Category: book review

Book Review: Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage

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Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   Baby Teeth
Author:   Zoje Stage
Genre:   Thriller, Suspense
Rating:   4 out of 5

Hanna is a sweet, silent seven-year-old. She’s far smarter than she should be, but she hides it behind a placid façade. Usually. She’s her father’s baby and her mother’s nemesis.

Suzette has been sick most of her life but thought becoming a mother would leave her fulfilled and renewed. Instead, it just leaves her terrified.

Hanna sees her mother as competition for her father’s affection and will stop at nothing to eliminate her competition. Nothing. As Hanna becomes increasingly more aggressive and her tricks become more dangerous, Suzette is desperate to convince her husband that their beloved daughter may be better off away from home—and that may be the only way she survives her daughter’s intentions.

I’m not super into books about evil children—and Hanna is evil—but the author did an excellent job portraying the love Hanna’s parents still have for her, despite her actions. Parts of this novel were creepy, parts were chilling, but all of them made me glad I don’t know any children like Hanna.

Zoje Stage has a background in film and theatre. Baby Teeth is her new novel.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen

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Image belongs to Doubleday.

Title:   The Last Cruise
Author:  Kate Christensen
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

The Queen Isabella is making her last voyage, a two-week retro cruise to Hawaii and back, before being scrapped. No internet. No cell phones. No children. Everything is vintage and classic, from the food and drinks to the entertainment.

Christine Thorne, a journalist before becoming a farmer, is along to keep her friend company, and to experience a life of luxury. Mick Szabo, a Hungarian chef added to the crew at the last-minute, sees it as his chance to impress his famous boss and land a prestigious position. Miriam Koslow, a violinist for a string quartet for years, wants a peaceful trip.

But the voyage is marked by animosity among the crew and signs of cut corners by the cruise company. Soon the Queen Isabella faces its greatest challenge yet, leaving passengers and crew sinking in the turmoil.

The Last Cruise sounds like it would be a fast-paced thriller. It’s not. Instead, it moves slowly and languorously, allowing hints of trouble to peek through its glamourous façade. The odd assortment of characters just works together, and, along with the slow pace, helps cement the sense of low-lying dread that permeates the pages. The ending is not the most frustrating one I’ve ever read…but it’s on the list.

Kate Christensen is an award-winning author and memoirist. The Last Cruise is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Olympian Challenger, by Astrid Arditi

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Image belongs to Astrid Arditi.

Title:   Olympian Challenger
Author:   Astrid Arditi
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

Hope Diaz lives in New York City. She spends her time swimming, studying, and caring for her mother, who has dementia. She doesn’t have time for parties, so when she receives a mysterious invitation to one, she doesn’t really care. It seems like every other senior in the city got one, so it can’t be all that special. Until she realizes that everyone else can only see a single sentence on the invitation…and she sees more.

Soon, Hope finds herself on Mount Olympus, a guest of the gods, as she and other challengers prepare for a competition that will grant them their greatest wish. Hope doesn’t want immortality. She just wants to go home and take care of her mother.

But leaving Olympus isn’t an option and Hope soon finds out that not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.

Olympian Challenger isn’t a completely unique concept. I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Percy Jackson and Hunger Games. Sure, there are similarities. It’s difficult to write anything that has nothing in common with any other book ever written. But Olympian Challenger is its own story.

Hope is an interesting character, and the friendships she forges on Olympus are intriguing and inspiring. I enjoyed seeing the gods and the heroes through her less-than-impressed eyes. While the plot lags in places and does skimp on details at times, the writing is solid, and I’m interested in reading the second book.

Astrid Arditi lives and writes in Brooklyn. Olympian Challenger is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: All We Ever Wanted, by Emily Griffin

all we ever wanted
Image belongs to Random House/Ballantine Books.

Title:   All We Ever Wanted
Author:   Emily Griffin
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Nina Browning is living the good life among Nashville’s elite. Her husband sold his tech business for millions, catapulting them into the moneyed class, and her son, Finch, just got accepted to Princeton. It’s a far cry from Nina’s middle-class other-side-of-the-tracks upbringing.

Tom Volpe is a single dad who works several jobs trying to raise his independent daughter, Lyla. Since her mom left, he’s been struggling to keep Lyla from following in her drinking and partying ways, so Lyla attends the elite Windsor Academy, her way out.

When questionable pictures of Lyla surface after a party, Tom refuses to let his daughter be victimized, and reports the incident to the principal. Soon the entire school is in an uproar, and Nina is faced with believing her beloved son—even when his story doesn’t always add up—or following her own instincts.

