Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year
by Hannah Richell

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: I was engrossed in this book all last weekend, sitting on the porch for hours, reading.

 In present day, the story follows Lila, who inherits a house by a remote lake in the Peak District of England and decides to renovate the house to process her grief.

 The book also follows a group of friends who, after leaving college, decide to live off the land for a year and squat in the same cottage in the 80s. 

I loved the setting descriptions, hint of mystery, and the way the two storylines interacted. 

Now I want to read Richell's debut novel: 

Author website:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: 
The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time
by Rachel Bertsche

Bertsche finds herself spending too much time on the Internet, comparing herself to celebrities, but decides to use them for inspiration instead of self-loathing. 

Author of MWFSeeking BFF, also recommended--see my review. My book club of twenty-something young women loved it.

Genre: Memoir

Review: After losing her job, Rachel pursues a writing career at home, but finds herself in a rut. She studies then emulates Jennifer Aniston's steps to a sexy body, Tina Fey's work ethic, and Jessica Alba's "honest" pregnancy. She aspires to Beyonce's total package, Jennifer Garner's marriage, Julia Roberts' serenity and Gwyneth's kitchen. 

Once again, I love the author's sense of humor, approachable yet reflective writing style, and sprinkling of scientific studies with personal anecdote. Her reflections on women and perfectionism were wise, while the experiences with fertility and pregnancy deepened the memoir. 

Author Website

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summers on Nantucket are Back: The Matchmaker

The Matchmaker
by Elin Hilderbrand

Yes, it is summertime, and that means it is time for Nantucket summer days and nights by way of Elin Hilderbrand novel!

Genre: Women's fiction, Popular Fiction

Review: What if you were semi-happily married and then the love of your life emailed you? And he was moving back to your hometown after almost 30 away? 

So begins the story of Dabney and long-lost love Clendenin, her economist husband Box, and her confused daughter Agnes. The novel follows these four perspectives, but mostly, this is Dabney's story. Got-her-life-together-but-not-what-Dabney.

The setting: great! The desciptions of food: loved 'em! Characterization: real and unique Plot: engaging and believable.

Definitely tuck this book into your beach bag! But beware, it is not fluff--get ready for suspense or even tears. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Someday, Someday, Maybe
By Lauren Graham

Genre: Popular Fiction

Review: I am always hesitant to read a novel written by an actor or pop culture persona. However, this novel was well-written and a lot of fun to read. Individual sentences are funny and Graham captures the hope and lack of confidence and anxiety of trying to make it in acting. Anyone starting out in their career, especially creative careers, should be able to relate. This novel is fairly light with strong characters and moments of surprising depth. I loved the mid-90s period details, from scrunchies to Doc Martens. Your heart will be warmed by Franny's journey!

Other news:
The book is being developed into a pilot for the CW called Unfamous. Will it become a series?
There is also a sequel in the works

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Close My Eyes

Close My Eyes
by Sophie McKenzie

Genre: Mystery

Review: This novel had an interesting premise. An unknown woman knocks on Gen’s door to tell her that her stillborn baby Beth is still alive. The novel is compelling for awhile. There were probably 100 more pages than necessary; by the end I was skimming just to find out what happened. To create a more suspenseful novel, the writing should have been tightened. Often ideas were repeated; the main characters doubts if she should trust Art, her husband, or Lorcan, a handsome stranger, were stated and restated.

Final thoughts: The novel was hailed as similar to Gone Girl, but it was not quite there. If you are desperate for a new mystery, you might want to read it, but for me it wasn’t a true thriller. As I read, I wished I had a Laura Lippman book, with fast-paced, clean prose, in my hand. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Seating Arrangements

Seating Arrangements
by Maggie Shipstead

Seating Arrangements was the "book of the summer" in 2012, but I read it last month :)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: As the book begins, Winn Van Meter is headed to a Nantucket-like island, his summer house, and his older daughter Daphne's wedding. When he arrives, daughters, bridesmaids, wife, and sister-in-law have taken over his home. The book submerges you into the world of the WASPs. The novel's told from the perspective of Winn, who is sometimes sympathetic, other times just annoying. He is not the most likable character, and sometimes I got bored with him and it was hard to read, yet the writing itself is exquisite and the characters well-drawn. Livia, the younger daughter getting over a heartbreak and merely tolerating the wedding, was most interesting to me. 

Extras: Shipstead won a prestigious International Dylan Thomas Writing Prize as a result of this book.
 I watched part of this author discussion which mentions the book's genesis. 
I also appreciated the interview which noted Shipstead was aware that readers might be turned off by Winn's "first-world problems" of golf club waiting lists and such. 

