Thursday, April 28, 2016

review: the never never sisters by l. alison heller

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Paige is a marriage counselor, but her family life is far from perfect. As The Never Never Sisters begins, Paige’s husband comes home from work saying he’s been suspended pending an investigation (he claims not to know the details, but Paige thinks it’s related to insider trading). This news is quickly followed by her parents’ announcement that their long estranged older daughter has finally been in contact. Paige’s life quickly becomes full of drama, especially once she starts reading her mother’s old journal and learns some secrets from the past.

The family dynamics L. Alison Heller creates in her second novel are skillfully constructed with a simmering build to the confrontations Paige finally makes. Heller adds in a few unexpected plot developments that allow her to further grow the characters realistically. The one downside is that Heller chose to only include the perspectives of Paige and Vanessa (Paige’s mother) and not Sloane (the estranged sister).

About the audiobook: The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller is read by Julia Whelan who does an excellent job differentiating between the characters through tone of voice. Whelan even makes Paige’s husband Dave sound depressed which was quite appropriate for the character. The audio version was released by Ideal on Dreamscape Audio in January 2016. It runs nine hours.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

review: inconceivable! by tegan wren

Inconceivable! began with such promise. Hatty is an enterprising college student in a foreign country. She has great friends, a good support system back home, and a drive to succeed in journalism. The first few chapters are brilliantly crafted. But this a tale of two diametrically opposed Hattys and the Hatty of the novel’s beginning quickly disappears. After Hatty meets a handsome member of the country’s royal family, she loses herself until she becomes wholly unrecognizable. For all of Hatty’s determination to grow as a woman and have a career, she fully immerses herself into the prince’s world. While character’s frequently change in some way from the beginning of a novel to the end, they also must do so plausibly and Tegan Wren failed to develop Hatty or the plot in such a way for the change to make sense. Furthermore, Hatty’s mother makes an about-face without explanation as well. The plot of Inconceivable! gets worse after Hatty’s royal wedding as she becomes wholly obsessed with providing an heir to the throne. This devolves into slut-shaming (despite Hatty only having had one partner before her husband) and demanding medical procedures (which are presented as being Hatty’s choice, but are clearly required given the threat of an annulment). Wren tries to redeem it all at the end, but it is another out-of-nowhere turn and too little, too late.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Curiosity Quills.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

review: in other words by jhumpa lahiri

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After writing a few excellent novels and a short story collection (my favorite of her work), Jhumpa Lahiri decided to tackle the memoir and to do it in Italian—a language she’s still learning. As I cannot read Italian, I read the translation into English by Ann Goldstein. As English is Lahiri’s “dominant language” one might ask why she didn’t do the translation herself. She addresses that in an author’s note stating that she would’ve been tempted to improve the work by using stronger words from her stronger language. Lahiri returns to this thought later on when she’s asked to contribute a piece for a literary festival which she writes in Italian and then translates herself. Overall, In Other Words is a fabulous glimpse into the life of an author. It is also an interesting look at the process of learning a language as Lahiri documents her attempts to learn Italian while still living in the United States before going into immersion by moving to Italy.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

Monday, April 18, 2016

review: love that boy by ron fournier

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In Love That Boy (a title that comes from an instruction given by former president George W. Bush), journalist Ron Fournier writes about his family with a focus on his youngest child, a boy who has Asperger’s. At the behest of his wife, Fournier tries to bond with his son while learning about past presidents since his son has no interest in or aptitude for sports as Fournier had dreamed when his son was born. Fournier shares the difficulties he had accepting Tyler as well as the struggles of other parents he’s met. The hook of this reflection on parenting is the meetings father and son have with the three most recent (as of April 2016) presidents of the United States. The most in-depth comments come from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton since both agreed to personal meetings with Tyler. The way these two different men related to a child with Asperger’s was touching and revealing of their character regardless of political leanings or scandals.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harmony Books.

Friday, April 15, 2016

review: the madwoman upstairs by catherine lowell

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The Madwoman Upstairs is Catherine Lowell’s excellent modernization of Jane Eyre with a few other novels from the Brontë sisters added for good measure. Although the Jane Eyre inspiration is clear, Lowell creates a heroine wholly her own in Samantha Whipple, the only living heir to the Brontë estate. Upon arriving at Oxford to study English literature, Samantha learns her room is in a tower that’s included on a tour of the university. That others have semi-frequent access to her room is quite convenient as it means Samantha has few clues once someone starts anonymously leaving her deceased father’s Brontë books in her room. Therein lies the mystery, but The Madwoman Upstairs wouldn’t be complete without the slightly inappropriate romance Samantha indulges in with her tutor (professor in American terms). All the elements come together marvelously as Samantha discovers her father’s past and forges a life of her own even as a fellow student exposes her Brontë connection.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

review: the girl from home by adam mitzner

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Jonathan had a superficially good life in New York City with a beautiful wife and a job managing other people’s money. In order to maintain his image though, Jonathan makes a decision he knows is wrong thinking he can stall for a few months. He can’t. The downfall of his career coincides with his father’s health taking a turn for the worse, so Jonathan moves back to his childhood home and attends the high school reunion he never intended to go to. It is another fateful decision for this is where Jonathan connects with the woman who was the most popular girl in school. She, of course, married the star of the football team, but her husband is abusive and has threatened her life if she ever tries to leave. In a tightly woven plot, Adam Mitzner lays out how Jonathan and Jackie fall in love and then try to work out their respective legal problems after Jackie’s husband ends up dead. Despite a lack of sympathetic characters, The Girl from Home’s smart, nonlinear narrative makes it a compelling read.
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

review: funeral hotdish by jana bommersbach

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Using actual events (which, wow, taught me a lot about the city I’m now living in!) as a backdrop, Funeral Hotdish finds newspaper reporter Joya Bonner pursuing a story about a Mafia hitman for her career in Phoenix while also aiding her family and friends in her small North Dakota hometown after drug overdoses put a boy in a coma and a girl in a casket. Much to Joya’s surprise, the overdoses are connected to the story she’s investigating. Jana Bommersbach creates plausible yet compelling situations (which seem to at least partly draw upon her own experiences as a journalist in Phoenix) for Joya and the other characters. Bommersbach’s descriptive writing makes the scenes vivid and powerful.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Friday, April 1, 2016

review: cats in paris by won-sun jang

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With coloring books for adults taking off in popularity, it seemed like something fun to try out and a coloring book with the title Cats in Paris seemed absolutely perfect. While the coloring book definitely delivers on cats, it is a bit lacking in Paris cityscapes. The few that do specifically look to be Paris are very intricately done which proved a bit daunting—I feared ruining Won-Sun Jang’s beautiful drawings. The paper is fairly thick, but I’m not sure markers could be used without bleeding through the page (I used colored pencils). My biggest disappointment with Cats in Paris was that the pages are meant to stay within the book—no perforated edges, printed on both sides of the page, and some of the designs run into the binding. It was tremendously fun to color like a kid while watching TV or listening to a podcast though.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.