Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
General Fiction > Women’s Fiction
This novel is gripping. The story is told from three points of view: Ruth, a black nurse who has worked in labor and delivery for twenty years; Turk, a white supremacist whose wife just had a baby; and Kennedy, a white public defender who defends Ruth.
Turk and his wife are mortified when Ruth takes over for another nurse. Turk goes to her manager and requests that no African Americans touch their son, Davis. She’s not thrilled when she hears this—Ruth is the only black nurse who works in labor and delivery—but she complies, until the two white nurses are called into an emergency and leave Ruth alone to watch the baby, who has just had a circumcision. Something goes wrong, and criminal charges are brought against her, and her license is suspended. I was actually more infuriated at the cops and hospital staff than I was with Turk. I guess because I don’t expect a white supremacist to act fairly, but I’d hope that cops and people Ruth had worked alongside would.
I teared up several times reading this harrowing narrative. Some of the things I already knew—like the proliferation of using the web to promote fake news and bigotry “Old skinheads don’t die. They used to join the KKK, now they join the Tea Party. Don’t believe me? Go listen to an old Klan speaker and compare it to a speech by a Tea Party Patriot.” Other stuff was news to me, such as the differences between being a Skinhead or White Supremacist or Aryan Nations or Neo-Nazi. Actually, I’m still not one hundred percent clear on the differences, but I think it’s timely to considering what’s happening nationally with fake news and real politics.
This is a beautifully written, absorbing story.
The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang
Charles Wong came from China to America and grew a fortune in the make-up business. Unfortunately, he makes a few stumbles with his business in 2008 when the economy built on false mortgages comes crashing down, and he loses everything—his house, the cars, all his factories.
He has three children from his first wife, who died eight weeks after the birth of their last child. The kids have never known deprivation, which is perhaps why all of them feel free to pursue the arts—and use their money to do so. Saina is an artist whose fourth show not just bombed but had people protesting in the streets. At the same time her career is in shambles, her fiancé leaves her for his pregnant girlfriend, the daughter of a wealthy mattress magnet. Saina sells her Manhattan loft at a huge loss and retreats to a farmhouse in upstate New York, thinking she’ll farm organic vegetables—except she has no idea how. But the house just happens to have room for her entire family.
Charles and Barbra, the children’s stepmother, begin in LA. The plan is to drive across country to Saina’s with a few stops along the way. (And then Charles thinks he’ll go to China and reclaim family land stolen by the Communists.) The first stop is to pick up his 16-year-old daughter Grace, who he shipped off to boarding school two years earlier when she fell in love with a boy. Grace is a typical teenager, obsessed with her fashion blog, Style & Grace.
The next stop is Arizona State University, where his 21-year-old son Andrew goes to school. Andrew isn’t serious about this studies because he wants to be a stand-up comedian. We see Andrew perform. The first few times we know the audience hates him, but even the time when he allegedly did well, I found reading his routine cringe-worthy. Obviously stand-up is a very different medium than novel writing, but it was painful, so I had to speed read through it.
The book wasn’t as funny as I expected it to be by the description, but I did think the writing was wonderful, and it was an intriguing perspective on that time in our nation’s history told through the story of immigrants Charles and Barbra and three adults or almost-adults who grew up here and have never wanted for anything—they have no idea how to budget, etc. because they never had to.
This is a fun, compelling read.
Center Ring by Nicole Waggoner
I enjoy books written from multiple points of view like this—in this case, five women in their thirties—because I can identify with certain aspects of each of the different characters’ personalities. There is Norah, a successful married physician whose professional life is great but whose personal life is in chaos. Cami, a photojournalist who suddenly finds her career headed in a surprisingly new direction. Leila, who has a PhD and had a great job as a professor but is now at home full time with her two young daughters. Ellie, a successful PR rep, whose personal life also is in—for her—uncharted territory. And Kate, a new mom, trying to navigate motherhood and an eating disorder. (I wanted to murder the judgmental moms she encountered in the poorly named mom “support group.”)
It’s fun to delve into the ups and downs of other women’s lives. Waggoner manages to juggle the multiple POVs well, keeping each of the perspectives clear and intriguing.Read More
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Suspense > Mystery
I enjoyed this book in part because there were two mysteries to figure out. One took place years ago: Dustin, who is now a married psychologist with two teenage sons, was just a kid when his parents and aunt and uncle were murdered. His adopted brother, Rusty, was convicted. One of his cousins—a twin named Wave—found the bodies. Her sister, Kate was there, too.
Rusty was a messed-up kid then, and Kate and Wave, who were much closer to Rusty’s age than Dustin’s, were pretty reckless, too. When Dustin learns that Rusty has been exonerated and is out of prison, he doesn’t want to tell his wife, who is dying of cancer. If Rusty didn’t kill his parents, who did?
