Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review: "The Girls in the Garden" by Lisa Jewell + GIVEAWAY

The Girls in the Garden Lisa Jewell
Published: June 7, 2016
ISBN: 9781476792217
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like:  Books with unreliable narrators, books featuring adolescents, mysteries, books the "Girls" in the title (because, you know, that's a thing...)

Summary:
Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really? 


On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

My Thoughts:
I first read Lisa Jewell two years ago when I was blown away by The House We Grew Up In.  Jewell's characterization and raw emotion in that book was amazing, and I expected the same from this.  And, for the most part, Jewell delivered here.  However, there were other aspects that didn't work as well for me--leaving me trying to measure the pros and cons when trying to form my opinion.

As I said, Jewell did not disappoint in the development of the characters.  We really get to know three of them--Clare, Pip, and Adele--and each one of them is completely unique and their view of the actions of the book are filtered through their respective lenses.  We know why each of these characters is the way that they are and why they react to things the way that they do.

We are kept at arms length from the psyche of the other characters, but that is a tool to build suspense  and interest.  This book is, at its heart, a whodunnit.  The cast, besides the three characters mentioned above, are all clouded in mystery and their motives are all questionable.  I can't say that this book has an unreliable narrator, as Claire, Pip, and Adele are all reliable--but they are the only ones in the book.

Now, I did have some issues with this book.  Well, more accurately, I had one issue that kept popping up.  There were several times where I didn't feel like Jewell connected all the dots.  I don't know that I can go into specifics without spoiling elements of the plot, so I'll try to address this as generally as possible.  More than once, I was absorbed in the story and then something would happen or, more likely, not happen, and I'd be pulled out of it and wonder, "Wait...what about....".  Now, in many books, this wouldn't be a huge deal for me.  However, given the nature of this novel, that is more problematic.

I'm really torn on this book.  There was so much about it to admire and Jewell succeeded in so many ways, but that one snag just really stuck out for me and impacted my overall feeling of the book.  I suppose it all depends on what your "sticking point" is with books like this and, if you aren't bothered by things that don't always completely add up, you'll probably enjoy it.

About the Author:
Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of twelve novels, including The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife.
Connect with the author: Website / Facebook / Twitter








I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



Want to read more?  Check out the other blogs featured on this tour!

TLC Book Tours is giving away 5 copies of this book.  To enter, just enter the Rafflecopter below.  This giveaway closes on October 3.



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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Assorted Short Book Reviews for Short Reads

A few weeks ago I found myself in an interesting situation.  I was out of town and I had finished both my print book and ebook.  I didn't have any other print books with me and I was reluctant to start another ebook because I new that a newly released book I had been waiting for would be showing up soon.

So, what to do?  Well, it just so happened that I had a number of "kindle singles" (and one short story collection) sitting on my Kindle and I thought, "What better time than now?"  And so I started reading.

If you aren't familiar with Kindle Singles, they are short stories and novellas, many by famous in authors, that Amazon sells for only a buck or two.   I must have been on some kind of kick in the past because I had quite a few of them sitting there.  After this reading fest, I still have one left and I do keep my eye out for new ones from my favorite authors.

However, I'm going to start this off with the one non-Kindle single...a short story collection:
For Love and Liberty: Untold Stories of the American Revolution
Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Kate McMurray, and Stacey Agdern
I went into this book with a bit of trepidation.  On the one hand, Romance is not a genre that generally works for me in short story or novella form.  It is really a matter of preference--I prefer the build up in my romances and, in this format, there just isn't much of that.  On the other hand, I was intrigued by the fact that these stories were not "mainstream"- we had two romances with POC, one m/m novel (also with a POC), and a romance with Jewish characters.  I also really enjoy novels set in the Revolutionary War era.

So, with that, all I can really say here is that my opinion didn't really change.  For most the part, I felt that the stories were fine, but lacked meat.  My two sort of exceptions for that sentiment fall with the second and fourth stories.  I found the second, written by Lena Hart, to be borderline rapey--which I didn't like.  But, on the other hand, I found the fourth story, written by Stacey Agdern, to be the best conceptualized of the bunch and the one that most enticed me to read more by the author.
Purchase from Amazon

Now, onto the singles....


The Grownup
Gillian Flynn
I have to admit that my only exposure to Gillian Flynn was Gone Girl, which I tried to listen to but just didn't like at all.  I was actually surprised that I had this one waiting for me.  I was surprised how much I, what?, enjoyed? this one.  I mean, it is not an "enjoyable" story.  It will creep the crap out of you.  It is touted (in the summary) as being a ghost story, but I found it to be more of a psychological thriller.  And, at the end, you are still guessing about what actually happened.
Purchase from Amazon



The rest of the singles were written by one of my go-to authors, Jennifer Weiner.  She does have 2 other singles that I won't be talking about here--A Memoir of Grief (Continued), which I read last year and Swim, which is still sitting on my Kindle.

