Books

Hope Rides Again – Book Review

Last year I read the book Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shafer.  It followed Barack Obama and Joe Biden while they tried to solve the mystery of the murder of Joe’s favorite Amtrak conductor.  It was a ridiculous story in which after their time in the White House, Obama and Biden join forces to solve mysteries.  It’s an absurd concept that works for me.  I laughed out loud countless times during the first book, imagining the Joe Biden we know from the Biden memes that became so popular at the end of their term.

Hope Rides Again is the sequel to Hope Never Dies.  In this story,  Obama’s blackberry mysteriously disappears and Joe decides that he needs to solve the mystery of what happened to it.  Over a 24 hour period, on the streets of Chicago, Biden and Obama not only try to find the blackberry, but they also try to solve the attempted murder of the presumed thief.  Their adventures are hilarious and I think I laughed out loud on every page.  The infamous tan suit makes an appearance in this book and Biden has a very strong opinion of Obama’s greatest scandal.

I love these books not because of  great writing or because an important story needs to be told.  I love these books because I miss Barack Obama and for a few hours, I can imagine that he and Biden are out there, somehow making the world a better place.

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Books

The Favorite Daughter-Book Review

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I recently finished The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda.  The main character in this book, Jane, is a mother of 2.  She recently lost her older daughter, Mary, and questions remain as to what happened.  When the book begins, they are approaching the one year anniversary of Mary’s death.  Jane has spent a year, heavily medicated, to get through the grief of losing who she believed was her perfect daughter.  During that year, her husband has been working longer hours and her younger daughter, Betsy,  is keeping secrets.  The family appears to be falling apart and Jane has made it her mission to find out what is going on and what actually happened to Mary.

I don’t want to give any spoilers.  But, I have read a lot of books that follow what I have mentioned before as being in the “Gone Girl” genre and this one definitely follows that same genre.  As we all know, Amy was a certifiable lunatic in Gone Girl.  Compared to Jane in The Favorite Daughter, Amy was actually very sane and normal.  To say Jane is crazy, would be an understatement.  While I had fun reading this book, I did have a hard time dealing with the true insanity of Jane, I can’t remember the last time I read a character that was crazy and so void of humanity.  In a word, WOW!

The Favorite Daughter gives us a very fictional glimpse into the perfect, All American family living in Orange County California.  The neighborhood that they live in is over the top idyllic and the people who live there are nothing more than characters.  If this is what it is really like to live among the rich in California, I will continue to be happy in Midwestern America.  No one seems real in the story, making it hard to actually care about the characters.  That being said though, I did have fun reading the book and read it quickly.  It is a very easy read and while the ending is very predictable, Jane is very transparent, the story will draw you in.

Don’t expect great literature with this one.  I came across one very glaring mistake the author made while writing the book.  Throughout the story she talks about all the years her girls were one year apart in school.  However, when the oldest daughter goes to college, the younger daughter is starting her junior year of high school.  This was, in my opinion, a major mistake that the editor missed.  That set aside,  expect to have fun reading it and know that the ending will be very satisfying.  I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads.  I would have given 3.5, with a half star for the fun factor if that was an option.

Books

Wunderland – Book Review

I recently finished the World War II drama Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein.  This was one of those books that I started and had to promise myself that I would not stay up until 12:30 am reading.  I did not fulfill that promise to myself and finished it in 2 nights, it was that good.

Set in Berlin in the 1930’s, best friends Ilse and Renate, have spent their childhood together.  They share secrets and make promises to each other to remain best friends forever.  As the Nazi party continues to strengthen in Germany, they find that maintaining their precious friendship is going to be impossible.  Renate’s family reveals a secret that will make it impossible for her to sustain her lifestyle, her social connections and education.

After introducing Ilse and Renate, the book jumps to 1980’s New York City and the reader is introduced to Ilse’s daughter Ava.  Ava was born at the start of WWII and never knew who her father was and never knew why she was surrendered to an orphanage as a young child, only to be retreived by her mother years later.  She spends her life begging her mother for answers, but receives nothing from Ilse.  Finally, after years of estrangement from Ilse she receives a letter from Germany that includes the story of her mother’s life through a series of letters that her mother wrote over several decades to Renate.  These letters explain to Ava why her mother was distant and cold during her childhood.  It also explains the mystery of her father and those years in the orphanage.  The answer is shocking.

I really liked this book for several reasons.  I have read so many WWII books over the years.  The events of 1940’s Europe provided endless material for historical fiction.  Personally, I have always felt an obligation to read those stories so that I can understand why the holocaust happened and what drove millions of people to follow a madman blindly.  In all honesty, I have been backing away from those books a little bit because they all seem to end in the same place, a death camp. While I know that was the story for millions of victims, it was not the story for all of Hitler’s victims.  Make no mistake about it though, just because this story does not end in a death camp, that doesn’t make the outcome any less tragic. In the end,  the brutality these families live through ends before they have to enter a death camp.

I realize that while this book was historical fiction, it also had the element of mystery and suspense.  The big reveal is saved for the last few pages,  which allowed the book to hold my attention until the very end.  I kept asking myself, what is the secret?  So many scenarios went through my mind, but honestly, I wasn’t prepared for the end.  That is what makes a good story great!

I also appreciated that the author had the ability to make me really hate Ilse through almost the entire book.  I mean, she is really portrayed as an awful woman.  Her final letter allowed me to realize their was so much more to her.  I can’t say I walked away feeling pity or sorry for her, or that I even liked her at the end.  But, I ended the book understanding her a bit more.

I gave Wunderland 5 stars on Goodreads without hesitation.

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Books

Save Me The Plums-Book Review

In 2003 I went to an author lunch with a friend of mine.  We went to a French restaurant on Lake Michigan and indulged in some truly delicious and memorable food.  The author we saw was Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine.  She was on a book tour promoting Gourmet magazine’s first cookbook.  With the guidance of my dear friend Amy, I had only recently discovered that I appreciated foods that went beyond my midwestern roots.  While I love a good casserole, I realized I also love salad with baked goat cheese, a perfectly roasted chicken or mushroom risotto.  The world of food had been introduced to me.

Save Me the Plums, written by Ruth Reichl, tells the story of her years at Gourmet magazine as editor.  It follows other books she has written, my favorite being Tender at the Bone.  I highly recommend that one, the stories she tells about her mother are laugh out loud hilarious.  Save Me the Plums gives the backstory to how she fell into such a great job, the politics of running a magazine, the personalities of the people she worked with and the ultimate dismantling of Gourmet magazine.   I enjoyed the book, but it was not great, it had some flaws.

I found it hard to keep track of all the people.  I understand that when you run a magazine, it is a team effort.  But, there were just too many personalities to keep track of.  I don’t know how she could have revised that aspect, but it was hard to follow.  I also felt like she jumped over huge periods of time without a lot of detail.  She goes from complaining about slumping sales, to bragging about robust sales very quickly without a lot of explanation as to why.  That happened quite a few times throughout the book.  It made it hard to follow.  I was also disappointed in the ending.  She devoted very little to explaining how and why the magazine came to an end.  It felt like she purposely skipped a few facts?

That being said, having met her, she came across as a genuinely warm and kind person.  I loved the stories about her interactions with her son.  It made the story seem more genuine.  She talks about the relationship with her husband, they come across as a happy couple.  She talked about the tense relationship she had with her mother and her fondness for her father.  Again, all things that made me like her, therefore, liking the book more than I would have had I not met her.

Save Me the Plums is an easy read, with some recipes included, which I plan on trying.  I gave it 4, very reluctant stars, on Goodreads.  I would recommend that if you want to read this, start with her first book and read them all first.  By doing that, you will have a better idea of what happened in her life to bring her to the world of food.

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Books

Lost Roses-Book Review

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Last night I finished the prequel to Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, Lost Roses.  Like Lilac Girls, Lost Roses focuses on 3 women whose paths cross during pivotal points in world history.  Lilac Girls took place during WWII and Lost Roses takes place during WWI and the Russian Revolution.  I liked this book and gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.  In fact, I fall in the minority of people who did not like Lilac Girls.  I like Lost Roses much more.  I could tell that this was the author’s second novel.  The writing is better in this one.

The characters are well developed with the loving families surrounding them.  They all come from different backgrounds.  The character, Eliza, is American.  Sophya is a relative to the Russian tsar and Varinka is a Russian peasant.  It is hard to imagine how these 3 will cross paths, but they do and the story is fascinating.

I personally love novels that take place in Europe, especially early 20th century Europe.  There was so much social and political change going on at that time, it provides a never ending supply of fascinating novels.

That all being said, I had a couple issues with the book.  These characters were not always likable. Varinka was actually pretty horrible through most of the book.  Her back story gives an excellent explanation as to why.  But, it didn’t make it hard to truly dislike her.  I didn’t care too much if she survived the revolution.  Sophya was a very likable character.  However, she was part of the tsar’s family and given what we all know about how the tsar treated the majority of Russians, I believed that it was appropriate for her family to be forced back to reality.  They were in the end and she endured.  Eliza, the American, for the most part was a likable character.  But, her interactions with her mother and daughter often left me wondering how they were able to put up with her.  She was also very spoiled and had very high expectations of what she be given.  She came across as more spoiled than the Sophya.

The story had a happy ending and they were able to go forward with their lives, no matter how different they were pre war.  This will be a great, easy summer read

Books

My Lovely Wife – Book Review

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I think it is safe to say that 2019 is going to prove to be a great year for fiction.  I recently finished My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing.  In a word, WOW!  It is, in my opinion, as good as Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.  Just a completely different genre of fiction.

In 2012, Gillian Flynn released Gone Girl.  I think almost all of my friends read that book.  Since that time, it feels like every author is trying to write the new Gone Girl.    Don’t get me wrong, I love almost every single one of those books.  I love a good mystery, no matter how predictable they have become.  But, the key word there is predictable, we all know how they are going to end.

My Lovely Wife, in my opinion finally broke that mold.  The summary claims this to be Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  That description is semi accurate, but so much more.  It’s the story of a couple who have decided to add a bit of excitement to their marriage.  They are both certifiably crazy, you just don’t know until the end who is actually crazier.  The author does such a good job of character development, that I found myself almost hoping that they wouldn’t get caught.  That is until the end, then I did want one of them to get caught and wanted the other to walk away.  I was not disappointed by the ending and did not see it coming.  This is a great one for a day at the beach or in your hammock.  Just leave enough time to read it in a couple of sittings, it is hard to put down.

I don’t want to give any spoilers so I will end here.  If this book is any indication of what is coming in fiction for the second half of 2019, I better clear more time in my schedule for reading.

Books, Uncategorized

Summer Reading List

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It’s finally June, which means that it’s time to compile a Summer Reading List.  Below is a list of books that I have already read that I highly recommend.

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama – There is a very good reason why this book is well on it’s way to becoming the best selling autobiography of all time.  I listened to her story on audiobook and highly recommend doing that way.  Her voice telling her story is the way to go on this one.
  2. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – This is my favorite fiction of 2019.
  3. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – Another suspense book that falls into line with the “Gone Girl” genre.  These books are starting to become really predictable, but not this one.  The twist at the end was shocking.
  4. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This is a fun book written like an interview about a rock band from the 70’s.  It’s a quick read and can be very funny.  This would be the perfect read on the beach.
  5. Run Away by Harlan Coben – I love anything written by Harlan Coben and anxiously await his latest book every year.  This one is not a disappointment.
  6. Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick – I really enjoyed this debut novel.  It’s a great coming of age story about a Russian foreign exchange student in Louisiana.
  7. The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin – A great story about 4 siblings are the effects of there tumultuous childhood.
  8. The Lightkeeper’s Daughter by Jean Pendziwol – I read this for bookclub.  It’s a very easy read, but a great story that takes place in Canada.  Everyone in bookclub really enjoyed this one.
  9. The Gown by Jennifer Robson – This books tells the story of the women who made Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress, but it is so much more than that.
  10. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing – I just started this one last night.  But, already really invested.  The couple in this one is a special kind of crazy.  I am confident this one will not disappoint.

I have a list of books that I want to get through this summer as well

  1. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – I recently watched the series adapted from this novel.  It was a great series, so now I need to read the book.  I avoided this one because translations rarely give justice to the story.  Now that I have seen the series, I am ready to give it a chance.
  2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – This is my June bookclub book.
  3. The River by Peter Heller
  4. Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
  5. Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichel
  6. Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein
  7. When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
  8. The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Sturdivant Rouda

What are some books that are on your summer reading list?  I am always looking for new titles.

 

Books

My Top Book Pick For 2019…So Far

As a prolific reader, I tend to read the top picks every year. Each year, I find one book that I would rate as my top pick. The best of the bunch. One that needs to be read, by everyone. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is already my pick for 2019. Maybe I will read something that I think is better, but I highly doubt it, it is just that good.

Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya, a girl who grows up in the marshes of North Carolina. Her story is one of true heartbreak and tragedy. She lives alone in the marsh with little contact with the outside world. She is a truly kind and intelligent soul, who has had more disappointment in her life than any one person should ever have.

Without giving spoilers, I will explain why I have such a high opinion of the this book. First, the story itself. The author is able to write an incredibly heart breaking story with such beauty. Her writing is lyrical, her descriptions make the reader feel like they have been transported to the marsh that Kya lives in. You will feel her pain. Make no mistake about it, her pain visceral and the reader will feel it with her. I knew when I started this book, it was going to be a heartbreaker. In fact, I had reserved it 3 times at my library, read the first page and then returned it. I was afraid to feel such sadness, but in the end I am glad I read it.

Second, all of the characters are integral to the story. Like the story itself, the author has created characters with so much description, you feel like you know each of them individually. Some you love and some you hate. But all are necessary to the story itself.

Third, the focus of the natural world in Kya’s life. You will be able to feel like you are sitting in the marsh with Kya. The descriptions of the tides, the birds flying, even the shells she finds on the beach are described with such intense detail. It is clear that the author’s first profession was as a naturalist. She has a way of describing everything with such beauty.

Fourth, the ending is truly satisfying after a heartbreaking journey through Kya’s life. Expect to cry a little, but also expect to feel relief at the end. Her journey is long and full of disappointment, but she finishes that journey with less loneliness and true happiness. This is truly a beautiful read.