**Out of her two books, I would recommend Astonish Me over this one.**

The Lost Sisterhood

The Lost Sisterhood
by Anne Fortier

Genre: Fiction

Review: While this book is long, it was definitely worth it. It follows Diana, a young Oxford academic who studies the origin of Amazon women. She is asked to go on a mysterious mission and can't resist tracking her beloved Amazons and trying to show that they really did exist, they aren't just mythology. Along the way there are adventures, vivid setting descriptions, and romantic moments. 

The novel's other thread follows Myrina and her sister throughout the ancient world from North Africa to Greece to the Troy of myth. 

I really liked the strong female characters and learning some history as well!

There is an interesting interview at the website on the homepage:

She talks about how her next book is set in Paris!

Astonish Me

Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead

I loved this book--surely it will win best novel of the year awards!

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: The novel opens the doors into the minds, the doubts, the fears, and the joys of aspiring ballerinas. If you enjoy entering the minds of the artists and reading poetic prose, check out this book.

Joan falls in love with principal dancer Arslan, a celebrated Russian defector but knows she is only meant to be a Corps dancer, so she is secretly happy when she finds she is pregnant. 

The story cuts between the 1970s through 2000s and follows Joan, Arslan, Joan's son Harry and his best friend Chloe, and Joan's friend Elaine. There is almost no way to describe the story, the writing style, the characters--just read it!

Author website: 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Still Life with Bread Crumbs
by Anna Quindlen

If you want to feel like you are in a log cabin, cozy by a fire, read this book. Picking up another Anna Quindlen novel is like that. 

Genre: Fiction

Review: This is a novel by an author who is comfortable with her powers and her style, but not relaxed. She reveals truths about the human condition, about loneliness and love--she doesn't shy away from tragedy, but doesn't make it about tragedy, but about living. 

 Still Life with Bread Crumbs follows Rebecca Winter, a photographer, once famous, in a precarious financial situation. She moves to a cabin in upstate New York and she's just scraping by. Hiking in the woods, she searches for new inspiration as an artist.

A world away from life in Manhattan, she learns new things about herself and gives herself another chance at life after sixty. 

Want to read more? Rise and Shine and Every Last One are both searingly powerful novels, blended with a sense of humor and the meaning of family.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd

Go read this book. Drop any of the other books you are reading and GO!

Genre: Historical fiction

ReviewThe Invention of Wings is a window into the early women's movement and the abolition movement. Hetty "Handful" is a house slave in the home of the Grimke family in Charleston, South Carolina. She and her mother are expert seamstresses and truly artists. At a young age, Handful is "given" as a birthday gift to 11-year-old Sarah. The trouble begins when Sarah Grimke teaches Handful to read. Their difficult and powerful friendship will change Sarah's life. The book is complex and provides no easy answers. It fictionalizes the lives of two sisters who existed but are not well-known in history, who later become feminists and abolitionists, Sarah and her sister Angelina Grimke. 

The characterizations are lovely and heartbreaking. This book will be a classic.

I read all of the articles on about Sue Monk Kidd and her writing process. Check this one out

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Lean In 
by Sheryl Sandberg

Genre: Nonfiction 

Recently, my book club read this book, and it was one of our best discussions of the past two years!

Before I started reading this book, I wondered: would it be relevant to me if I don' t care about moving up the corporate ladder? Were the criticisms I'd read in news articles valid?

Review: The book was relevant to me, and most criticism that I'd read before was unfounded. Sandberg qualifies many of her statements, states her advice is not intended for everyone, and notes her faults. The book is well-researched yet accessible with contributions by a sociologist and expert on gender and work.

 The text includes easy-to-digest advice, like "sit at the table" and "Don't leave before you leave," and interesting anecdotes from Sandberg's life. 

A major idea that resonated: men and women both deserve true choices. Men should be able to stay home with children, and women should have a true choice between working in the home vs. in the workplace, instead of having two jobs. 

Read it, discuss it, live it!  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce

Genre: Fiction

Review: A man is settling into his retirement by sitting in a chair. One day, he receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie--she is dying of cancer in Berwick-upon-Tweed. He sets out for the postbox to post a letter to her and keeps walking. And walking. 

In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, an ordinary man finds it in himself to do something extraordinary. He walks from the South of England to the North, hoping that Queenie will wait for him. The walk is more than a walk--it is a transformation. Along the way, he must deal with his fears, regrets, memories. He remembers happiness and wrenching sadness. There was a strange part in the middle where a weird group of followers join the walk--I could have done without that part. 

