
An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.
The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten

I read a physical copy of this, that I purchased at Black Tree Books in Oneonta, NY.

I actually finished this a few weeks ago but never saved it on my Goodreads list so this book isn’t quite fresh in my mind but hopefully I can do the book justice.

I don’t read too many historical fiction novels, but when I do they tend to be books from the later half of the 20th century. I’m not super proud of this fact but the truth is, I never really connected with history unless it was something I could relate to.

Lilac Girls takes place during WWII, a subject that I do have an interest in. I does take a little time to get aquainted to the three characters that the story is told by but once you get a sense of who everyone is, its easy to get hooked. Caroline and Kasis are great narrators. Herta is challenging, as she is clearly the enemy and gets the least amount of attention in the book but at the same time-I felt for her. Recent events have taught me that it is very easy to get swept up in what is happening around you and to buy in to what the people in authority are telling you. I wish her story had been different, but the juxtaposition from Caroline and Kasia was startling and worked well.

After reading this, I have found that now I want to read more historical fiction and I would like to try branching out to different historical periods. I recently purchased The Red Tent that has been on my radar for a long time and I am interested in giving Circe a go.

Rating: Four and a half stars

“It only hurts you to hold on to the hate.”

― Martha Hall Kelly, Lilac Girls

DNF: If the Shoe Fits by Pauline Lawless

'Calling All Shoe Addicts', said the advertisement that triggered a response in four very different women, each at a difficult time of her life.

Niamh, at 23, the mother of a five-year-old and twin girls aged four, is desperate to have a home of her own. She longs to escape the house of her vicious mother-in-law but her charming, irresponsible husband and the mountain of debts they have makes this seem ever more unlikely.

Amber, former air stewardess whose husband Dermot left her for a younger woman, has lost all her confidence and is drowning her sorrows with alcohol.

Tessa, beautiful former model, paid the price for living life in the fast lane when she almost died from a heart attack. Her reliable friend, George, persuaded her to come and live with him in Ireland. She now realises that she's made a dreadful mistake.

Rosie, recently widowed, can't come to terms with the loss of the man she loved so much. Life without him doesn't seem worth living.

All of them, needing a way out, find it with the Italian designer shoe company, 'If The Shoes Fit'. This leads them to a new career, great friendships and a life-changing experience.

I stopped reading at 50 pages.

I think I picked this up as a freebie so I felt comfortable with my decision to stop reading this as 50 pages went by and I was not engaged enough. As I will sometimes do in situations where I’m not enjoying a book but can’t decide whether or not to move on or keep reading, I went on Goodreads and read a review that helped me decide that I probably was not going to get much out of it.

The review on the book was somewhat decent, it seemed like while it might not be a great book-it would be an enjoyable read for someone who is a big fan of fashion and lighter fiction but I don’t care much about fashion (especially shoes) and I like my novels with a little more meat.

Hopefully my next read will be a little more my syle.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

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Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn't tell anyone she blames herself for her mother's recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group--a secretive extremist cult--founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe's Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he's tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.

I read the Kindle edition.

I don’t remember what brought me to this novel, nor did I know anything going in.

This was complicated. Through a lot of the story, I just wasn’t sure what was going on. I couldn’t tell what to believe, or what characters, if any characters deserved my sympathy. It was a short novel but it was dense with information.

This is not a novel to read casually. In fact, I need to go back and reread it again when I am not distrated. There is a lot to process, in such a short time.

I’m not giving this a rating because I don’t know what to think. It was one of those books that I know I didn’t like-but at the same time, feel in awe by how complicated a story this was and how R.O. Kwon was able to manipulate everything so you really do not know who’s to be trusted, who’s telling the truth and what the truth is.

“People with no experience of God tend to think that leaving the faith would be a liberation, a flight from guilt, rules, but what I couldn’t forget was the joy I’d known, loving Him.”

R.O. Kwon, The Incendiaries

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

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Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of PiLily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one. 

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead.

Several years ago when I finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, I swore to myself that was the last book I would read about a dog dying. That book destroyed me, and my dog loving heart could not handle another dead dog book.

And then Lily and the Octopus appeared on Libby and I felt compelled to at least give it a shot. I hadn’t heard a lot about it but it definitely sounded like something I would enjoy, even if it did break my heart.

The first thing I noticed is that Lily and the Octopus didn’t read like a novel. It read like a memoir and I immediately connected with Ted and Lily. I could almost see Lily and a few times I looked down from my phone (where I read this), and was actually shocked to find no dog by my side.

I did start fading a bit on Ted and Lily’s adventure, that I felt could have been dealt with better but I think a lot of it was bad flashbacks of lectures of symbolism from my lit classes in college (and hence the reason my degree was psych and not literature).

I loved this book. Lily stole my heart for sure, and I could not feel more excited for Ted at the end.

