Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive

Luckiest Girl Alive
by Jessica Knoll

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:  As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself.  Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiance, she's this close to living the perfect life she's worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There's something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and ruin everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won't see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to "have it all" and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and whose heart is bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: Will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for-or will it, at long last, set Ani free?
from the book jacket

Review: Had it not been for the fact that my book club picked this book to discuss, I'm not sure I would have continued past the first 10 pages.  Just from the first page I could not understand Ani and my understanding of her did not improve until much later in the book.  Ani was completely unlikable in my mind and that is one of my pet peeves with books.  I need to like my characters to keep reading!  I was told by a fellow member of my book club that I would grow to pity Ani and she was correct.  The reader does find out the ugly truth behind Ani's behavior but it takes until past halfway through the book to find out the story of what Ani went through.  I also was disgusted by the vulgarity that occurred in the first chapter and continued through the first few chapters.  It really did settle down later in the book.  After finishing the book and looking back at the story, I'm not sure that all of the vulgarity was necessary to set the scene of what Ani is like.  It is hard to relate to Ani because she is so fake, judgmental, cold-hearted and mean.  I can't stand women who try to one up everyone and that is what Ani is like.  If you can get past all of this about Ani, once you get to the heart of the story, it is engaging and you start to feel Ani's pain.  It is fairly graphic so be forewarned if you decide to read this book.  There are very heavy issues in this book and some of them are just brushed off by other characters and that made me upset.  I wanted to shake Ani's mom for her treatment of Ani.  She too was quite fake and being disingenuous is one of those things I can't stand.  You may ask why I rated this a 3 and not lower, it's because once the story started going I really was engaged and I thought the book was OK.
Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Place Last Seen

Place Last Seen
Charlotte McGuinn Freeman

Place Last Seen: A Novel

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): During a day hike in the Desolation Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, the Baker family's life turns upside down when the youngest, a six year-old girl with Down Syndrome, disappears while playing hide-and-seek with her brother. Place Last Seen follows the paths of two stories--the Rescue and Search team's efforts to find Maggie and her family's attempts to come to terms with their loss. Clear, moving, and never sentimental, Place Last Seen explores the complicated bonds of family life.

Review:  When I decide on my rating for a book, I take into consideration whether I emotionally connected with the characters and whether I had a hard time putting the book down.  This book met both of those criteria.  Although I had very little in common with Maggie's mother, the author portrayed her emotions so realistically that I couldn't help putting myself in her shoes.  Even the rescuers were interesting characters with back stories and deep emotions.  Although their stories ended somewhat abruptly when the search was over, this didn't bother me as much as unconcluded endings normally do, because it was in keeping with the search and rescue.  The technical information about undertaking a mountain rescue was interesting to read about, although it did bog down the story in a few parts.  And the descriptions of the scenery were so detailed and realistic that it was easy to picture myself in the area.  If you are sensitive about the disappearance of a child, be prepared to cry while reading this.

Rating: 5 stars

Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me
Karma Brown

Come Away with Me

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it.

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

Marcie's Review:  I chose this book because the author recommendations on the back were from Lori Nelson Spielman and Tracey Garvis Graves, whose books I really enjoyed.  As I was reading the first 95% of the book, I kept thinking "Hmmm, this is a moving and well-written story about a woman dealing with grief, but I just don't understand why Tegan is finding it so hard to move on with her life.  Definitely a 3 star book."  Then I got to the last 5% of the book, and I thought "OH!  5 star ending for sure!"  So without giving anything away (other than that my opinion of the book shifted dramatically at the end), I'm giving this 4 stars.  Don't read this book unless you are prepared to cry.

Marcie's Rating: 4 stars

Becky's Review: Oh, my.  The heartache in this book is palpable.  At first I was a little irritated with Tegan and her immaturity and anger.  I started to get annoyed with her but fell in love with Gabe.  He was such a perfect man who truly loved and supported Tegan even though he was experiencing the same grief.  I wanted Tegan to snap out of her depression and start living but then the end came about and I completely understood her throughout the entire book and realized why she acted the way that she did. While reading I thought I would rate this book a 3 start book because it was just OK but once the twist came around, I fell in love with the story and would rate the ending a 5.  I averaged them together and am giving the book a 4 star rating.  I'm still thinking about this book and tearing up as I think about the heartbreak that Tegan must have been feeling.  This is definitely a tear jerker.

Becky's Rating: 4 stars

Monday, February 1, 2016


by Sonali Deraniyagala

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis:  On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her. 
from GoodReads

Review:  I feel heartless saying this but I didn't really feel anything for the author and her tragic situation.  I cannot even fathom the grief that she has felt from losing her entire family: her husband, children and parents but the author somehow did not evoke any emotions in me.  I felt like the book was a bit robotic and I wanted so much more.  The book was basically a reflection of her life with her family before the tsunami and how empty her life was after it.  Perhaps writing was cathartic for her (at least I hope it was) and she needed to express these stories in writing but it didn't make for a good book.  I would have liked to hear that her emotional state was improving and that she was finally able to look forward but that wasn't there after seven years.  My rating has nothing to do with the experience the author had, it is in the writing style.