By walking away, he moves closer to himself and his wife Maureen. A beautiful little novel. 

A photo of Berwick-upon-Tweed:

This review is over 100 words--sorry!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Winter People

The Winter People
by Jennifer McMahon

If you are in the mood for a creepy ghost story, look no further!

Genre: Suspense

Review:  19-year-old Ruthie lives an isolated life in rural Vermont with her mother and younger sister Fawn. They make their home beside Devil's Hand, a rock formation with a dangerous history, and dark and spooky woods. Many people have disappeared in the woods, and one day Ruthie wakes up and her mom is missing too. 

The novel switches between present day and the past, between Ruthie in the present and Sara Harrison Shea in 1908 and her daughter Gertie (who died too young) who reportedly knew the way to create a "sleeper" and bring the dead back to life. 

The stories are expertly woven together and the mood is sufficiently chilling! Don't read this one right before bedtime. 

You can read my review of another one of McMahon's novels, The One I Left Behindhere

Out of all of her novels, I recommend The Island of Lost Girls. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James

P.D. James gives new life to your favorite Austen characters, without being the least bit cutesy or gimmicky (like many other Austen copycats).

Genre: Mystery

Review: What a perfect adaptation of Jane Austen's writing style with the ultimate twist for mystery-lovers--a murder mystery at Darcy's Pemberley! It was lovely to read about Elizabeth Bennet's life after Pride and Prejudice, as she settles into domestic life and Pemberley. She and Darcy are still in love after several years.

 And of course, the night before the ball, a dead body turns up and the dashing, devilish Wickham is stirring up more trouble. 

New characters populate the story as well, while the descriptions of the woods and the estate are as enlivening as another character.

Fact: Can you believe it? At age 91, author P.D. James she has written 20 books and she is still working!

On the screen: The book has been adapted to a mini-series on the BBC: I hear it comes to the U.S. in Nov. 2014.

Matthew Rhys from The Americans plays Darcy. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Circle of Wives

A Circle of Wives
by Alice LaPlante

Genre: Mystery?

 If you are going to read one book by LaPlante, read Turn of Mind (see my review below). It is much more original and shocking and suspenseful than A Circle of Wives. However, if you have already read Turn of Mind, go ahead and check out her latest novel, just don't compare the two.

ReviewA Circle of Wives is a murder mystery, but not very suspenseful. A do-gooder plastic surgeon dies in a hotel room in Palo Alto, and his three wives, Deborah (the original suburban wife with empty nest syndrome gone awry), M.J. (paradoxical hippie/accountant), and Helen (pediatric oncologist, wife #3) meet at the funeral. Rookie detective Samantha is on the case but not great at solving real crimes. 

Each wife is a distinct character and I wanted to read until the end, but I was not desperately turning pages. The novel addresses the question: "How could she not have known?" and posits realistic answers.

My review of Turn of Mind.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

After I'm Gone

After I'm Gone 
by Laura Lippman

How does one man's disappearance ripple through the lives of his three daughters, wife, and mistress?

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Review: Laura Lippman delivers the suspense and truths about marriage and family in her eighth stand-alone novel. Cold case detective Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez sees a compelling picture of Julie Saxony and decides she will be his next case. 

However, the story is really about three sisters, Michelle, Rachel, and Linda and their mother Bambi who were abandoned by father Felix when he was threatened with prison time for his illegal activities. 

We get a glimpse into their lives for decades, as Felix left and Julie Saxony disappeared ten years later, then her body turned up even later--cut to the present and Sandy's investigation, we follow the life stories of extraordinary and unpredictable women.  

Bonus! Our favorite PI Tess Monaghan (of Lippman's book series)and her husband Crow and daughter Scout make a guest appearance, which I enjoyed.

Laura Lippman's Website: here you can read all series titles of the Tess Monaghan Series

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain

This novel is literary yet warmly, emotionally resonant--recommended for book clubs! 

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: Hadley is a Midwestern young woman in search of  adventure when she meets 21-year-old Ernest Hemingway. They fall in love through letters, and decide to get married. 

Soon, they set out for 1920s Paris, where Ernest will launch his writing career over the next five years. Set in America, Paris, Spain, and Austria, this novel follows Hadley, Ernest, and later, their baby son. Hadley is a strong, intellectual character in her own right. McLain does not overshadow her with Ernest's personality, and readers understand the nuances of a woman caught between eras, between wife and the chic woman of the 20s. 

Extras: I enjoyed this photo gallery on Paula McLain's website

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rise and Shine: A Story of Sisters

Rise and Shine
by Anna Quindlen

Can't wait to read other novels by Anna Quindlen!

