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Posts made in July, 2016

Book Review: Women’s Fiction

Posted by on Jul 18, 2016 |

In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch

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Women’s Fiction > Chick Lit

intwentyyearsThe multiple points of view that tell this story are wonderful and deftly executed. In college, six friends lived together. Eighteen years later, the surviving friends receive a letter from a lawyer about a trust put together by their deceased friend, and to learn more, they must all return to the house they shared for the weekend of July 4th, which was the birthday of Bea, the friend who died.

In those eighteen years, the friends lost touch after a wedding in which friends betrayed each other and the death of Bea soon after that wedding.

The characters seem successful on the outside, but they are all in the midst of a crisis, which they keep from each other for as long as possible during their weekend together.

One of the things the author did extremely well was balance what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom (Annie) married to a wealthy man, a mom (Catherine) with a demanding career and a stay-at-home dad (Owen) who was her college sweetheart, and a woman who focused on her music career and avoided serious relationships (Lindy—she is selfish and self-centered and occasionally unlikeable, but her motivations make her a complex character despite her faults). Scotch never suggests that one path is better than any other or easier than any other. The other friend is Colin, a plastic surgeon in LA, and the only friend who knows the full truth about Bea’s death.

This is an extremely well-written book and I thank NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for giving me an advanced look at this novel.

-Theresa Alan

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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Women’s Fiction

lucyLucy is in the hospital for several weeks after what should have been a routine surgery. Her husband hates hospitals, so, for a time, the mother Lucy has been estranged from for years sits by her hospital bed. Through the time Lucy is confined in a hospital and her visit with her mother, we learn about Lucy’s childhood of abject poverty.

There is so much beautiful writing in this very short book. Lucy thinks, “It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere and all the time. Whatever we call, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to put other people down.”

Also, Lucy has had some small success as a writer and learns from a writer named Sarah Payne who tells Lucy that the book she is writing, “This is a story about a mother her loves her daughter imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.”

-Theresa Alan

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Book Reviews: Women’s Fiction

Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 |

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie
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Women’s Fiction

fracturedThis is a suspenseful story that shifts both in point of view from Julie, a successful novelist, and her neighbor, John, and also in time—it goes back and forth from twelve months ago, eleven months ago, etc. to TODAY.

Julie Apple Prentice published a book that was wildly successful about friends who commit the perfect murder. The protagonist of the novel is a little too much like Julie herself, and there was in fact a suspicious death of a friend back in law school. At the time, there was speculation that the Katherine’s death wasn’t an accident. The results at the time were inconclusive and no charges were brought, but the publication of the book brings back the suspicions about whether her death was really an accident after all. It also brought out a stalker who managed to wreak havoc in Julie’s life, so she and her husband and their twins move across the country to start a new life.

The new neighborhood they move into is a different kind of nightmare. This community is wildly zealous about enforcing rules—led by a bored-stay-at-home Mom who keeps busy by sticking her nose into everyone else’s business.

As ever, McKenzie is a gifted writer and I was compelled to find out how her tale unfolded. Definitely an enjoyable page-turner.

Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for giving me an advance look at this book.

-Theresa Alan

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
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Women’s Fiction

sweetbitterThis is a well-written book I would not recommend to anyone. For the first fifth of the book, I felt like I was reliving my days of waitressing back in college. She gets the minutia right, every excruciating detail, but reading it, I felt like I was actually working as a server except without the paycheck.

While I normally like imperfect protagonists, I found Tess particularly difficult to root for. Who goes to New York City with $146 in their bank account and no job lined up? Also, while I do know career servers that can pull in great salaries, it’s also difficult for me to picture a character who has absolutely no ambition—until she gets the job working in the back (it takes months backbreaking labor to work *up* to becoming a front-of-the-house server)—and her whole life revolves around learning about different wines, seasons, foods, and so on. That becomes her passion—to become a great server. OK, so at least she develops some goals, even if they’re not the usual I’ll-waitress-until-I-make-it-as-an actor/writer/singer/mom stories that most servers have (it’s a stepping stone, a paycheck while pursuing big, impossible dreams).

I do like nice restaurants that serve the kind of meals she’s talking about, so it’s enjoyable to envision a world eating and drinking wine at that caliber all the time. But it’s also difficult to care for a woman whose after-hours drinking and drugging she seems to only occasionally understand is out of control. Yes, she’s only 22 and her body can still take it, but combined with her need to be in a relationship with an obviously damaged, emotionally unavailable guy, I want her to at least have more self-awareness of getting herself out of this hole eventually.

I liked the originality of her storytelling, but didn’t love the book itself.

-Theresa Alan

The Girls by Emma Cline
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Women’s Fiction

thegirlsThe writing in this book is beautiful. If you’re female, you’ll experience being a teenager again—even if you weren’t a teenager in California in the ’60s, the way Cline writes about being a teenage girl rings true, sometimes painfully so: “Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.”
The book switches from Evie as a 14-year-old and as an adult, staying at a friend’s house. When her friend’s son Julian arrives, Julian is impressed that Evie was once part of a Manson-like cult, though only for a short time, and she wasn’t involved in the gruesome murders. (This isn’t a spoiler—you know this right away.)

What is compelling about this book is the writing. You know from the beginning of the book that Evie gets out of the cult, but not how or what effects exactly have lingered from that experience.

Evie is drawn to Suzanne more than to Russell. Russell is the sun around which teenage girls orbit, but it’s Suzanne who pulls Evie in. On Russell, Evie says, “I remember how strange it was to see Russell’s face change as he talked to the boy. His features mutable, turning antic and foolish, like a jester’s though his voice stayed calm. He could do that. Change himself to fit the person, like water taking the shape of whatever vessel it was poured into.”

People would later say that they couldn’t understand how or why anyone would get into such a horrible situation at the ranch. “But Suzanne had nothing else: She had given her life completely to Russell . . . Suzanne and the other girls had stopped being able to make certain judgments, the unused muscle of their ego growing slack and useless.”

Evie does not concern herself with the larger issues of the war in Viet Nam or Civil Rights. Like many 14-year-olds, she’s focused primarily on herself, and she’s coming to understand sex and drugs among a very damaged group of “friends.”

This is an original, intriguing book.

-Theresa Alan

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Book Review: Women’s Fiction Results May Vary

Posted by on Jul 11, 2016 |

Results May Vary – Women’s Fiction

Bethany Chase

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resultsThe first few pages will grab you right away—Caroline’s marriage of ten years is about to be destroyed, or at least seriously threatened, but she doesn’t know it yet. She’s looking forward to a night in the city at an art gallery featuring an up-and-coming photographer.

One thing I enjoyed about this book was the art angle—Caroline is a museum curator and her husband, Adam, is aspiring to be a great novelist as his rigid father expects. There are definitely things in this book that I didn’t see coming, which I greatly appreciated. One thing was discovering that Adam’s infidelity is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of secrets he’s been hiding from his wife—a woman he started dating when they were only 17 years old, and got married to when they were 23. He’s the only man she’s ever dated.

There are the colorful characters of Caroline’s sister, Ruby, and an artist friend, Farren. The writing is beautiful, with lines like “October trickled by, one glorious stained-glass day after another.” (The book is set in New England.) Another line I thought beautiful: “acting with kindness is a choice you will never have to regret.”

If you’re looking for a book with evil villains and that sort of thing, this isn’t it. This is a book about a woman trying to figure out if her marriage is worth saving, and what her future will mean if it isn’t.

Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of Result May Vary in exchange for an honest review.

-Theresa Alan

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Book Reviews: Women’s Fiction

Posted by on Jul 8, 2016 |

Spin by Catherine McKenzie

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spinI loved this book from the first page. I loved the pacing and humor and the protagonist, Kate.

The day before a job interview for a dream job writing about music for a magazine called The Line, her friend invites her out for a drink, which turns into many drinks.

Because she’s had so many drinks the night before, she barely makes it to the interview on time. Her brain is cloudy and she can’t think straight. At one point she has to run to the bathroom to vomit. The woman who follows her recommends AA, which Kate thinks is ridiculous. She screwed up this interview, but it was just a one-time mistake. Yes, it’s true that for a while now, Kate has been stealing her roommate’s bottles of wine, which the roommate buys as an investment. Kate sees no issue with drink the wine since her roommate won’t.

Depressed, Kate goes home to drink and follow the story of Amber Shepard, a woman who became famous playing The Girl Next Door on a TV show as a teenager. Amber used that success to star in two successful horror films and a movie that garnered her an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, she’s been caught on camera smoking crack, and is sent to rehab.

Bob, the owner of The Line, also owns a magazine called Gossip Central. He considers Kate’s less-than-spectacular job interview and thinks she might be the perfect candidate to go undercover at the rehab center to get the inside scoop on Amber.

Naturally, Kate doesn’t think she has a problem—she’s never had a DUI for example, because she’s smart enough to take cabs. But there are other things in her life that indicate she’s not living honestly—with her friends, family, and herself.

The story is fun and fast-paced. I recommend it.

The Dog Year by Ann Garvin

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dogyearLucy is a successful plastic surgeon who helps women with reconstructive surgery after battling breast cancer. Eight months ago, her husband died, which triggered a latent kleptomaniac side of Lucy—she steals supplies from the hospital and doesn’t know why she does it. She’s ordered to go to therapy, and her therapist suggests that she attends an AA meeting because it’s the only self-help group in their small town.

Until Lucy gets caught on tape stealing supplies and is told she has to get help or get another job, Lucy’s only friends were her husband and her brother. She spent so much of her time focusing on her work that she figured that’s all she needed. Now that her husband is dead and she can’t work until she gets help, she meets new friends through therapy and AA—a woman who’s anorexic and recovering alcoholics, including a police officer Lucy went to high school with. Through this eclectic group of friends and befriending dogs in need of rescue, Lucy does indeed grow and change. The humor and pacing make this a fun, light read despite the difficult topics of mourning and behavior disorders. I liked reading about a kleptomaniac and an anorexic. The woman battling the eating disorder tells Lucy, “Most people, when I talk about my eating disorder say really stupid things like ‘It’s not cancer, all you have to do is eat.’ Or, ‘I wish I could get anorexia for a few days.” Lucy never says those things, because she doesn’t understand why she does the things she does either—who is she to judge?

My favorite quote of the book, however, is “If you understand that you have limited time, you won’t want to waste a moment watching reality TV, fighting about a parking space, or stealing . . .”
The animals and quirky characters make for a fun read.

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Book Reviews: Suspense

Posted by on Jul 8, 2016 |

Behind Closed Doors by B.A Paris

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behind closed doorsI was hooked from the beginning by the tone of foreboding. It kept me captivated and quickly turning pages for the first quarter of the book, which is about a woman named Grace, who thought she was marrying the man of her dreams. Part of the reason Jack Angel seemed so great was because Grace has a special needs sister, Millie, who Grace plans to take care of full time once she graduates high school at the age of 18. Jack seems not only fine with Grace becoming a full-part part of their lives (unlike Grace and Millie’s parents, who sent money but otherwise want nothing to do with her). Unfortunately, it’s not for the reasons Grace thinks. Grace is so excited about marrying a man she’s only known six months that she doesn’t worry too much about the fact he wants to buy a house without her seeing it first, and, after the proposal, he tells her he wants her to quit her job because it involves traveling too much and he doesn’t want to be apart from her. She’s reluctant to give up a job she loves, but acquiesces because she’ll have Millie to take care of and wants to start having babies right away.

Grace unfortunately married into a nightmare she can’t escape because he threatens Millie. In the middle of the book, her prison made me feel trapped, too. In that way, the book is not a fun read, but it is compelling because I did want to find out how she got out of this horrible situation. I will say that the last few pages of the book were definitely satisfying.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

♥♥♥

lifeweburyJoe is struggling to pay his way through college. He has a bipolar mother who self-medicates with copious amounts of vodka and can’t be depended on to take care of his autistic brother, who is 18 years old but in many ways needs help that’s more like a much younger person.

For one of Joe’s classes, he has to write an biography of someone, and that someone he finds is Carl, a man who spent thirty years in prison for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl. Carl is now dying and living out his last days in a hospice and not prison. Carl is a Viet Nam vet who risked his own life to save a friend from certain death during the war. How does Joe reconcile a war hero with the fact that Carl is also a murderer? Quickly, it become obvious that all indications are that Carl wasn’t the murderer, so why did Carl not protest his innocence? Who is the real killer?

Joe, along with his neighbor Lila, team up to solve the mystery. In addition to his job and other classes, Joe has to take care of his brother Jeremy several times when his mother isn’t up to the job. Fortunately, Jeremy’s quirks don’t bother Lila. Joe is conflicted about his desire to get through school, which means keeping his job as a bouncer (which teaches him self-defense techniques that come in handy more than once in the story) and finishing his assignments and also how to care for his brother.

Joe isn’t perfect but he tries hard. The problem with this book is that nothing came as a real twist or surprise. It felt a little too obvious that this was Allen Eskins’ first book and the author was following a this-is-how-to-write-a-mystery formula. In some cases, Joe’s motivations for continuing his search weren’t necessarily believable. It was a fun, quick book, but not the best written mystery I’ve read recently.

All The Missing Girls by Miranda 

♥♥♥

allthemissinggirlsI didn’t love this book as much as I wanted to.

Nicolette Farrell returns home to the small town where she grew up to help her brother get their father’s house ready to sell—once they can get him to sign the papers over to them. He’s suffering from dementia, sliding back and forth in time, only occasionally recognizing them. Another thing that triggers her to come home is that she receives a letter from her father that says “I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.”

Ten years ago, Nic’s best friend Corinne went missing. Soon afterward, Nic moved away from her small town, which meant leaving a brother she wasn’t close to, a father who was drunk more often than not, and a boyfriend she once thought she would marry. When she comes back, she’s engaged to a successful lawyer and is happy with the life she carved out for herself in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, another girl goes missing. Nic knew Annaleise, of course—everyone knows everyone in a small town—but Annaleise is five years younger than Nic, meaning she was just thirteen when Nic left town.

After the opening chapter, the book jumps fifteen days ahead and then starts counting down backwards from there. Because so much of this is told in flashback (meaning remembering ten years ago right before Corinne mysteriously disappeared), you really have to pay attention to where you are in time and who is who. What made me not love the book is that the big twist at the end didn’t seem like all that big a twist to me. I was able to keep reading the book so I could figure out if there was a good reason the author decided to tell the story the way she told it, and also to learn who killed Corinne and, ten years later, Annaleise. To me, the ending was more muddled than satisfying.

I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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