Rating: 2 stars

Monday, January 25, 2016

The 13 Story Treehouse Series

The 13-Story Treehouse
The 26-Story Treehouse
The 39-Story Treehouse
Author: Andy Griffiths
Illustrator: Terry Denton

The 13-Story Treehouse

Genre: Chapter Book (Grade Level 3.8)

Summary (from Goodreads): Who wouldn't want to live in a treehouse? Especially a 13-storey treehouse that has a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of sharks, a library full of comics, a secret underground laboratory, a games room, self-making beds, vines you can swing on, a vegetable vaporiser and a marshmallow machine that follows you around and automatically shoots your favourite flavoured marshmallows into your mouth whenever it discerns you're hungry.

Two new characters – Andy and Terry – live here, make books together, and have a series of completely nutty adventures. Because: ANYTHING can happen in a 13-storey treehouse.

This is a major new series from Andy and Terry- and it's the logical evolution of all their previous books. There are echoes of the Just stories in the Andy and Terry friendship, the breakaway stories in the Bad Book (the Adventures of Super Finger), there's the easy readability of the Cat on the Mat and the Big Fat Cow, and like all these books, the illustrations are as much a part of the story as the story itself.

Amelia's Review:  These books are about two kids who run away from home and are captured by a pirate.  When the pirate ship gets wrecked, they use the wood to build a 13-story treehouse, and then a 26-story treehouse, and then a 39-story treehouse.  The treehouse has fun things in it like a trampoline so they can fly up really high, an anti-gravity chamber, a once-upon-a-time machine, a chocolate waterfall, a baby dinosaur petting zoo and an opera house.  I like these books because they are funny.  I like all the different levels that the kids invent, and I like that they build all kinds of dangerous things!  There are lots of very nice pictures that look so real.  I think it is cool that the kids in the book are actually the author and the illustrator, and that they have a friend Jill who has a lot of animals.  I hope the next book comes out tomorrow so I can read it!  I would recommend these books to Noah because the kids are creative and like to invent things. 

Rating: 5 stars (actually 10 stars!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Bones of You

The Bones of You
Debbie Howells

The Bones of You

Genre: Mystery Thriller

Summary (from Goodreads): A stunning, wonderfully assured psychological thriller that evokes Gillian Flynn and Alice Sebold, The Bones of You revolves around a young girl’s murder and one woman’s obsession with uncovering the secrets in an idyllic English village.

I have a gardener’s inherent belief in the natural order of things. Soft‑petalled flowers that go to seed. The resolute passage of the seasons. Swallows that fly thousands of miles to follow the eternal summer.

Children who don’t die before their parents.

When Kate receives a phone call with news that Rosie Anderson is missing, she’s stunned and disturbed. Rosie is eighteen, the same age as Kate’s daughter, and a beautiful, quiet, and kind young woman. Though the locals are optimistic—girls like Rosie don’t get into real trouble—Kate’s sense of foreboding is confirmed when Rosie is found fatally beaten and stabbed.

Who would kill the perfect daughter, from the perfect family? Yet the more Kate entwines herself with the Andersons—graceful mother Jo, renowned journalist father Neal, watchful younger sister Delphine—the more she is convinced that not everything is as it seems. Anonymous notes arrive, urging Kate to unravel the tangled threads of Rosie’s life and death, though she has no idea where they will lead.

Weaving flashbacks from Rosie’s perspective into a tautly plotted narrative, The Bones of You is a gripping, haunting novel of sacrifices and lies, desperation and love.

Review:  This was a dark and creepy psychological thriller, full of lots of nasty characters that I couldn't stand.  What made this book different is that the narrator was an eminently likable, lovely, kind woman who befriended the mother of the missing girl.  Somehow having a decent woman at the heart of the story made the nastiness easier to read, while also providing an interesting contrast between good and evil.  Interestingly, it was also narrated by the dead girl; at times this was a bit confusing, but it lent an interesting perspective and provided some of the back story, since the novel opened with the girl already missing.

Rating: 4 stars

Don't Ever Get Old

Don't Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman

Don't Ever Get Old (Buck Schatz, #1)

Genre: Mystery Thriller

Summary (from Goodreads): DON'T EVER GET OLD was one of mystery-publishing's biggest critical successes last year, earning starred reviews from every major trade publication, garnering nominations for the Edgar, Thriller, and Anthony awards, and winning the Macavity Award for Best First Novel. The producer of four Harry Potter films and the Sherlock Holmes sequel, Lionel Wigram, is writing the script for the movie and producing the film version.

When Buck Schatz, senior citizen and retired Memphis cop, learns that an old adversary may have escaped Germany with a fortune in stolen gold, Buck decides to hunt down the fugitive and claim the loot. But a lot of people want a piece of the stolen treasure, and Buck's investigation quickly attracts unfriendly attention from a very motley (and murderous) crew.

Review:  I really liked the crotchety elderly man at the center of this book, a long retired police officer and Jewish veteran of a Nazi prison camp.  His attitudes about growing old and his "things to remember" were humorous and insightful.  I also enjoyed his frat boy grandson Tequila, especially watching the interactions between the two men from completely different generations.  The action scenes, chase scenes, and murder scenes were descriptive and compelling.  However, I thought this novel was lacking in plot continuity; I never fully understood why all the victims were so violently murdered, and the resolution seemed a little hasty.

Rating: 4 stars