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: Weighty and wonderful and funny. Serious and literary without being annoying. 

This novel is essentially a story about sisters.  40-somethings living in NYC, but their relationship is relatable for all ages. Meghan is a mega-watt celebrity, star of morning show Rise and Shine. Bridget is the younger sister, a social worker in the Bronx. They are both devoted to Meghan's son, Leo. 

As you read the summary, you think Meghan's "falling apart" on air, sabotaging her career, or her failing marriage, will be at the core of the novel. But there is so much more there. Read to find out! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Quiet: great nonfiction read

Quiet: The Power of Introverts 
in a World that Can't Stop Taking
by Susan Cain

Genre: Nonfiction

Review: Cain explores the lives of introverts through case studies about people she has met and interviewed. She studies the research from neuroscience, personality psychology and social psychology and presents it succinctly and insightfully for the reader. She traces the history of the "extrovert ideal," and discusses how this manifests in businesses and schools. Finally, she provides practical advice on raising introverted children and thriving as an introvert in relationships and career, and points out a few things extraverts can learn from us introverts. 

This powerful book was years in the making and could be a revelation to closet introverts!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in the Vaulted Arches

A Flavia De Luce Mystery
by Alan Bradley

Genre: Mystery, series

Review: The whole village waits beside Flavia, Daphne, Ophelia, and Father at Buckshaw Halt train station for the arrival of Harriet, Flavia's long lost mother.  Suspicious cousin Lena appears on the scene, and Aunt Felicity reveals secrets of the past. Flavia has a dream to bring her mother back to life, and she finds out more about her mother's life and her own. 

Although the story has elements of mystery, this novel is more character-driven and more emotionally resonant than the other books in the mystery series, and I loved it. The novel subtly shows how Flavia's relationship with her family changes. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Every Day

Every Day
by David Levithan

Genre: YA fiction

Review: Every day, A. wakes up in a different body. Each person is the same age as him, but may live nearby or hours away. A.'s life has always been like this, and accepting it is all that can be done. That is, until A. inhabits the body of Justin and meets Rhiannon, falling in love with her during a perfect day at the beach. Can living such a strange life lead to true love or only loss? 

This is an inventive story with a complex array of emotional pitfalls and possibilities for deftly-drawn characters.

 An intriguing read!

Read about his latest books at the author's website:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Cutting Season

The Cutting Season
by Attica Locke

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Author Attica Locke is a former screenplay writer handpicked by Dennis Lehane for his new publishing imprint for her first novel, Black Water Rising

Review: The Cutting Season is set near a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. Caren and her daughter Morgan live above the library while she manages the historical reenactments and events at the plantation. 

Are the ghosts of the past finally catching up to the plantation? When a dead body turns up by the old slave cabins, Caren struggles to clear the name of one of her staff and things get complicated when Morgan's father reappears to help. Caren wonders if the murder of her ancestor, Jason, hundreds of years ago could be related to the recent mystery. 

 A suspenseful, eerie, well-paced novel.

The Apartment

The Apartment
by Greg Baxter

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: This is the literary novel at its best and at its worst. It is ruminative (which I like), but it takes itself too seriously at times. 

 A man is looking for an apartment in an unnamed European city. Saskia, a local, shows him around the city. He enjoys the Christmas markets, the snow, and the sense of hope involved in starting life again and looking for an apartment. There are flashbacks to his past life in the Army and as a civilian contractor in Iraq. There are long tangents about art, which I found annoying, even though I love art. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Hypnotist's Love Story

The Hypnotist's Love Story
by Liane Moriarty

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Moriarty's sense of humor shines through her novels, making her books quirky and immensely readable. Her newest novel, The Husband’sSecret, is more suspenseful and serious, but I enjoyed this delightful, funny novel!

The Hypnotist’s Love Story affords a rare look into the life of a hypnotherapist. We follow Ellen through her daily life in Sydney and her blossoming love story with Patrick, who comes with unfortunate relationship baggage (an ex-girlfriend-turned stalked named Saskia). Through Ellen’s and Saskia’s perspectives, readers sympathize with both sides of the story.

Although lighthearted on the surface, Moriarty shares powerful insights on life and love. 

I really enjoyed reading her blog/website. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Morning Glory

Morning Glory
by Sarah Jio

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Sarah Jio's latest novel is my favorite of all five. A woman moves to a houseboat community on a lake in Seattle, called Boat Street, to grieve the loss of her husband and daughter. Once there, she stumbles upon the mystery of Penny Wentworth, former boat inhabitant, wife of a moody painter. 

