Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel
Kate has been in a slump since her boyfriend unceremoniously dumped her at the airport in Paris. Instead a new life in a new country, she returns to New York and becomes one with her couch and her sweatpants for months.
With the encouragement of her sister, Angela, Kate manages to get a job in the admissions office of a private elementary school.
This story is told in part from her friend Chloe’s point of view, and in part through letters and emails from parents who are going out of their minds trying to get their kid placed in a prestigious school. It’s also told in part in Kate’s write-ups after meeting the potential students and their parents. The innovative story telling is part of what makes this such a fun book. The dialogue is hilarious and the characters are well-drawn, even the minor characters are given depth and believability.
Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White
This is a beautifully written story of Marianne, who has battled bipolar disorder for thirty years. When she’s medicated, she has been able to run a successful recording studio and run a charity for teens in trouble called Girls in Motion. It was through that charity that she came to unofficially adopt Jade when she was 16 (Jade is now almost thirty at the start of the novel). Marianne isn’t the cause of a car accident that causes a woman to give birth to a seven-month-along still born, but she takes responsibility anyway—plus it brings back horrible memories of another accident and lost pregnancy. The recent accident causes Marianne to have another break, go off her meds, and return to England where she grew up to see Gabriel, who is now a priest. He was her first love and the brother of her first lover, who died in a car accident when Marianne was sixteen years old. In addition to leaving Jade behind in North Carolina, she also leaves behind a doting husband, Darius. Both of them help with the studio.
I’ve had friends who battle bipolar disorder and they are medicated, but when their meds are adjusted, watch out. However, with my friends, I can only know what they tell me, not experience it firsthand. The portions of this book that are written from Marianne’s point of view when she is having hallucinations are incredibly insightful. It is not a disease I envy.
This is fast-paced for a literary women’s fiction novel, possibly because when you’re dealing with a person who battles manic episodes, the person is unpredictable, and thus this book is, too—in a great way.
There were definitely times when the prose made me teary, which I love.
All the Good Parts by Loretta Nyhan
When Leona has a weird blip in her cycle, her gynecologist points out that at 39, Leona has to think about whether to she wants a baby because her eggs aren’t going to be in working order forever.
Leona has a busy life going to nursing school online, working as a home aide, and helping her sister and brother-in-law raise their four children. In exchange for the help she does around the house, she gets free room and board and helps out financially where she can.
At first I thought this was going to be a book about a woman going on a series of dates to find a man quick. Fortunately, that was not the case. Instead, she looks at all of the options available to a cash-strapped woman who hasn’t finished school.
My main issue with the book is that somehow she gets to the age of 39 with really nothing to show for it. We know she had a great guy several years ago and wasn’t ready to commit yet, and we know she took two years to care for her ailing father, but besides that, there is no mention of other relationships or jobs. If you want to be a mother, that’s not something you just happen to remember at the age of 39 because you get a weird period.
Leona was a little too passive to me—that was the point, that she had to be more assertive–but she was just a little too nice for my taste.
Still, this is a well written book with moments of humor.Read More
Tier One by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson
Thriller > Suspense
The authors use a ridiculous amount of acronyms, and because I was reading this via ebook, I didn’t realize there was a glossary of terms at the end. The use of jargon made things sound authentic, but it communicated nothing to me, a civilian.
The book is 98 percent action and 2 percent character. If you’re just looking for an action book, this is well written for that genre. However, because there was almost no character development, I didn’t really care about whether the characters succeeded in their goal—even if they were trying to save American lives. For that reason, this is a forgettable book that’s frankly not even that enjoyable to read.Read More
The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
Suspense > Mystery
At first, I was reminded of a Grisham novel, and since I’m not a fan, I wasn’t expecting much. But while the main character, Peter Donley, a third-year lawyer who is smart and will fight for the underdog like a character from a Grisham book, he’s likeable and unique—he reminded me of Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting.
Peter works for his uncle Lou, and when Lou is sidelined with a heart attack just before the Christmas holiday, it’s up to Peter to get started with what he thinks will just be postponing a plea for a priest accused of murdering a boy at the shelter he runs.
The novel is set in 1987. It turns out the reason for that is because the author wrote the book two decades ago, when car phones were an exotic luxury and cell phones were not yet a thing. While the world is a very different place when you can’t immediately call or text or Google someone or something, the one problem I had with this book is that it was considered common knowledge that there was a cover up about pedophile priests. That’s anachronistic because that didn’t become common knowledge until 2002 when the Boston Globe (and subsequently many other papers and magazines) wrote about it.
Ignoring that, everything else about this book was page-turning and terrific. Peter Donley is smart and brave and a caring husband and father to a three-year-old. He makes a wonderful protagonist.