I enjoyed this read about Nina, who on the outside looks like a wealthy wife with nothing to do but charity work, living off her husband’s money and content with the choices she made. But Nina isn’t content, and when she realizes what happened to Lyla, she does what she knows is right, bucking the system and society both, as well as her husband. This was a great read, and it delves into some of the questions surrounding social media use and taking advantage of girls with it.

Emily Griffin is a former lawyer turned best-selling author. Her newest novel is All We Ever Wanted.

(Galley provided by Random House/Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Museum of Us, by Tara Wilson Redd

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Image belongs to Random House Children’s/Wendy Lamb Books.

Title:   The Museum of Us
Author:   Tara Wilson Redd
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

Sadie has a boyfriend she loves, Henry, who plays in a band and loves her even though she can’t understand why. Her best friend, Lucie, runs Cross Country and is a secret nerd, but still loves to hang out with Sadie. Then there’s George. George just gets her. They talk for hours. They go on adventures. They explore the world around them. Together, they are magic.

George is a secret. He’s imaginary. But when a car accident leaves Sadie calling out his name, she ends up in a hospital for people with issues like hers.

Life with George is more extraordinary than anything Sadie has experienced without him. But, while trying to keep her secret, she starts to yearn for something more, for something real. Can she give up George and the magical lives she leads with him?

At first, I wasn’t too sure about this book. I mean, daydreaming is one thing, but Sadie takes it to a whole other level. Her adventures with George are fantastic, but she just can’t see how great her real life is, too. I just didn’t get it at first, but then it all started to make sense, and I really felt for Sadie and all she’d been through. This is an exploration of mental illness from the inside—and it is very, very well done and vivid.

Tara Wilson Redd lives in Washington D.C. The Museum of Us is her debut novel.

(Galley provided by Random House Children’s/Wendy Lamb Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Melody, by Jim Crace

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Image belongs to Doubleday.

Title:   The Melody
Author:   Jim Crace
Genre:    Fiction
Rating:   3 out of 5

Alfred Busi, aging local singer, lives alone in his villa by the ocean. He’s lived in the house his entire life, but it’s empty now, since the death of his wife, except for himself and his piano. One night, after hearing noises in the courtyard, he’s attacked, bitten, and scratched. He never sees his attacker, but he feels it wasn’t an animal. And not wholly a man.

Bui’s account of the attack is exaggerated and used to revitalize the public outcry against the destitute and animals living in a public park. When the issue grows beyond him, Busi retreats, trying to decide if he will sing again, while still struggling to come to terms with his wife’s death several years before.

I was very intrigued by the idea of this mysterious attack by an unknown creature. That’s why I wanted to read this novel. But…I almost stopped reading before the attack even happened. And I kind of wish I had.

While the writing is lyrical and Busi is a semi-interesting character, this was a very slow read. And, frankly, I don’t feel like the author delivered on the promise he made. The synopsis of the story is focused on the attack and the mystery surrounding it, but it was a side-note in the book, with the rest of the novel centered on Busi’s internal struggles.

Jim Crace is an award-winning English author. The Melody is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.)

What I Read in June (2018)

This post will not be as detailed as my monthly re-cap normally is. June was a crazy month for me, with lots of family stuff going on. My dad had major surgery. My grandmother is on hospice. I’m just not up to it right now.

Books Read in June: 11

Books Read for the Year: 83/150

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Never Stop Walking, by Christina Rickardsson (cultural). Interesting read about a Brazilian girl, adopted to a Swiss couple, who goes back to the poverty-ridden neighborhoods she grew up in in search of her mother.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle (classic). Hard to go wrong with a L’Engle book.

Station 11, by Emily St. John Mandel (TBR). Um…turns out I’d already read this. I found the resolution a bit anti-climatic.

Unexpected, by Christine Caine (spiritual). Excellent, inspiring read.

Cast in Chaos, by Michelle Sagara (TBR). Love this series. Kaylin is such a flawed but likable character.

For Review:

 

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The Emperor of Shoes, by Spence Wise. This was…slightly more than so-so. The father was completely unlikable.

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Little Do We Know, by Tamara Ireland Stone. I enjoyed this story of a girl struggling to make sense of her beliefs.

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The Bookshop of Yesterdays, by Amy Meyerson. Loved this one!

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Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata. Meh. I couldn’t relate to this on ANY level.

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The Love Letter, by Rachel Hauck. I enjoyed this Christian romance that tells the story of two couples, in different centuries.

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Not the Girls You’re Looking For, by Aminah Mae Safi. 

So, honestly, this was lacking a plot. And the main character—and her three best friends—were not nice. Basically unlikable. I liked the diversity and the writing was solid, but the main character looked for things to be offended about.

Left Unfinished:

Harry’s Trees, by Jon Cohen. Just couldn’t get into it.