I've decided to organize these from most expected to most unexpected, based on Weiner's other works.

Good Men
This book is a prequel to Weiner's first novel, Good in Bed.  Like most prequels, I actually don't recommend that you read it first.  In my experience, prequels are usually most effective when you read the original work first and this one definitely falls into that category.  I did enjoy this one, but I would only recommend it if you've read Good in Bed (which, you know, you should....)
Purchase from Amazon






The Half Life
This one really fell into what I would consider "classic" Jennifer Weiner.  In fact, I felt as though it could have been the first chapter of a longer novel.  I enjoyed it, but I also kind of felt a little unfulfilled after finishing it.  I think, because it was so much like her novels, that I felt like it should have been a novel.  However, it is something I would recommend if someone isn't sure if Jennifer Weiner is a writer for them and they aren't sure if they don't want to commit to a novel to find out.

Purchase from Amazon
Disconnected
This is where Weiner starts to become a little more experimental. This story has a marked different feel from the rest of her novels, but it also shows how Weiner is a master at the short story format.  This is truly a well-crafted story--I got "the meat" of the plot, coupled with a laser-focus.
Purchase from Amazon







Recalculating
So, here is where Jennifer Weiner makes a U-Turn, goes under a bridge, through a tunnel, and back again.  This one, folks, is bizarre.  But, strangely, it was probably my favorite of all the shorts.  Unlike Disconnected, it still feels like it is the "Jennifer Weiner Universe" but the actual story is unlike anything else of her that I've read.  I would say it has more in common with Gillian Flynn's than any of the other Weiner singles.  It's definitely a fun ride....
Purchase from Amazon




All of these were well-worth the time (other than For Love and Liberty, I don't think any took longer than 30 minutes) and a great way to experience a favorite author when you only have a bit of time!

I was not solicited for any of these reviews and I received no compensation for this post.

Monday, August 22, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - August 22, 2016

Folks, I just have to hold out for a week from Tuesday...that's when the kids go back to school. The end of summer is just a hard time anyway, but we've also been "blessed" with a heat wave, making it too hot for the kids to play outside.  Let's just say much TV has been watched.

I'm not doing a FitReaders check in this week because, well, there isn't anything to report.  If you are interested, I talk a bit about it over on my vlog.


Right now, I'm reading:
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphries
This one is pretty short, so I'm taking my time with it.  It is a quiet book, so I don't feel like I need to power through it.  Still, my stack of "scheduled" books is pretty high, so I'd better get to it.

The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser and (Getting) Happier by Cathi Hanauer (ed).
This is a collection of feminist essays which I'm scheduled to review in October.  I have more than enough time to read one a day before my deadline, which is my plan.  It is quite entertaining, but it is somewhat of a sequel and I've never read the first installment....so it is a bit of a struggle for my inner OCD reader.


The Game Plan (Game On #3) by Kristen Callihan
This is one of those times of years when I just need some fun reading and, for me, fun, mindless reading is romance novels.  I've discovered that "sex among the football players" genre  is one of my go-tos.  I know, I'm a cliche.  But, hey, it is fun and it keeps me entertained.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Confession...I didn't make any progress on this one this week.  Oh well!











Since my last update, I finished:
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (finished 8/14, review 8/18)
My review already went up on this one, so you can see what I thought of it there.  But, I've been recommending it left and right lately!

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (finished 8/17, review 8/30)
So, right as I type this, I get an alert that this one is headed to the big screen.  For those of you who have read it....thoughts?  I'll hold onto mine until my review goes live on 8/30.

The Law of Attraction (Lawyers in Love #1) by N.M. Silber (finished 8/18, review 9/1)
This was my first dive back into romance and, um, you know.  Let's just say I probably won't be continuing with this series.

Any Given Christmas (Sugar Shack #2) by Candis Terry (finished 8/20, review 11/22)
After The Law of Attraction, I felt that I needed to go back to a tried and true author.  I really enjoyed Terry's first installment of the Sugar Shack series, and I ended up enjoying this one even more.  AND it falls in the "sex among the football players" subgenre!  I told you, it works for me....

Friday, August 19, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - August 20

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

First off, I want to apologize that last week's post went up so late.  If you didn't see it on my FB page, the reason for this is really pathetic.  I forgot to click on Publish until the next day.  I know...what can I say.  Sigh!

Anyway, this week I have some pictures my husband took when he and the kids visited the Oregon International Air Show earlier this month.  Honestly, planes are not my thing--so I stayed home.  But the three of them had a great time!







Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Review: "The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published: August 23, 2011
ISBN: 9780345525543
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Book Club
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Emotional stories, novels that explore relationships, heroines who struggle

Summary:
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.


Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. 

My Thoughts:
So, this book was a first for me.  It is the first book I've ever recommended--widely--before actually finishing it.  And, if this book hadn't come to me through one of my book clubs, it would never have been on my radar.

From the first page, I was sucked in.  Diffenbaugh starts the reader with the perfect scenario--a young woman moving out a group home--to hook the reader.  I was immediately intrigued by Victoria and I wanted to know how she got to where she was going, what her plans were, why she was so bitter.  And Diffenbaugh does answer these questions...in her own time.

The cast of characters in this book is relatively small--there are only 3 truly central characters--but everything is told from Victoria's point of view.  Since Victoria is not a self-aware character, this could be a difficult situation for an author to navigate.  Yet, Diffenbaugh is able to succeed here.  While Victoria's own vision is limited, Diffenbaugh shows the readers what is really going on.

Something happens in this book which really should not work...the narrative hops between a period about a decade in the past and the present.  It does so on an almost alternating chapter basis and, usually, this would give me reading whiplash.  However, it works here. I would love to know how Diffenbaugh outlined this book, because these two pieces clicked together so well.  I quickly found myself "in the groove" of hopping between the two phases of narrative and I felt that it made the storytelling even more effective.

As I said, I have been recommended this book before I even finished it...and I stand by that.  I would recommend this to just about anyone, and would especially recommend it for anyone looking for something to discuss at their book clubs!

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Review: "Everything We Keep" by Kerry Lonsdale + GIVEAWAY

Everything We Keep Kerry Lonsdale
Published: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 9781503935310
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Slightly thriller-ish stories, Stories about women re-creating their lives

Summary:
Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancĂ©, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.

As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.


A luminous debut with unexpected twists, Everything We Keep explores the devastation of loss, the euphoria of finding love again, and the pulse-racing repercussions of discovering the truth about the ones we hold dear and the lengths they will go to protect us. 

My Thoughts:
When I say this book is a "solid debut," I mean that with all the loaded subtext that term has.  This book was solid--for a debut. It wasn't perfect, but the problems I had with it were ones that I'm sure Lonsdale will correct with experience. On the flip side, this book did something for me that few books written by successful, established authors have not been able to do.

There is a lot of this book that is almost text book.  The structure of the story is very straight forward and organized and the pace worked along with the story.  All that is a credit to the book.  Now, Lonsdale's voice is very much the same.  It is textbook perfect and measured and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.  However, I wish that she had just a bit more finesse with it--I think if she had just "loosened up" a bit, there would have been more life in her prose.  This, however, is something that I think will correct as she continues to write.

There were some niggling little things that bothered me--mostly details that were thrown in that didn't make much sense. For example, I had a hard time believing that an established professional photographer who travels the world, would take a job as a barista just to be around a girl.  Sometimes, things like this were just too convenient.

Now, here is what made the book for me.  Since I've been reading critically, I almost always know what the "answer" is in books, and I know pretty early on.  This one, however, had me guessing all the way to the end--which is delightfully unique.  I will admit that, even though it was surprising, I found the ending a little underwhelming.  However, it doesn't look like that is the end of the story and I'm confident that later books (if there are any!) will build on that.

So, when I say this is a "solid debut" I mean that it isn't a perfect book, but the good outweighs the bad and the potential in this book and with this author make it worth reading.

About the Author:
Kerry Lonsdale believes life is more exciting with twists and turns, which may be why she enjoys dropping her characters into unexpected scenarios and foreign settings. She graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and is a founder of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, an online community of authors located across the globe. She resides in Northern California with her husband, two children, and an aging golden retriever who’s convinced she’s still a puppy. Everything We Keep is Kerry’s first novel.

You can connect with the author on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.



I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Do you want to know what other bloggers felt about this book?  If so, I invite you to check out the other stops on this blog tour.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, I have a copy of Everything We Keep to give away to one of my readers.  To enter, just enter the rafflecopter below.  The giveaway will be open until midnight (Pacific Time) on August 23rd and is open to readers in the US and Canada.  Good luck!



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Friday, August 12, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - August 13

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

We are back this week in the Port Angeles area!  After my husband and daughter explored the tidepools (and my son and I hung out at the playground), we headed back into town for a quick lunch before going up to Olympic National Park.  We visited probably the most popular part of the park, Hurricane Ridge, but I would love to go back to explore more of it (since my father-in-law leaves only an hour or so away, I'd say the chances are pretty good that I'll get my wish).  Anyway, here are a few pictures from our time up there.







Thursday, August 11, 2016

Book Review: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Homes for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine #1) Ransom Riggs
Published: June 7, 2011
ISBN: 9781594744761
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Personal Copy
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about the supernatural among us (Harry Potter, Grimm, etc), stories with odd children, time-traveling stories

Summary:
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.


A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

My Thoughts:
This is a book that I've had sitting on my Kindle for year and I only got to around it now because I wanted to read it before the movie was released.  After I finished, I cursed myself for waiting so long.  This is one of those books that fills a very specific hole in my interests, and it does so wonderfully.

I'm going to be especially vague in this review, only because I think a reader needs to go into this book with as clean a slate as possible.  There are more than a few plot twists, and many of them come up out of nowhere...which is always fun in a book like this.

Jacob is an excellent drawn main character.  Riggs succeeds in framing this story so we can see that Jacob is just your run of the mill average teenager.  I think that element of normality is crucial in this story as the plot starts to veer away from it.  I also felt that Riggs paced the novel well. The reader seems to amble into the meat of the books, but is wrapped up in the sprint at the end.

Now, this part is just an aside and had no bearing on what I felt about the book itself. I read this book on my Kindle Paperwhite and, if I could do it over again, I would have opted for a print copy.  There are strange and peculiar (get it?) pictures throughout the book and they are just harder to see on the Paperwhite.  Also, the way the pictures come up in the eBook version breaks up the reading experience.

This was a fun ride of read and one that I would recommend to everyone, even to those who say that they don't like fantasy novels.  It was an engrossing story and I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A State of My Shelves Update -- The State of YOUR Shelves #readmyowndamnbooks

I wanted to thank you all for your comments, emails, tweets, FB posts, and whatnot supporting my "State of My Shelves" post about trying to work my way through my TBR.  Stacy over at The Novel Life asked if others could join in and, of course I said yes!

So, I thought about how to handle this and I think I've come up with a way.  First of all, I suggest checking out my original post if you haven't already done so.  Now,, that is just how I do it--you may choose to do something else.  All you really need to have is some way to show a change in your TBR.

I'll be posting updates on the first Wednesday of each month, unless the month starts on a Wednesday.  When that happens, my update will go up on the 8th of that month.  However, you can post your update whenever that works for you.  I do want to ask 2 things.  This first is that you link up with my post.  Since I didn't include a linky with my first post, I'll include one here for the month of August.  Then, starting in September, it will be on my monthly update.  If you would like to include the linky on your own post, just email me and I'll send you the code.

Secondly, I would ask that you include the following grab button on your post (just copy the HTML in the box below).

West Metro Mommy Reads

Also, this update can go well some other memes and, if you would like to add it onto one of those, feel free!

I'm glad that there has been interest in this, what?, proto-meme?  Anyway, if you are drowning in your TBR, I'd love it if you joined us!  And, here is the August Linky.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: "Swear On This Life" by Renee Carlino

Swear On This Life Renee Carlino
Published: August 9, 2016
ISBN: 9781501105791
Genre: Romance (Contemporary)
Source: Netgalley
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Second-chance romances, childhood romances, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary:
When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J.Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer.

Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio.

That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Far from being flattered that he wrote the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending.


The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront “J. Colby,” but is she prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction?

My Thoughts:
If I had to sum up this book in one phrase, it would be something like "a less-YA-ish Eleanor and Park." Both books deal with teenage love and the struggles of a difficult adolescent life.  This one, however, seems more adult to me.

This book is told completely from Emiline's point of view (well, except for the selections from J. Colby's book). It is common enough for romance novels to be only from the feminine point of view, but it is especially effective here.  Because we only know what Emiline knows, we are carried away with Colby's novel and go through the same realizations that she does.

Emiline is a well-crafted character. We do get almost her entire life story, which is helpful. But Carlino also takes care to show us how her traumatic childhood has continued to effect her adult life.   There weren't any other characters who were as developed.  In any other book, this probably would be a problem.  However, because of the way this novel is built around her point of view, it isn't an issue here.

Like Eleanor and Park, this is a dark-ish book, although I wouldn't say it is quite as dark as Rowell's book.  Here we also get to see how the love story goes once the players are adults, which is nice (and, well, it is a romance). And, while this is a dark book, it isn't especially angsty.  All in all, it was a sweet, entertaining read that I would recommend to anyone looking for a love story.

I was given an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.