Rating: four stars

“To focus, I think of how dogs are witnesses. How they are present for our most private moments, how they are there when we think of ourselves as alone. They witness our quarrels, our tears, our struggles, our fears, and all of our secret behaviors that we have to hide from our fellow humans. They witness without judgment.”

― Steven Rowley, Lily and the Octopus

All the Ways the World Can End by Abby Sher

Lenny (short for Eleanor) feels like the world is about to end. Her best friend is moving to New York City to attend Julliard and her dad has terminal cancer. To cope with her stress Lenny is making a list of all the ways the world can end—designer pathogens, blood moon prophecies, alien invasion—and stockpiling supplies in a bunker in the backyard. Then she starts to develop feelings for her dad's very nice young doctor—and she thinks he may have feelings for her too. Spoiler alert: he doesn't. But a more age-appropriate love interest might. In a time of complete uncertainty, one thing's for sure: Lenny's about to see how everything is ending and beginning. All at the same time. 

I read the Kindle edition of this.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It was YA, but very much relatable to anyone who has dealt with a sick parent. While both my parents are still alive, my father, whom I was close to growing up has dealt with a lot of health concerns and a few near deaths over the years. Often when he is sick and is in the hospital (which does happen every few months) I’m worried that it will lead to even more problems. With Covid-19, my nerves regarding my dad are even more jangled and so I truly connected with Lenny.

There were however a few subplots that I didn’t like. Lenny is involved in a school performance and the play does not seem plausible-at all. It is like this avant garde performance that didn’t seem the type of thing that high school kids would be involved it. And then there was this little love interest thing going on that seemed forced and put into place just because…it didn’t go anywhere and I think it was the weakest part of the story.

Rating: Four stars

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

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In this utterly charming debut — one woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.

1. Go to Paris
2. Perform live, on a super big stage
3. Have a baby, maybe two
4. Fall in love 

Brett Bohlinger has forgotten all about the list of life goals she’d written as a naïve teenager. In fact, at thirty-four, Brett seems to have it all—a plum job at her family’s multimillion-dollar company and a spacious loft with her irresistibly handsome boyfriend. But when her beloved mother, Elizabeth, dies, Brett’s world is turned upside down. Rather than simply naming her daughter the new CEO of Bohlinger Cosmetics, Elizabeth’s will comes with one big stipulation: Brett must fulfill the list of childhood dreams she made so long ago.

Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mother’s decision. Some of her old hopes seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other dreams (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. For each goal attempted, her mother has left behind a bittersweet letter, offering words of wisdom, warmth, and—just when Brett needs it—tough love.

As Brett struggles to complete her abandoned life list, one thing becomes clear: Sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places.

I read the Kindle edition of this book.

When I finished reading this book I gave this a four star but after two weeks, I’m thinking of bumping this down to a three star. It was an okay book but not very memorable. There are lots of stories involving life lists of some kind and while I enjoyed this story there wasn’t a lot that made this stand out from all the other books.

Still it was a nice story. I liked that the life list was a little different from most but it kind of seemed a bit off…I didn’t quite buy the concept and it was a little too neat. There were too many connections that just didn’t make a lot of sense. I also didn’t think that the characters were developed enough…Brett was okay but everyone else was a bit too shallow for my taste.

Rating: three stars

“Love is the one thing on which you should never compromise”

― Lori Nelson Spielman, The Life List

The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann

Back to work tomorrow, but today I managed to finally get almost all of the dishes washed finally. Tomorrow I’m going to focus on cleaning up my bedroom and getting laundry put away.

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In this evocative debut novel, Katrin Schumann weaves a riveting story of past and present—and how love can lead us astray.At twenty-four, Katie Gregory feels like life is looking up: she’s snagged a great job in New York City and is falling for a captivating artist—and memories of her traumatic past are finally fading. Katie’s life fell apart almost a decade earlier, during an idyllic summer at her family’s cabin on Eagle Lake when her best friend accused her father of sexual assault. Throughout his trial and imprisonment, Katie insisted on his innocence, dodging reporters and clinging to memories of the man she adores.
Now he’s getting out. Yet when Katie returns to the shuttered lakeside cabin, details of that fateful night resurface: the chill of the lake, the heat of first love, the terrible sting of jealousy. And as old memories collide with new realities, they call into question everything she thinks she knows about family, friends, and, ultimately, herself. Now, Katie’s choices will be put to the test with life-altering consequences.

I read the Kindle edition of this.

This was an intense book. Although the summary was clear about the plot, and I thought I knew what to expect the truth was-I found this hard to read. The story was kind of slow moving and so I think it just added to the build up on whether Katie’s father was actually guilty or not.

The unknown was what made this an intriguing read. Not knowing what actually happened on the night in question made me question what my expectations on the characters were. Each character was flawed in such a way that there was no telling if they were to be trusted, especially as the only way they are presented is through the eyes of Katie who thinks she knows where her loyalties lie.