The setting in Seattle is a character in itself, and the flashbacks to Ada's life with James and Ella aren't sentimental, but revealing.  Both Penny and Ada are well-drawn characters. 

Finding out what happened to Penny proves a worthy distraction, as does her neighbor Alex.

Read my reviews of Jio's other books: The Last CamelliaBlackberry Winter, and The Bungalow.

The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Popular Fiction

Should You Read It?
Yes! Like Moyes' Me Before You, with the sad story comes emotional honesty, well-drawn characters, and a very engaging tale. 

Review: In WWII-Occupied France, Sophie runs a small hotel with her family. A German Commandant takes an interest in the Sophie's portrait, painted by her husband, Edouard Lefevre. Will Sophie risk everything if it means saving her husband?  She wonders if she will ever be like the girl in the painting again. 

Meanwhile,  in modern-day London, another girl is left behind--Liv, a young widow and the new owner of the painting. When the provenance of the painting comes into question, Liv chooses to fights for possession of Sophie's portrait and in the process, learns about Sophie's life.

Read my review of Me Before You

**This interview with the author describes researching her novel at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and her writing process.

 Quote from the interview: "love stories where the answers are not black or white, stories that make you think: what would I do in that position?" 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dark and Stormy Night Mystery

The Fate of Mercy Alban
by Wendy Webb

Genre: Mystery

 If you want a book full of secret passages, mysterious pasts, and dark and stormy nights, pick up this little gem, by the author of The Tale of Halcyon Crane.

Review: Read this little novel if you are in the mood for some chills-down-your-spine Gothic suspense. The novel is set on Lake Superior in America, but the atmosphere feels decidedly like a British manor mystery. 

Grace Alban arrives home after 20 years away for her mother's funeral. After she arrives, things don't go smoothly, and not just because of her teenage daughter Amity's hot-then-cold attitude. Old relatives are popping out of the woodwork and crazy things are happening. Mix in a little small-town romance and you're ready for an evening reading by the fireplace.

Looking forward to her next book, The Vanishing, which comes out this month!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best. Thriller. Ever

The Likeness
by Tana French

Genre: Mystery/Psychological Thriller

Sorry, but I cannot do 100 words for this one and do it justice!

Review: This is the second time I have read this book, and it allowed me to see how much of an absolute master of the writing craft Tana French is. Often the thriller or mystery genre is not considered quite as literary as "the literary novel," but everyone who wants to be a writer should read this book.

 The premise of the book itself is amazing--Lexie, a post-grad in English literature, is murdered and found in a famine cottage, not far from her home at Whitethorn Manor. An undercover detective (Cassie Maddox) happens to be her double. Cassie must become Lexie, essentially, and infiltrate her life to find the murderer. The pacing and suspense will leave you breathless. What could be better than that? Maybe the writing itself.

At the sentence level, her writing is astonishing, poetic. You want to read as fast as possible, you HAVE to know what happens, but wait. Stop, pause and re-read a breath-taking description. Upon the second reading (years after the first reading), I noticed the symbolism of the mirror woven throughout--nothing in-your-face, just suggestive and powerful. The second reading also allowed me to notice the social commentary on Dublin and Ireland, the impact of history on the present, including thoughts on the economy and identity. 

Whether French is dissecting the minds of the characters or analyzing the thin lines between morality and immorality or reality and imagination, she delves deeply into what it means to live your life, to choose another life, and how precarious the threads we use to hang on to the people around us really are. Through her writing, French creates unreliable, not completely likable characters and narrators, but you still want to sit with them fireside or in a pub and talk to them forever. 

Movie News: Both In the Woods and The Likeness were acquired. The Likeness is still in development, according to IMDB.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Devotion: A Memoir

by Dani Shapiro

Genre: Memoir

ReviewOn paper, Dani Shapiro has all you could ask for: a healthy son, Jacob, a husband, a writing career, a house in the countryside. Yet she wakes up in the night in a cold panic. Her past, her fears and anxieties, her impossible mother, Jacob's brush with death, haunt her. She cannot find peace in her life. 

Meanwhile, Jacob is asking questions about God. Raised an Orthodox Jew, she approaches and retreats  from the Jewish religion. In Devotion, she vows to approach her core, to meditate, do yoga, explore Judaism and Buddhism.

***If you liked Eat, Pray, Love but longed for more depth and intellect, you will love Devotion.***

Meaningful quote:

"Each of us human, full of longing, reaching out with our whole selves for something impossible to touch. Still, we are reaching, reaching." p.243