Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: The Whole Way Home by Sarah Creech

Blurb from Goodreads:
A ferocious talent on the brink of making it big in Nashville must confront her small town past and an old love she’s never forgotten in this engaging novel—a soulful ballad filled with romance, heartbreak, secrets, and scandal from the author of Season of the Dragonflies.

Playing to packed houses while her hit song rushes up the charts, country singer and fiddler Jo Lover is poised to become a big Nashville star like her idols, Loretta, Reba, and Sheryl. To ensure her success, Jo has carefully crafted her image: a pretty, sassy, down-to-earth girl from small-town Virginia who pours her heart into her songs.

But the stage persona she’s built is threatened when her independent label merges with big-time Capitol Records, bringing Nashville heartthrob JD McCoy—her first love—back into her life. Long ago Jo played with JD’s band. Then something went wrong, they parted ways and took their own crooked roads to stardom. Now, Jo’s excited—and terrified—to see him again. 

When the label reunites them for a show, the old sparks fly, the duet they sing goes viral, and fans begin clamoring for more—igniting the media’s interest in the compelling singer. Why is a small-town girl like Jo so quiet about her past? When did she and JD first meet? What split them apart? All too soon, the painful secret she's been hiding is uncovered; a shocking revelation that threatens to destroy her reputation and her dreams. To salvage her life and her career, Jo must finally face the past—and her feelings for JD—to become the true Nashville diva she was meant to be.
My Review:
This one went off the rails! The beginning was actually okay for me - the premise intrigued me because I LOVE the movie The Thing Called Love and I love Nashville even though I don't really give a lick about country music.  This sounded like a pretty epic second chance romance from its description and it started off that way . . . and then, this whole other story line popped up and divided the attention of this book.  I liked both threads and thought each of them would have made its own book fairly well but putting them together just confused me and made this book way too long.  It got to a point where the characters were making these off the wall decisions and I just couldn't turn another page.  I think this one would have worked a lot better with some editing and attention to either one of the stories but not both and not together.

The Whole Way Home comes out next month on June 6, 2017, and you can purchase HERE. While this definitely didn't work for me, I hope you have better luck!
J.D. told the crowd, "I guess my fiddle player just showed up." 
She laughed, and it was like nothing he'd heard before. She laughed without hesitation, without boundaries. It made him lean closer to her. Her laugh was a magnet. She stepped right in front of him and spoke into the microphone. "Hi there. So sorry I'm late. Got snagged in a potato sack." 
The crowd laughed too and clapped. They were drawn to her, that much was clear. More people took a sat in the bleachers. Jo's hair smelled like a summer ripe cucumber cut straight from the vine. Copperheads and rattlesnakes smelled that way too--it's how you knew they were near. Jo was so beautiful that looking at her felt like poison. 
"Ready?" she said to J.D.
To the crowd he said, "Let's try this one more time." 
Jo began tapping her boot and watched him for the start. 
J.D. was certain her loved her the moment she made that fiddle cry.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Blurb from Goodreads:
Sometimes love is written in the margins ...

Henry and Rachel were best friends once. Rachel had a huge crush on Henry, but that was before she moved away, before her brother Cal drowned.

Now, Henry works in his father's bookstore, Howling Books, with the famous "letter library", a section of the shop where customers are encouraged to circle words and leave love letters inside their favourite books.

When Rachel returns from by the sea, the place that took her brother, she starts working beside Henry. At the book shop, she must gain strength from the bond she shares with Henry ... and from the written word.

Bit by bit, Rachel realises that to build a future, she must look to the words people have left behind.

This is a love story for everyone who loves books. 
My Review:
This was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2017 -- how could it not be when it was described as a love story for everyone who loves books?  I love books and the premise of this sung to me.  While it didn't live up to my high expectations, it was still enjoyable and had moments of brilliance. What I liked - the characters, the bookstore, some of the language. What I didn't like - the amount of time it took to get to the heart of the matter.  Something about the conflict avoidance in this book felt off to me - the missteps, the letters that weren't read, the facts that weren't disclosed.  There was a lot going on and I think this book would have benefited from a bit of restraint. I have very mixed emotions about this book because it had such potential but I wish it wouldn't have veered off in so many directions.

Words in Deep Blue comes out next month on June 6, 2017 and you can purchase HERE.  I definitely recommend this one for contemporary YA fans!
But I do believe we have choices--how we love and how much, what we read, where we travel. How we live after the person we love has died or left us. Whether or not we decide to take the risk and live again. 
But what is the point? I imagine you asking. For me it is this. On a night when I could hear the ocean coming in through the window of my room, a woman I would marry and have a child with told me she loved me. Our son just a hint on our skins. The stars were milk on the darkness. I did not think about losing her. I thought only that she loved me, and we were happy. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Perennials by Mandy Berman

Blurb from Goodreads:
The quintessential summer read: a sharp, poignant coming-of-age novel about the magic of camp and the enduring power of female friendship, for readers of Stephanie Danler, Anton DiSclafani, Jennifer Close, and Curtis Sittenfeld

At what point does childhood end and adulthood begin? Mandy Berman s evocative debut novel captures, through the lens of summer camp, a place that only appears to be untouched by the passing of time, both the thrills and pain of growing up. 

Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to treasure their summers together as campers at Camp Marigold. Now, reunited as counselors after their first year of college, their relationship is more complicated. Rebellious Rachel, a street-smart city kid raised by a single mother, has been losing patience with her best friend s insecurities; Fiona, the middle child of a not-so-perfect suburban family, envies Rachel s popularity with their campers and fellow counselors. For the first time, the two friends start keeping secrets from each other. Through them, as well as from the perspectives of their fellow counselors, campers, and families, we witness the tensions of the turbulent summer build to a tragic event, which forces Rachel and Fiona to confront their pasts and the adults they re becoming. 

A seductive blast of nostalgia, a striking portrait of adolescent longing, and a tribute to both the complicated nature and the enduring power of female friendship, Perennials will speak to everyone who still remembers that bittersweet moment when innocence is lost forever. 
My Review:
This was blurbed by and compared to so many great authors that I was so excited to read this one, plus SUMMER CAMP!  Unfortunately, though, this spiraled off into so many directions with so many POV that the core of it was muddled beyond repair.  In my opinion, there are not nearly enough books set at summer camp but this particular summer camp took on a desperate and sad tone.  Not that such a tone would necessarily not work but, here, there were way too many divergent POV that the book seemed to focus on personal suffering more than anything else.  This book should also have several trigger warnings and so many tragic events that I was so sad after finishing it. I'm sure that most of the characters were well developed but I didn't spend enough time with them in the book to feel this way -- many POV can be good sometimes but it takes a lot of effort to make it work.  Sadly, it didn't work here and I think had the author focused on just two or even three POV, I would have enjoyed this much more.

Perennials comes out next month on June 6, 2017, and you can purchase HERE. Hopefully you have better luck with this one than I did!
Rachel always got the feeling when they pulled into camp that time hadn't moved since the previous summer. Everything was exactly the same: the wooden Camp Marigold sign with the fading painted orange flowers; the smells of the horse manure from the barn and the cut grass from the athletic fields. In the months leading up to camp opening, she would think maybe the grass wouldn't be as green. Maybe some building would be pained a different color. Maybe they'd fixed that one broken rail on the fence around the horse arena. 
But none of that ever happened. Time didn't touch Camp Marigold, and that was what was so perfect about it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor

Blurb from Goodreads:
A novel about love, loss, and sharks by the New York Times bestselling coauthor of the memoir Traveling with Pomegranates.

On a summer day on the Gulf of Mexico in 1988, two extraordinary things happen to twelve-year-old Maeve Donnelly. First, she is kissed by Daniel, the boy of her dreams. Then, she is attacked by a blacktip shark.

Eighteen years later, Maeve is a world-traveling marine biologist studying and swimming with the very animals that once threatened her life. Known among her peers as the “shark whisperer,” Maeve is fearless in the water. On land, however, Maeve is dogged by unresolved wounds and indecisive about the path her life will take. After a particularly inspiring assignment abroad, Maeve returns to the small island off Florida’s coast where she grew up and to her childhood home—the legendarily charming and eccentric Hotel of the Muses, where she was raised by her grandmother. There, she is greeted by troubling news.

An illegal shark-finning operation has moved into town, and hundreds of sharks are dying. As Maeve fights to protect the fate of the animals so dear to her heart, she finds that her twin brother may be about to make it big as a novelist, using her love life as his jumping-off point. Will she confront her feelings about her brother’s betrayal—and forgive her childhood sweetheart, Daniel, the missteps of their youth? Or will she dive headlong back into her work and open her heart to Nicholas, her colleague who shares her passion for the ocean?

Set against the intoxicating backdrop of palm trees, blood orange sunsets, calypso bands, and key lime pies, The Shark Club is a love story, an environmental mystery, and an exploration of a woman’s mysterious kinship with the sea and the sharks that inhabit it. 
My Review:
The premise of this one was interesting - Maeve, bitten by a shark as a child, turns her fear into an obsession and travels the world studying sharks.  Her "home" is the hotel she grew up in with her twin brother and the book starts as she returns from one of her expeditions to find everything at the hotel turned upside down.  There were a lot of threads in this one -- her childhood sweetheart, her research, a new shark finning operation that threatens her home, and her twin brother.  I don't think that there were too many thread necessarily but what bothered me most about this book was plot related rather than technical.  Without giving too much away, the vast majority of the book is spent on Maeve reuniting with her childhood sweetheart after many years and a horrible break-up.  They return to each other as she returns home and most of the book involves them interacting in some way.  And, then, toward the end of the book, she walks away from this and is back to researching and someone else.  It just seems like  an odd dichotomy and i'm not sure why so much time and space of the book was devoted to letting us think her heart was somewhere else.  That said, the discussions on sharks and shark finning was interesting, if not the most compelling to me.  This book had a lot going on and it didn't quick work for me.  You may have better luck!
The Shark Club comes out next month on June 6, 2017, and you can purchase HERE.
"You remember when we met?" he asked.  
"It was in the hallways of the dorm, the day I got her.  You said, 'You're the shark person,' and then you eyeballed my scar and used it as a quasi scale to estimate the force of the shark's bite." 
"Right. I calculated the shark that bit you did so very, very hard." 
I laughed. 
He went on. "I went to my room after that and thought: she was literally bitten by the object of her obsession. That made you the single most fascinating person I'de ever met."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Blurb from Goodreads:
Nantucket is only two and a half hours away from Martha's Vineyard by ferry. But the two islands might as well be worlds apart for a set of identical twin sisters who have been at odds for years. Just because twins look exactly the same doesn't mean they're anything alike--and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point. When a family crisis forces them to band together--or at least appear to--the twins come to realize that the special bond that they share is more important than the resentments that have driven them apart. A story of new loves, old battles, and a threat that gives a whole new meaning to the term sibling rivalry, THE IDENTICALS is Elin Hilderbrand at her page-turning best. 
My Review:
I've read every single story and book that Elin Hilderbrand has ever published.  I've also re-read many of her books and I look forward to each one; she now has a winter series that she publishes in the late fall in addition to the book she writes every summer but, still, her books are the start of summer for me.  That being said, her last few books have been hit or miss for me.  A few I've loved (The Matchmaker , The Rumor) but more often her last few books have been just ok for me (Beautiful Day (my only DNF from her), Summerland and Here's to Us).  So I was anxious but also apprehensive to dive into her latest, The Identicals.  Well I needn't have worried because it was wonderful!  It gave me all those same feelings that her early books did and reminded me why I fell in love with her books in the first lace.  This book is about identical twin sisters that are are so different as well as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard - two islands that look alike but couldn't be farther apart in their personalities.  I loved the juxtaposition and devoured this book in one day.  I know I will re-read this one and it also encouraged me to re-read a few of my other EH favorites after I finished it, just to keep those feelings going!

The Identicals comes out next month on June 13, 2017, and you can purchase HERE.  I really loved this one and I am happy to report that Elin Hilderbrand is back!!  I definitely recommend you put this on your summer reading list.
Like thousands of other erudite, discerning people, you've decided to spend your summer vacation on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. You want postcard beaches. You want to swim, sail, and surf in the Yankee-blue waters. You want to eat clam chowder and lobster rolls, and you want those dishes served to you by someone who calls them chowdah and lobstah. You want to ride in a Jeep with the op down, your golden retriever, named Charles Emerson Winchester III, riding shotgun. You want to live the dream. You want an American summer.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: Cities of Men by William Jensen

Blurb from Goodreads:
In 1987, twelve-year-old Cooper Balsam's mother, Arden, disappears without a trace. Cooper's father, Percy, a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD, doesn't seem too concerned. "This isn't the first time. She's done it before." As days pass, Cooper begins to act out and withdraw from the world, and his growing animosity toward his father's ambivalence begins to escalate even as Percy and Cooper begin to actively search for the woman in their lives. From the hills of Southern California, to the deserts of Arizona, and down to the beaches of Mexico, the father and son will look for someone who may not want to be found for reasons they don't yet understand. 
My Review:
I'm not sure how I feel about this book, even a few days after I've read it.  It was a quick read but I was still expecting more.  This is a just a glimpse of a few months in a twelve year old's life and, yes, it was likely the most important thing to happen to this person but I'm not sure it was the stuff that books are made of.  What I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure it is enough to have this micro-focus on a twelve year's mother leaving and the ensuing but short-lived search for the same. But even considering this criticism, and I am still on the fence about being critical of this hyper-focus, Cooper was well written - he seemed like this age and all of his confusion, his intense feelings and his struggle were very genuine and written perfectly.  If you are looking for a book in which the author explores and writes a wonderful 12 year old MC and to feel like you are that age again, this might just be the book for you.
Cities of Men comes out later this month on May 23, 2017, and you can purchase HERE.
I realized early on that my parents were people, individuals with histories from long before I was born. Obviously, everyone understands this, but I knew it almost from the beginning. I knew my parents had backstories, some I'd never know, and I had to be okay with that. There wasn't anything I could do about it if I wasn't anyway. 
I thought about this, all of this, that night as I stood outside staring at the empty roads and the night sky. I wondered about my parents and their lives and the secrets of everyone else, the people in all of the houses, everybody sleeping, dreaming, their joys and regrets. I stood there and waited for Mom. I waited a long time.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review: Skitter (The Hatching #2) by Ezekiel Boone

Blurb from Goodreads:
Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Gruyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up. Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack gives a shocking preview of what is to come, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a spider super weapon, but it’s not clear if it’s too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol. America, you are on your own.
My Review:
I think what I like most about this series is how quick it darts from place to place to show the impact across the world and, yet, it's never too much to follow along.  It keeps it interesting but somehow is not overly complicated.  I don't have to think about all the threads in this book because they just work so well.   That being said, this book picks up right where the first book left off and things are even more dire in this book.  A new breed of spiders has emerged and they can't figure out how to stop it.  I liked the various perspectives, as I've said, from behind the scenes of the government to troops on the ground, to the average person who really doesn't know what's going on.  I can't wait to see what happens in book 3 and if they can figure everything out.

Skitter came out earlier week on May 2, 2017 and you can purchase HERE. I definitely recommend this series for summer reading - something about the hint of fear and the action would be great to read on the beach.  You can read my review of the first book in this series, The Hatching, HERE.
"If we'd known about these spiders in the way that he meant, we'd have tried to prepare for them. What I'm saying is that we knew about them without knowing about them. We knew they existed but only somewhere deep in our caveman brains. Think about it. Why are so many people afraid of spiders? There's a decent number of poisonous spiders, but the chances of a human dying from a spider bite are remote. More people are killed by cows than spiders in the US every year. The daddy longlegs? Toxic as hell, but a daddy longlegs can't even bit a human."
"The reality is that the chances of a human getting killed or even harmed by spider are so low that meaningful number of poisonous spiders might as well be zero. And yet, most people are scared shitless of them. I think there's a reason for that. You see something creepy crawling out of the corner of your eye, and nit's not your cellphone-- talking, sushi-ordering, Internet-using brain responding It's that little nugget of gray that is an evolutionary holdover from when we thought banging two rocks together was a scientific accomplishment. That's the part of your brain that's screaming."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie A. Nelson

Blurb from Goodreads:
Words are weapons. Facts can be manipulated. And nothing is absolute—especially right and wrong.

Tanner McKay is at Bannerman Prep for only one reason: the elite school recruited him after he brought his public school’s debate team to victory last year. Bannerman wants a championship win. Debate is Tanner’s life—his ticket out of his poor-as-dirt life and family drama, straight to a scholarship to Stanford and the start of a new, better future.

But when he's paired with the Duke, his plans for an easy ride seem as if they’ve hit the rails. The Duke is the quintessential playboy, beloved by everyone for his laissez-faire attitude, crazy parties, and seemingly effortless favors.

And a total no-show when it comes to putting in the work to win.

But as Tanner gets sucked into the Duke’s flashy world, the thrill of the high life and the adrenaline of existing on the edge becomes addictive. A small favor here and there seems like nothing in exchange for getting everything he ever dreamed of.

But the Duke’s castle is built on shady, shaky secrets, and the walls are about to topple down.

A contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, Katie Nelson’s taut debut is perfect for fans of John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Kate Brian’s Private series, and anyone who’s encountered the cut-throat world of competitive high school. 
My Review:
I universally love books with a boarding school setting and this one was no different. I also usually like retellings and I'd never read a retelling of The Great Gatsby before, let alone a YA retelling.  It was well imagined and well executed in story if not in words. The other great part of this book was its immersion into high school speech and debate - I competed (badly) in these events in high school and I found this book to be so true and accurate to that life! It definitely brought me back. However, the real star of this book was Tanner - the MC and such a complex and well developed character.  The entire book was told from his POV and it worked well.  he was far from perfect but I found his internal struggles and decisions realistic for his age.  This book had a lot of facets but somehow they worked well.  I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

The Duke of Bannerman Prep comes out next week on May 9, 2017 and you can purchase HERE. I definitely recommend this one if you like YA retellings or if you're a fan of The Great Gatsby - this was a unique twist and I enjoyed it.
Tomas shook his head. "We're good. How did you get here? You drive that Bronco?" 
I nodded. My truck was a constant source of amazement of these people. They couldn't fathom that anything worth less than ten thousand dollars could still run. 
"I don't know how you drive that thing, dude. Doesn't sitting in it make you want to join the NRA, stuff some dip in your cheek and marry your cousin?" The girl standing next to him laughed, despite her shivering. Tomas noticed Abby. "We meet again. You going to introduce me this time?"   
"This is Abby. My cousin." 
"No way," he doubled over, spilling some of his beer onto the deck. "I gotta tell the guys." He pulled the girl along with him and walked toward the house.
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