The priest accused of murder was once a juvenile delinquent, so after turning his life around, he’s taken it upon himself to help the boys of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco who often turn to selling their bodies to obtain drugs. They are runaways because they are running from bad homes or because of their addiction—Father Martin doesn’t care, he just wants to be there to help if/when they are ready for help. If not, he’ll just ensure they have a warm, dry bed for the night.
On the rainy night that opens the novel, he happens upon a dead body of a runaway, and the cops rush in and arrest him. Some of the evidence is collected improperly, without a warrant, which works to Peter’s favor—he hopes he can get that evidence thrown out. Until more evidence comes to light that implicates Father Martin and Peter can’t get it thrown out.
Between Peter and a private investigator, Frank Ross, their best chance of freeing Father Martin is finding the real murderer themselves. In that way, the story is much less of a legal thriller than it is a PI-whodunit-and-how-do-you-prove-it story.
The 7th Canon, by the way, means, (according to Peter in the book) “A lawyer should represent a client zealously within the bounds of the law.”
This is a fun, fast-paced book. I highly recommend.
Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken
Women’s Fiction > Humor > Comedic Women’s Fiction
The premise is that Amy has a five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, but Amy has spent most of the five years since she had her first kid traveling the world sourcing the finest coffee beans while their father stays at home as the primary caregiver. He’s a screenplay writer, but he’s infuriated the Hollywood community because he won’t make any changes to his work, so he’s never actually brought in income. When Amy loses her job (right at the beginning of the book—this isn’t a spoiler), her husband Peter decides now is his time to really finish the latest screenplay he has been working on, and he leaves Amy to figure out how to raise the children on her own while he hangs out at a coffee shop to write.
Amy attempts to deal with her kids: angry Billy—he’s furious that she’s left them so much—and clingy Violet. She deals with mothers who think she’s a horrible mom because what mother would dare leave her children behind while she gallivants through places without plumbing or roads?
What’s great about this book is that it never pounds you on the head with how you should think about full-time mothers or mothers who work outside the home. You feel Amy’s frustration at her husband Peter and her fear about what they are going to do for money—her field is small and the jobs are few because of the blight ravaging coffee beans worldwide. It doesn’t glorify motherhood or married life.
Amy is a character that is admirable in so many ways. She doesn’t judge other women (although she makes comical observations that reflect just as much on who she isn’t as who they are). The fact that she wears unfashionable clothes and doesn’t wear make-up because she doesn’t need it when she’s traveling and doesn’t have time for it when she’s home only makes me like her more.
Even when there is sexual tension between Amy and her ex, who became a Hollywood success story with the power to launch Peter’s screenplay career, it’s not overdone—the reader is left to her own imagination.
I can’t wait to read more books by Virginia Franken. Thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.
Summer Island by Kristin Hannah
I enjoyed listening to this story, which is told from the alternating points of view of successful radio host Nora, a woman who preaches to the nation about the importance of family, among other things, and (ironically enough) her estranged daughter, the angry aspiring comedian, Ruby.
When pornographic pictures from Nora’s past emerge, proving that she had an affair while married, her image of being a family values icon are shattered, and her career is in tatters.
Ruby’s career has never gotten started, but the downfall of her mother leads to opportunities for her. Ruby has been angry with her mother since she abandoned Ruby and her sister Caroline when they were young.
Nora wants to hide out from the media and the world on their house on Summer Island, but a car accident means that she needs help. Ruby comes to help her mother—and gather material for the tell-all article she’s been given big bucks to write.
While the ending is not some big twist, there is romance and nostalgia that make this an enjoyable read. More important, this book is about the complex bonds of family, specifically mother/daughter relationships.
All Fall Down by Tom Bale
Suspense > Mystery > Thriller
It begins with Rob and Wendy having a barbeque in their backyard with their son, Evan, and his girlfriend and their adopted daughter Georgia. Their other son, Josh, Evan’s twin, is away at school. They hear a knocking at their fence and Rob hears someone pleading the words “help me.” The old man that Rob finds has been beaten terribly and it looks like he may have been tortured. They call the paramedics, but the man dies en route to the hospital, so now the police must determine if they are investigating a murder.
Rob has his own secrets—he knows people who occasionally don’t operate within the law. Georgia is fighting her own demons from her mother’s ex-boyfriend who murdered her addicted mother and almost murdered her. Josh also has secrets. Because the family themselves has things they want to hide, they are hesitant about how much to reveal to the police. This makes the book much more interesting because Bale drops bits about their past as he goes.
They don’t know if they were targeted for a reason or if they are just victims of a circumstance. Several odd things happen over the course of the week, and several members of the family feel like they may be being watched. But why?
This is fast-paced and gripping. I recommend it to fans of mystery/suspense/thrillers.Read More