Rating: three stars

“It turns out that no one believes her anyway, and that lack of belief in her festers, infects her through and through—because, in her heart, she wants to be an honest person, and she thought she was. But she is not fully honest with anyone, not even with herself. It turns out she cannot give voice to uncertainty; this is not allowed. She does not need to be told this to know it is true. So she becomes quiet; she continues her journey inward, a journey she will be on for years, alone, unable to share with anyone, not her family, not her friends, not her lover.”

― Katrin Schumann, The Forgotten Hours

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

It is the first hot day of the season. It was still winter a few weeks ago (like, Mother’s Day weekend) and now it’s full on summer. Needless to say, today was kind of a wash.

Ellen O’Farrell is a professional hypnotherapist who works out of the eccentric beachfront home she inherited from her grandparents. It’s a nice life, except for her tumultuous relationship history. She’s stoic about it, but at this point, Ellen wouldn’t mind a lasting one. When she meets Patrick, she’s optimistic. He’s attractive, single, employed, and best of all, he seems to like her back.

Then comes that dreaded moment: He thinks they should have a talk. Braced for the worst, Ellen is pleasantly surprised. It turns out that Patrick’s ex-girlfriend is stalking him. Ellen thinks, Actually, that’s kind of interesting. She’s dating someone worth stalking. She’s intrigued by the woman’s motives. In fact, she’d even love to meet her.

Ellen doesn’t know it, but she already has.

I read the paperback edition of this, courtesy of Black Tree Books from Oneonta, NY.

I have read almost all of Liane Moriarty’s novels, (The Last Anniversary was a DNF), and she’s one of my go to authors. I’ve read enough of her books that whenever I come across a new title, I can safely assume that I am going to enjoy it. This title was no different. I was a bit hesitant as I had images of this being full of woo but it was very much down to earth and actually made me reconsider hypnosis just a tiny bit.

I liked Ellen but I really loved reading the chapters in the POV of Saskia, the stalker. Of all the characters in this book-she was the one I felt I understood the most. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I truly felt that she was more deserving of sympathy then anyone else.

Not the best Moriarty book, but not the worst either. I found it easier to follow then some of her other books that switch POV a lot, and I actually felt as though the romance aspect of this was a lot more realistic then most books.

Rating: Four stars

“Perhaps all grown-ups were just children carefully putting on their grown-up disguises each day and then acting accordingly.”

― Liane Moriarty, The Hypnotist’s Love Story

Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

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From Goodreads: The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

Brilliantly executed and compulsively listenable, Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerizing story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realize that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred—whether family or friends—and in the strength of the human spirit.

Unsheltered was a complicated book for me to read. Although Barbara Kingsolver tells a good story, I actually usually avoid her books as the two I have read previously (The Beantrees and The Poisonwood Bible) were great…until the conclusion. For me, bad endings are a deal breaker for me. I’d actually rather read a so-so book with an awesome ending then a great book with a terrible ending.
So until I heard the setting of Unsheltered, I had no intentions of reading it. In fact, the news of Unshelter’s release hadn’t even blipped on my radar until I saw it being discussed on my hometown’s Facebook group. Unsheltered takes place in Vineland, NJ-the very place I was born and spent the first 30 years of my life in. It was the first time I had ever heard of a book being set there.
So I decided to read Unsheltered, despite knowing that there was a good chance it was going to piss me off.
And well. I can’t say that I loved it, but at the same time I liked it more than I thought I would. Although I had lived in Vineland for 30 years, my knowledge of the town history was pretty much non existant. I had heard of Charles Landis, the founder of Vineland, but I didn’t know anything about him. I enjoyed the chapters that were set in the 1800’s, as I did not have a preconceived vision of what Vineland looked like, what the people were like. I could just read the story as a story.
The modern chapters were more challenging. There were parts of Vineland that Kingsolver got right, the neighborhood that Willa’s family lived in was accurate. The next door neighbors were particularly well developed and I really did feel like they were people I had actually known. But then there were details that were so glaringly obvious to a native that it was a struggle. For just one example, Kingsolver mentions the devistation of Hurricane Sandy often but in reality, Vineland wasn’t affected by the hurricane. A few months prior to Sandy, Vineland suffered devestation from another storm (which sadly claimed the lives of two young children who were camping), and because of the damage from the storm-Vineland was relatively unscathed by Sandy. A much smaller inaccuracy, but one that annoyed me was mention of Atlantic City Electric, where, in reality, Vineland has their own Electric Plant. If you live in Vineland, especially the neighborhood that Willa and her family did, you get electric locally.
Overall though, I enjoyed both stories and it certainly sparked my interest in learning more about the history of my hometown.
“The thing is, Mom, the secret of happiness is low expectations. That’s a good reminder, right there. If you didn’t lose your husband and kids all in one year, smile! You’re ahead of the game.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered