Posts Categorized: Book Review

Let’s Talk State of Wonder

July 22, 2016 Book Review, reviews 17

Let’s Talk State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on June 7th 2011
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 353
Source: purchased
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads
five-stars

 

For the month of June I joined a casual readalong led by Care of  Care’s Books and Pie, along with Debbie, and Katie, for Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I thought it quite fitting to do so as I visited Parnassus Books for the first time while at a conference in Nashville. {Side note – if you ever get a chance to visit Parnassus Books created and run by Ann Patchett, be sure to do so!}.

This is not going to be a typical review post, and in fact I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and include spoilers. So if you haven’t read State of Wonder and you plan to – DON’T READ THIS POST YET. And if you are a traditionalist and simply don’t want to know spoilers, DON’T READ THIS POST. And in case you haven’t gotten get the gist yet SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILERS UP AHEAD!!!

I’m not sure why I have never read an Ann Patchett novel because once I read the synopsis of State of Wonder it sounded like the absolutely perfect read for me – a little bit of Clive Cussler trekking through the jungle, some James Rollins and big business conspiracy all wrapped up neatly in a literary package.

Our main character, Marina, works at a large pharmaceutical company as a researcher. She’s worked closely with Anders, her co-worker until he was sent to the jungles of Brazil to track down another doctor doing research for the same pharmaceutical company. When the book opens we learn that Anders has died from an unknown fever and the doctor he had been searching for, and found, buried him in the jungle. Well Anders’ wife is not good with either the idea her husband is dead nor that he was buried thousands of miles away. The CEO of the pharmaceutical company, Mr. Fox, is not good with it either. He still had not received the information Anders went to Brazil to get. So, we have Marina coerced by both Mr. Fox and the wife of Anders to go find out what happened, bring him home, and discover what the heck is going on at the research facility in the middle of the Brazilian jungle.

So many small threads of storylines ran through State of Wonder.

  • Marina and Mr. Fox. They’ve been dating for a number of years and she thinks he’s about to propose in the car as he takes her to the airport but instead he gives her a phone?!? Talk about symbolism! Mr. Fox is her boss, CEO of the company she works for, and though he is a widower, Mr. Fox refuses to acknowledge their relationship. What is up with that! Why does Marina put up with that? They even have to go out of town to dinner where no one will recognize the two together.
  • Marina, the wife and the co-worker. Marina has to tell the wife the horrible news of Anders death while the wife comes to rely on Marina to ‘find him and bring him home.’ The pressure on Marina from both the wife and Mr. Fox is unbelievable! The wife cannot leave because of their children and Mr. Fox is only thinking of his company.
  • Marina and Dr. Swenson. Is Marina going to become a Dr. Swenson just as the good doctor anticipates? Will Marina break and tell Mr. Fox it is a cure for malaria and not the miracle pregnancy drug he’s expecting? I was surprised Marina had the strength to walk away – or maybe it wasn’t strength but more she was completely broken by the end?
  • Marina and the Lakashi people, where the research facility is located deep in the Brazilian jungle. Staying in the jungle amongst the Lakashi allows Marina space and time to focus on becoming comfortable in her own skin and to be able to shed a certain Mr. Fox. Do you think there was any attraction to Milton, the driver and Marina’s often-time rescuer?
  • And most tragic of all, Easter and his relationship with everyone in the research facility, especially Anders, Marina, and the doctor. I’m still disturbed by the ending and it’s been over a month ago I read the book. On the one hand I can understand why Anders did what he did, BUT on the other hand my heart breaks, I’m shocked and horrified. What a philosophical nightmare ~ who is most at fault here? The doctor who kept Easter? Anders that gave him away? or Marina for taking him to look for Anders when she refused to take anyone else from the camp?

This book was a wonderful escape. While there were moments I had to suspend my disbelief {like the anaconda scene}. . . . although I do know of someone who picked up a copperhead just like the local Lakashi picked up the anaconda, so suspending disbelief over that scene was not quite as difficult! I was somewhat thrown off by how proficient Easter seemed to be at most everything.  An unlikely hero yet a hero nonetheless.

Now I’m off to read everything Ann Patchett has ever written. Highly recommended for men and women! For anyone who fell in love with Indiana Jones or enjoys the adventure novels of Clive Cussler, James Rollins and Lincoln Child – with lots of fantastic descriptive writing.

Have you read State of Wonder? What are your thoughts on that ending?

five-stars

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How to DIY MFA

July 12, 2016 Book Review, reviews 1

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

How to DIY MFADIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira
Published by Writer's Digest Books on July 8th 2016
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 294
Source: complimentary review copy, purchased
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

In 7th grade Mrs. McNeary introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle. Although we were surly middle schoolers, Mrs. McNeary read A Wrinkle in Time to us every afternoon. By the time the third day rolled around I had already been to the school library to check out A Wrinkle in Time. By the fourth day, I had the book finished and had checked out A Wind in the Door, Book 2 in the Time Quintet Series. I remember thinking that if I could write like anyone, I wanted to tell stories just like Ms. L’Engle. I also wanted to be a pilot, Navy Seal, and marine biologist, but writer was always at the top of my list.

Fast forward to adulthood where I never quite made it to pilot school, the Navy didn’t want me, and marine biology was only a passing interest because of A Ring of Endless Light. . .my absolute favorite L’Engle novel. Somehow I fell into the non-profit world, children’s advocacy, and writing grant proposals. I didn’t consider myself a writer though. Most grant proposals are dry and technical – where’s the imagination in that?

While trying to find other readers to talk with about books I fell into book blogging. I thought that writing reviews and sharing my world was not real writing. Where’s the imagination in talking books? In order to be a real writer I would have to get my MFA. or so I thought.

Then I came across Gabriela Pereira’s site DIYMFA.com

All of the sudden I realized, wait, I am a writer. I may not be Pulitzer-Prize-worthy, but I’ve been a writer for years! Can you imagine the elation and relief I felt?

So when I read that the entire DIY MFA method was being published in a book I knew I had to get it. As much of a resource as the site has been, the book, I knew, would be chock-full of wisdom. I pre-ordered the book even though I had access to the advanced reader’s copy. After reading the first few chapters I quickly figured out that this book was going to be a much-used and much-loved writing resource, along with my copy of On Writing, Bird by Bird, and Writing Down the Bones.

[Tweet “From writer’s voice to writing workshops the book @DIYMFA is sure to be a favorite resource.”]

Gabriela lays out the foundation of writing in a methodical and easily-understood manner. The book is sectioned into the 3-part mission of DIY MFA: “write with focus, read with purpose, build your community.” From there the book is pared down into bite-sized chapters with clear actionable steps/homework. For example, in the Read with Purpose portion we learn to “Read Like a Writer,” and the four types of books a writer should utilize {also known as “the four C’s”}: “competitive titles, contextual books, contemporary books, and classics.”

Gabriela is a big fan of acronyms and tips which further helps to cement the tools learned. For example, the term ‘habits’ becomes:

H = Honor Your Reality

A = Add Constraints

B = Block Time and Batch Tasks

I = Iterate

T = Ten Percent Rule

S = Set the Mood

Gabriela is candid and practical throughout the book. There is no shortcut to becoming a good writer. Practicing is repeated over and over, or actually, what I came to term as Gabriela’s favorite word ~ “iterate, iterate, iterate.” That was my only issue with the book – why say iterate when practice works just as well?

If you have any desire to improve your writing, whether as a blogger or a long-time writer, pick up this book. It is sure to become your favorite writing resource – I know it is now mine!

Side Note: There’s countless worksheets and cheat sheets and even a private online resource for those who purchase the book. And while I would highly recommend purchasing the book, there are still plenty of free resources at DIYMFA.com

Gabriela also hosts a podcast with fantastic guests and resources! Learn more here.

Connect with Gabriela Website | Twitter | Facebook

What writing books/memoirs/resources have you read and/or use?

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four-half-stars

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Learning to Survive and Thrive with The Tumbling Turner Sisters

June 28, 2016 Book Review, Giveaway, reviews 6

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Learning to Survive and Thrive with The Tumbling Turner SistersThe Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay
Published by Gallery Books on June 14th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads

 

What an incredibly researched historical novel! I felt completely immersed in the time period {1920s}! Vaudeville was at its height {kind of a prequel to tv show ‘America’s Got Talent’}.   When the novel opens we meet the Turners and learn how they’re  barely getting by. Dependent on Mr. Turner’s income, losing the source from a stupid mistake makes figuring out how to survive critical.

So what does the mom to four beautiful daughters do? She comes up with the idea to put her daughters on the stage as a vaudeville act in order to make enough money for the family to eat and pay rent. When the girls’ act becomes a hit their lives are forever changed.

What I loved

→The history and detail. Learning what vaudeville was {comedy, gymnastics, music, dancing} and wasn’t {burlesque} fascinated me and had me looking up old videos and photographs. There are even a few of the theaters that hosted vaudeville still open and operating today!

→The quotes at the beginning of each chapter from famous vaudeville players. “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” ~Will Rogers, actor, singer, comedian, and social commentator

→How the characters and theaters came to life through the descriptive passages “Even from inside the suitcase, I sensed the audience’s anticipation. They cheered for Nell’s cartwheels, but the volume rose when Gert entered with her handsprings. By the time I rolled out onto the proscenium, the audience was like a pack of hungry dogs, ready to devour any scraps of entertainment we threw them. Gert’s arm jiggles sent them into paroxysms, and the human rolling ball, with skirts flapping up as they spun, caused a wild round of boot stomping.”

→The humor! The dialogue between the four sisters was seamless and filled with funny moments!

→The breadth of topics approached from poverty and mental illness to racism and women’s rights, The Tumbling Turner Sisters touches on it all with skill and grace.

[Tweet “Learning how to survive and thrive in The Tumbling Turner Sisters”]

and the Not So Much

I would be remiss if I neglected to share a couple of things that frustrated me in reading this novel. For example ~

The mother. Granted her character was supposed to be a strong Italian woman, but she was a bit over the top for me. At times I wondered why she even had children. Her actions were so non-mothering! AND she took henpecking her husband to an entirely new level. Did women really act that way?

While not that big of a deal, I did have to flip back to the beginning of the chapters several times to see who was narrating. While normally I love multiple points of view in books, in The Tumbling Turner Sisters it was somewhat difficult to tell the sisters apart. Narrated from Winnie and Gert’s pov, the sisters’ characters were too similar to distinguish at times.

Caution. Some aspects were difficult to read though true to the time period. There is one passage in particular that uses cringe-worthy terminology. I appreciate that the author approached sensitive subjects head on but do want to warn you sections may make you uncomfortable.

Recommended for

Readers who loved Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Goodreads also recommends Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, but I think Juliette Fay’s novel is closer to a Karen White novel such as On Folly Beach. The laugh-out-loud humor and fleshed out characters are comparable.

Juliette Fay: Website :: Facebook :: Twitter

With many thanks to Wunderkind PR and Gallery Books, I’ve got a copy of The Tumbling Turner Sisters to give away! Ends Monday, July 4th at 11:59 pm. U.S. entries only please.

[promosimple id=”9dda”]

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Thoughts on Before the Fall

June 17, 2016 Book Review, reviews 7

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Thoughts on Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 400
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads
four-stars

 

Before the Fall has been packaged as the summer blockbuster and I can certainly see why. A private plane slips off the radar only 16 minutes into its flight between Martha’s Vineyard and New York. Eleven people are on board but only two survive: a painter, Scott Burroughs and JJ, the 4 year old son of David Bateman, creator of the number one 24-hour news station {pretty much patterned after Fox News}.

The story begins with the crash along with Scott’s miraculous survival and rescue of JJ. Told in alternate chapters we get a behind the scenes look at the lives of those who were on board the fatal crash. We also get to see the aftermath with the news media and various government agencies involved in the investigation. It’s both fascinating and terrifying. What the news media {especially David Bateman’s own company} does to Scott and anyone surrounding him is a testament to culture today. Even how the various government entities choose to handle the investigation is scary – most are compassionate and matter-of-fact but the few that are not….woe to those in the warpath.

This author is brilliant in portraying ‘real’ people. His characters are so involved and believable. The characters’  actions leading up to the plane crash go far beyond stereotypes. Part of the joy in reading Before the Fall was for that very reason – Noah Hawley created totally believable characters with a back story, emotional depth and unique traits.

