five-memorial

I should start this review by expressing some bias on my part. I am personally connected to the events in this book since my uncle was one of the patients in Memorial during Katrina. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones who got out shortly after the flooding began. As I was reading this story, it was all the more captivating and heart-wrenching since I kept thinking what would have happened had my uncle not been as lucky.

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age of desire

First of all, I need to say that I am an Edith Wharton fan. She is probably my favorite author ever. So, stating that, I really, really loved this book, which is historical fiction about her life…and somewhat about her work.

The novel is told from the point of view of both Wharton herself and Wharton’s assistant/secretary/confidant Anna, who was more like a mother to Edith than Edith’s own mother ever was. Aside from being a friend and constant companion, Anna helped Edith with her writing…by typing her pages but also by offering her tips on story structure and character development.

Though Anna is technically a servant, Edith and Anna are quite close…but when Edith begins to stray away from her marriage into the arms of another man (who Anna believes is a cad and a gold-digger), Edith begins to question Anna’s loyalty.

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A riveting and ominous tale of loss, love and heartbreak set in both 1919 and the early 1960s.  The 1919 story involves a past love who most likely perished in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and a woman, Vivian, who cannot get over her loss.  Vivian is “the kept woman” to David, a married man who might or might not leave his wife for her.  The earthquake ends whatever future they might have, but Vivian is determined to find him and she is still hoping for a passionate, heartfelt reunion all the way until 1919, when she finds out the truth. 

Tying in with that is the tale of Claire, a 1960s housewife who sees her love for her husband and the life she has made for herself slipping away.  It’s not that she’s powerless to do anything about it…it’s just that she is unsure whether she wants to stop her sedate, mundane life from slipping out of control.  Her story is set during the inauguration of President Kennedy in early 1961; she looks to Jackie Kennedy as an icon for beauty, stability and class.  As President Kennedy and Jackie’s story sets out, her own story begins to crumble…including her husband walking in on her affair with another married man and then her pregnancy by either her lover or her husband. 

At first, I could not see how these two stories would intersect but as the stories progressed, Hood sets up patterns of misery and disillusionment in each woman that is so compelling that really doesn’t matter.  And then with the connection between 1961 and 1919 is revealed, it is believable and natural.  I’ve read most every novel (she also writes some nonfiction) Hood has written and to the best of my memory, this is the first time she has set a novel in two different time periods (usually, her novels involve one main character (usually female) with her own set of issues and concerns).  Well, for a first time out, the concept works, bringing to life both women, both of their worlds and both of their fully fleshed out emotional struggles.  The vibrancy and passion in the writing helps us to both visualize and sympathize with both ladies’ tales of pain.  A lesser writer would have had trouble creating sympathetic characters out of two adulteresses, but Hood’s careful attention to the character’s inner turmoils allow us to not only sympathize with the two ladies, but possibly even relate to them. 

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Told from the point-of-view of both a stepmother and a teenage girl, this novel really delves deep into what makes a family tick.  The stepmother, Andi, is a woman desperate for a child of her own.  She marries a man with two children…a pre-teen girl who causes little if any trouble and a full-blown teenager who is more than makes up for her sister’s lack of trouble.  Andi’s struggles with her new marriage, her husband and her step-kids seem realistic and not fake in anyway.  Emily, the teenager, comes to life on the page…angst and depression and self-hate all included.  Green lets us watch this family’s troubles play out…never forcing us to feel something that seems unnatural or unrealistic.

This is a heartwarming book about the troubles of one family and how they preserve and overcome.  This is the first Jane Green book that I read all the way through and I would definitely read her again.  She’s not totally “chick lit” (or at least this one wasn’t).  There was a depth to this novel that most Kinsellas and other Chick Lit connoisseurs lack.  I liked the characters and the development of them throughout the story.  There were times when certain parts went on too long, but over-all, this is a good, solid story about family and the troubles they bear. 

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This book begins with Japanese “picture brides” on a boat to early 20th Century America to meet their husbands.  These brides are young girls (some 12 or so) who have been shipped off by their parents with the intention of having them get married, have families and basically have better lives than they would in Japan.  The end of the book covers the heart-wrenching years of the Japanese Internment Camps during the post-Pearl Harbor era in the Western USA. 

I absolutely loved the story, the lyricalness, the lushness and the tone of this novel.  Otsuka has a gift of being able to express series of complex emotions with just a few words.  Her writing style seems natural, fluid, yet filled with power.  She does a fantastic job of creating a scene with as few words as possible.  Less, if definitely more here.  After-all, the novel is around 120 pages.

Saying all of that, I still found myself wanting a little more.  NOT more of the words…more of the individual characters and their own stories.  This novel is told in the first person plural voice (or point of view).  Meaning: WE did this, WE did that. With such powerful stories to tell, I wish Otsuka would have picked one or two women to focus on instead of the global “we.”  This does not mean I did not like the book.  I loved it.  I just would have loved it even more had there been a little more individual detail.