L’s Precarious Reality, by Layla J. Silver. This was a case of me not being the right reader.

Redeeming How We Talk, by Ken Wytsma. I liked the idea behind the book, but got bogged down in the analysis. I was looking for more concrete suggestions.

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

 

Book Review: Not the Girls You’re Looking For, by Aminah Mae Safi

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Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Author: Aminah Mae Safi
Genre: YA
Rating: 3 out of 5

Lulu Saad has her squad, her family, and a huge chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t need anything else. She’s fasting for Ramadan, which she does every year, and her squad still doesn’t get it, but Lulu is determined to make it through this time.

Except Lulu and her friends have a falling out. And she alienates half of her extended family. And she can’t quite figure out why everything in her life is going wrong…

Okay. I didn’t realize quite how…plotless this book was until I tried to write a synopsis. And now it’s all so clear to me…Lulu and her friends aren’t very likeable. Scratch that. They aren’t likable at all. They do stupid stuff, knowingly. They talk about people. They sabotage people. They’re judgmental. Basically, this book is all angst and anger, with a lot of cultural diversity thrown in.

Now, that part was very well done, and executed so well that I caught all the nuances of Lulu’s struggle to fit in when she feels like she doesn’t belong in either culture. But she’s also touchy to the point of looking for things to take offense at. Have some respect for yourself. Guys should absolutely respect women, and women should be able to wear whatever they want without having to be afraid of guys’ reactions…but, it’s not okay to sexualize men for their bodies, either. Lulu doesn’t get this, and she thinks it’s okay for her to be focused on the guys and for her to react inappropriately towards them. So…all the stars for diversity, but no stars for plot or character likability.

Aminah Mae Safi has studied art History, but now writes fiction. Not the Girls You’re Looking For is her debut novel.

(Galley provided by in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review: The Love Letter, by Rachel Hauck

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Title: The Love Letter
Author: Rachel Hauck
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5

Chloe Daschle is known in Hollywood for being the actress to play a convincing death scene. But she’s tired of dying. She wants to live. When she hears about the role of Esther Kingsley in a historical film, she decides to go for it.

The script is based on a one-page love letter written by screenwriter Jesse Gates’ ancestor, Hamilton Lightfoot, but Jesse would far rather write about romance than try his hand at it…again. When Jesse and Chloe meet, they both must re-think their views on love—and their pasts.

During the Revolutionary War, Esther longs to be with Hamilton, her friend from childhood, but Hamilton is torn between his love of peace, and his desire to fight for the land he calls home. He’s afraid his thirst for revenge over the death of his father will motivate him—not the cause he wishes to fight for. And Esther must choose between her beloved father, a British Loyalist, and the rebel Hamilton, the man she loves.

I expected a light romance in The Love Letter but got so much more than that. Chloe is an intriguing character: she grew up in Hollywood and has a past as one of those behaving-badly starlets caught on tape to live down. She’s changed, and now she wants so much more out of life, but Hollywood has her in a tidy box she’s not sure she can escape. Until she meets Jesse, who does things his way, not buckling to threats or even friendly advice. With Esther and Hamilton’s story woven throughout, The Love Letter was an engrossing, lovely read.

Rachel Hauck is an award-winning and best-selling author. Her newest novel is The Love Letter.

(Galley provided by Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

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Image belongs to Grove.

Title:   Convenience Store Woman
Author:   Sayaka Murata
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   3 out of 5

Growing up, Keiko was a strange child. She didn’t react like everyone else—two students fighting, and everyone wants them to stop? Bashing one of them in the head is the solution, right?—and she never understands why her reactions are so wrong. So she learned to mimic everyone around her, creating a nice, normal persona with nice, normal reactions.

For 18 years now, she’s worked part-time at a convenience store. She’s never had a boyfriend. She has only a few friends—who don’t know she’s playing a part. Her family doesn’t understand her. But the routine of the convenience store gives her structure, and the employee handbook gives her rules to follow—she knows the part she must play to look like everyone else.

When she meets a fellow convenience store worker who also doesn’t seem to know how to react, she decides to take action to make everyone finally believe she’s normal once and for all. But will change be for the better?

I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture since the first time I read Shogun. That’s why I picked this up. However, this book ended up being pretty meh for me. I like feeling a connection with the characters, and I just didn’t get a sense of connection at all. I felt sorry for Keiko, but she felt so distant that I couldn’t really care. (Part of this may be due to the novel being a translation, part to the fact that Keiko may be on the spectrum, so she just isn’t easy to relate to.)

Sayaka Murata is an award-winning Japanese writer. Convenience Store Woman is her newest translated work.

(Galley provided by Grove in exchange for an honest review.)