At the same time all of this is going on, Dustin has a patient who is a former cop obsessed with all the drowning deaths of college-age boys in the area. In every case, the drownings are ruled accidental—the boys were all drinking heavily, so their deaths are all blamed on them falling into these various bodies of water. But the cop, Aqil, has a different theory, and he gets Dustin involved.
The narrative bounces around from past to present, from one character’s point of view to another. There is a lot of stuff about satanic ritual and lost and recovered memory. Dustin himself doesn’t trust his memory of the past, and he seems to go into fugue states now that he is an adult
Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this novel.
Lying Blind by Dianne Emley
I’m afraid I just didn’t find this story as gripping as I was hoping for. Maybe because I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the characters, so I didn’t care about the dead body that sergeant Jim Heskett finds floating in a pool that looks so much like the fiancé who broke up with him twenty years ago. I also didn’t care about the fact that the people who called Jim instead of 911 are also connected to another suspicious death that occurred twenty years ago. Maybe I would have cared more if I hadn’t started the series on book 6. There are a lot of characters, and I found none of them or the plot interesting.
Hanover House by Brenda Novak
Thriller > Suspense
When she was sixteen years old, Evelyn Talbot discovered that her seventeen-year-old boyfriend Jasper Moore had murdered her three best friends. He then tortured her, slit her neck, left her for dead . . . and then disappeared.
It’s now twenty years later and she’s become a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with the most dangerous psychopaths on earth. In fact, she’s about to head Hanover House, which is slated to open in a small, out-of-the-way town in Alaska. Convicted felons from all over the country will be sent there so she and other doctors and psychologists can study them to try to understand why some people enjoy murdering and torturing others.
The people of Hilltop, Alaska, are not excited about the publicity surrounding the opening of Hanover House and are afraid of what might happen if one of the psychopaths escapes. One of the people who isn’t happy about this is a handsome police officer who goes by the name Sergeant Amorak (Amorak is the Inuit word for wolf). However, it’s his job to protect Evelyn and the property of the building being built. Once he meets Evelyn, he becomes more personally invested in protecting and helping her succeed.
This is a suspenseful read with a touch of romantic possibility. The weakness in this book is the dialogue. Several times people have conversations in which both parties already know the content of what they are saying—the conversations are meant to let us readers in on this information. That sort of background information is for exposition, not conversation. Other places, the conversation just doesn’t sound like how people actually talk.
However, I did enjoy this book and look forward to reading more books in this series.
The Devil’s Work by Mark Edwards
Psychological Thriller > Suspense
There are definitely enough creeped-me-out moments in this book to make it a poor choice for bedtime reading. The story is about Sophie, a married mother of a four-year-old daughter returning to work at a new job at a publishing house after taking time out of the workforce to raise her daughter. Jackdaw publishing is her dream job, she just hopes no one will know her connection to the granddaughter of the publisher. The reader knows something bad happened between Sophie and Jasmine when they went to the university together, but it takes a while until we find out what that is.
Meanwhile, Sophie’s dream job quickly becomes a thing of nightmares. First, there is the mysterious disappearance of the woman Sophie is replacing. At home, her husband says his Twitter account was hacked and he never sent a tweet that seems to support an abusive husband. Whether he’s telling the truth or not, his career as a freelance writer is currently shuddered, so Sophie needs her job more than ever.
Other mysterious emails are sent. One employee is fired and another is beaten up. All of this can be explained away, but Sophie thinks the series of scary events are to blame on one woman. For a while, you’re with Sophie, then you think, as the cops do, that she’s a little crazy.
This is a fun enough read, but I didn’t love it.
Moral Defense by Marcia Clark
Mystery > Suspense
Because I enjoyed the first book in this series, I bought this without reading anything about it. In this second Samantha Brinkman novel, as Sam works to defend her young client, Sam identifies with the abuse Cassie alleges, but also has doubts about whether Cassie is telling the whole truth.
I can handle a little sexual abuse in a story about a defense lawyer trying to defend her client accused of a double murder, but there was a point in this story where I didn’t want to keep reading because it got to be too much. It’s not graphic, but of course, your imagination can fill in details. I’m glad I did keep reading, it’s just . . . you should be warned.
Another thing I didn’t love about this novel was that at times I felt like I was living the life of defense attorney Samantha Brinkman IN REAL TIME. It’s interesting to know how other people live, but I don’t need to know every moment of her day—what she ate, how she slept, and the minutiae of the dull parts of shuttling back and forth between the court house, jail, office, and all the interviews Sam and her partner Alex conducted. I felt like Clark could have stuck to a more here-are-the-highlights-with-few-boring-details-so-you-get-the-idea-of-what-this-job-is-really-like approach. It’s not a bad read, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book in the series, Blood Defense.