But, I understand why she choose the plural voice to write it.  The subject matter here is highly emotional…and by keeping it in the plural, both Otsuka and the reader are able to keep a fair and appropriate distance.  Either way, a must read for all…

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This is another psychological thriller that keeps the reader riveted from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. This, Flynn’s debut novel, tells the story of Camille and the uphill battle she faces as she is forced to confront her past and return her her roots.  Struggling as a cub reporter, Camille gets a prime assignment that just might get her name on the journalism map.  The only problem is the story requires her to head back to her small hometown to cover the murder of two young girls.  Her mother still lives there and Camille has had practically no communication with her since Camille left eight years ago.  There also is a new half-sister, who Camille does not know at all.

Flynn does a fantastic job of interweaving all of Camille’s troubles with the case she’s supposed to be researching and reporting.  And, though Camille is not a perfect character, we do at least begin to like her more and more as the story progresses.  She’s very troubled (at the beginning, we find out one of the reasons she is floundering in her newspaper job is that she just finished a stint in a psych hospital) and heading to her hometown only increases these troubles.  But, Flynn does not take Camille or any of the characters here and send them over the top, as many authors tend to do, especially in thrillers.  The story and the characters here are controlled and methodical.  All in all, this is a a wonderful thriller with a dark, gritty edge. 

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A dark (as the title states), depressing novel with pretty much no sympathetic characters, this is the second novel by Gone Girl author Flynn.  The main character here, Libby Day, was witness to her mother and sisters being murdered when she was a small child.  In court, she identified her brother as the killer.  Over 20 years later, Libby begins to doubt that testimony…did she really see her brother kill three members of her family or did she just believe she had seen it?  Libby begins a quest for self-discovery that will take her life into even more dark places than before.

First of all, Libby is not a nice person.  She’s a thief, she can be violent, and she only begins to question her brother’s innocence after stumbling on a group of true crime addicts who offer her money for trophies from her past.  Aside from Libby, the novel is also told from the point-of-view of the mother and the brother (both of those POVs are set before the murders).  But, like Libby, neither the mother nor the brother are characters the reader will want to relate to.  The brother, Ben, gets involved with Satanism and a VERY bad crowd of friends.  And the mother sits idly by while her family crumbles around her. 

See…it’s a VERY dark story.  But, if you can get past all of that, it is a well-written, edgy piece of fiction that really does keep you reading.  Unlike a lot of contemporary thrillers, this one has a solid foundation, as well as great character development and a pretty decent ending. 

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This is my second Tasha Alexander novel featuring Victorian Lady Emily Ashton and maybe because this one is set in Venice, a city I love, I enjoyed it even more than the the first one I read (A Fatal Waltz).  Alexander, like Donna Leon, another author who writes mysteries set in Venice (though featuring a male detective), does a brilliant job of breathing life into Venice.  And Lady Emily is a force to be reckoned with…a kin to Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey (set in Victorian England).  Unlike Raybourn’s heroine, who sometimes is too tough and “un-Victorian” for the times, I felt Alexander and her Lady Emily hit just the right tones of passion and passiveness.  Though the ending got a little convoluted (I began to get some of the characters confused because of their titles and their flowery names…not to mention all of the place names), I still highly recommend this series for anyone who likes historical mysteries, female-based mysteries or vivid depictions and/or senses of place.  

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Wickham scores again…this time with a fun, highly biting commentary on the social strata in England.  Not unlike my favorite author Edith Wharton (who wrote about society in early 1900s New York), Wickham here uses her fine writing skills to make sweeping and also pointed gestures about the differences and familiarities between the middle and upper classes.  Not that I would compare Wickham’s writing or plots to Wharton, but Wickham’s finger is definitely on the pulse of what makes society both tick and falter here.  The story takes us to a fine manor house in English Countryside (but not far enough out maybe).  Caroline and Patrick, the manor house, nouveau riche owners, invite several couples over for a weekend-long tennis party, including a stuffy man and his new rich wife and then former neighbors from their old “poorer” neighborhood out on the outskirts of London.  What transpires is funny, sad but most of all a I’m sure pseudo-realistic view of what goes on behind closed doors of those large stately homes.  LOTS of fun to read and educational as well for those interesting in climbing to social ladder!

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One of the better novels I have read in a while…this one makes you laugh, cry and long for your friends.  Rayner, a Brit, weaves a compelling tale filled with sudden loss, friendship, gradual loss, sexual identity and all sorts of relationships.  The main characters are the storytellers here…Karen who experiences sudden loss right at the beginning of the book, Anna, who is Karen’s friend and is in the midst of a doomed relationship with a man with dependency problems, and Lou who enters Karen and Anna’s lives through sad happenstance and who is dealing with her own private identity battles.  All of these characters on their own would make compelling fiction, but all three of them create a vivid and dynamic tale that not only holds the reader’s interest, but inspires them as well.  An excellent novel!

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