There are two issues I had with the book that kept me from giving it a solid 5 stars. The first being when we are seeing Rachel’s ‘before the crash’ chapter. Rachel is the 10 year old daughter of David Bateman and Maggie. Precocious, brilliant and a sweetheart, but her chapter drifted more into her mom’s thoughts rather than Rachel’s. Perhaps I misread the chapter, but it just didn’t quite sit well with me.

The other issue was in the last few pages. Survivor Scott is giving an interview and some of the things he says doesn’t make sense to me. It’s impossible to be more specific without going into spoilers.

[Tweet “Believable characters + a look at society’s obsession with news makes this the summer book to read”]

After reading Before the Fall and seeing what a brilliant storyteller Noah Hawley is, I plan to read the rest of his previous novels. And maybe even turn the television on to watch some Fargo! Read it. Before the Fall is so worth the hype!

Before the Fall is a She Reads Summer Selection. To see what other members are saying visit She Reads here.

Many thanks to She Reads and Grand Central Publishing for providing a free copy to review. All opinions are my own.

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four-stars

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Mini-Views of the Detective Helen Grace Series

June 3, 2016 Book Review, reviews 6

m. j. arlidge series

 

Eeny Meeny begins with a most horrifying murder – a young couple is kidnapped, left in an abandoned empty diving pool with no way out and given a gun with a single bullet. The instructions left with the couple state that only one will make it out alive, the choice is theirs – to live, one of them must die.

It is quite possibly the creepiest, most terrifying concept for a thriller I’ve ever read.

Detective Helen Grace is on the case, along with her dedicated team. Helen has a tragic history that has left her with numerous scars, both on the inside and the outside. Her job is her life; no real friends and no family to speak of. Not only does Helen have to deal with a horrifying murder investigation, she’s got one reporter breathing down her neck and causing all kinds of trouble. {reminded me of a few news journalists I’ve seen on tv. . .}

The plot is fast paced, never a dull moment, even when there’s alleged down time. DI Helen Grace’s character is slowly revealed through her actions. The red herrings are spot on and reminiscent of Agatha Christie.

Towards the grand finale a couple of issues arose – all of a sudden Helen has a breakthrough but for the reader, it feels rushed, almost contrived. Don’t get me wrong, the denouement totally works, it just happened without warning. While the revelation of the killer is shocking, the confrontation is rushed. ugh! I want to talk to someone about this book!!! If you’ve read it and want to commiserate, please send me a tweet! Would love to discuss!

As a series beginning, Eeny Meeny introduces a writer of immense potential in the thriller genre.

side questions ~ for those familiar with the police in the UK – do the police typically only carry batons? then check out guns as necessary?

AND, if you’ve read this one – what happened to Louise?!?


[Tweet “Must-read new thriller series from U.K. author!”]

Pop Goes the Weasel is #2 in the DI Helen Grace series. {did I mention I read all 4 U.S. versions over Memorial Day weekend?!?} In this one, married men are turning up dead and with missing body parts. Said body part is then delivered to the home or office of the deceased {lovely, right!}.

Once again, Helen Grace and her team are on the case. It’s been a few months since the fall out from the serial killer in Eeny Meeny, and the team is slowly returning to normal. Helen has a new boss that butts heads with her every chance she gets. The dogged reporter from Eeny Meeny is back to once again wreak havoc on the investigation.

It’s fascinating to read a series back-to-back. The progression of writing skill is apparent. Arlidge continues to develop Helen’s character and that of her team through slow revelations and conflicts. While there has been a rash of books published in recent years that focus on psychological suspense, Arlidge’s Helen Grace series takes us back to the true thriller and police procedural. Pop Goes the Weasel is even better than Eeny Meeny and I wasn’t sure that was possible!

One caveat, it is important to read Eeny Meeny first as there are spoilers from the first book in Pop Goes the Weasel.  Reading this series is not for the faint of heart, but there are also no gratuitous gory violent scenes. The violence included is necessary for the development of the plot. If you enjoy a good who-done-it though, then definitely pick this series up!

Stay tuned for reviews of The Doll’s House and Liar Liar {to be released in the U.S. on June 7th}.

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three-stars

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