Fatal by John Lescroart
This was not as suspenseful of a page turner as it could have been. The victim by all accounts had something of a breakdown and evidently started sleeping around with a lot of women and understandably this damaged his relationship with his family to the point his kids hated him and his wife was divorcing him. Besides his family, other possible suspects would obviously be any husband of a wife he slept with or a woman scorned. While I wanted to find out the murderer to see justice done, it was clear that whoever did this did so out of revenge, and thus wasn’t a threat to the community at large. Obviously the murderer should go to prison, but when there’s a serial killer on the loose, the cops have to find the person quickly to avoid more lives lost. I didn’t feel the impending threat in this investigation. In this case, many of the suspects in the case die from apparent suicide, but at no point was I emotionally invested in their deaths.
I was much more interested in the subplot of the novel in which one of the detectives on the case, Beth, and her daughter help a woman who is close to death from anorexia. With the subplot, I got emotionally involved and cared, which is what I think novels should do—evoke emotional responses from the readers.
I wanted to learn who the murderer was, but I didn’t have to stay up late and lose sleep to find out who it was because the story wasn’t quite gripping enough.
The Girl Before by JP Delaney
Thriller > Suspense > Mystery
I had to get a little more than a fifth of the way through this until the story really began, and once you hit the place where the story gets interesting, the rest of the book is creepy. If you liked to feel creeped out, you’ll like this.
The story is about two women, both residents of a strange house, one who died, and the woman who came after her. Both experienced tragedies before moving into the home. They had to fill out questionnaires and send pictures and agree to a slew of rules to even be considered as renters (no simple credit check and steady job could get them into this sterile, odd place). The home won architectural awards, but residents who live there can’t leave dishes out—even the cleaning supplies are well hidden in a secret wall panel. There aren’t even book cases—no clutter is allowed whatsoever. I couldn’t imagine living like that (I wouldn’t make it a day), but both women are in dire financial situations, and the home is modestly priced because no one would live there with the millions of rules if they could afford a normal place.
I couldn’t identify with Emma or Jane or the architect of the home, Edward, who is a perfectionist and possibly a sociopath (hence the creep factor).
There were some nice twists and turns I didn’t see coming, which is great, but I didn’t fall in love with the ending.Read More
Fat Fridays by Judith Keim
Romance (Very sweet)
This is a cute story of five women who meet on Fridays for lunch to talk about life. The rule is that calories don’t count, hence the title “Fat Fridays.” It was too sweet for my taste. Also, there were some clichés like “she had a body that wouldn’t quit.”
I think this was too syrupy sweet even for my grandmother. Sukie, the protagonist, is my age (early 40s), but seemed like she was from an entirely different era. If you want a sugary read, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this.
Size Matters by Allison Bliss
Romance (Some sex)
Leah is a plus-sized woman who owns a bakery. Sam is a man who just broke up with a woman who was ready to marry him and have his kids not because she loved him, but because she’d decided it was time to get married and have kids. After that relationship, Sam is trying to avoid women. Sam and Leah meet at a bar. His friend Max is interested in Leah’s friend, Valerie, who is a similar size as Leah but her size doesn’t bother her. Though Sam is attracted to Leah, he doesn’t want a relationship. She misunderstands and thinks he’s not attracted to her because of her size. When he tries to explain and make amends, he ends up driving her to her ex-fiances wedding to help her deliver the wedding cake she’d made. In an effort to help her not feel bad about her ex marrying a skinny, vacuous woman, Sam lies and introduces himself as her fiance. Naturally, there are a bunch more lies and miscommunications. Mixed in between is a lot of sex and them falling for each other despite themselves.
The title refers to both a woman’s dress size and a man’s you-know-what size. The latter was a little strange to be talked about so much—everyone is an adult in this story, and who talks about that much as an adult? Discussing Leah’s weight made sense because her mother constantly gives her a hard time about it, and Leah’s sensitivity to the issue is partially why it’s so easy for her to misinterpret what Sam says to think his hesitance to date is about her weight.
This is a breezy, cute, fun book.
Craving by Helen Hardt
You will like this book if you like the following: Explicit sex scenes (lots of them) in which words like “obey” and “possess” are used frequently. Also, you need to enjoy books that end in a cliffhanger. I like series, but I like them to be stand-alone books, so if you read them out of order, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t realize that this book ended in a cliffhanger, so when I reached the end, at first I thought it was an error and that the book had been cut off mid-paragraph.
I’m not a fan of explicit sex scenes, but taking that out of consideration, I thought the story of a woman dumped at the altar who goes to stay at her girlfriend’s ranch was good. While Jade hangs out at the ranch, waiting to hear if she passed the bar exam, she falls for her friend’s troubled brother. The hero has the unlikely name of Talon Steel, and his back story was mostly filled in by the end; it was compelling.
If you plan to read the next book immediately after finishing this one, you should enjoy this.Read More