Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Little Beach Street BakeryLittle Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovable protagonist, hilarious occasional sidekick, witty dialogue, and surprising story. I envision St. Michael's Mount, a little place off the coast that sometimes has a causeway to walk across. Maybe to drive. I took a very small, rickety boat. At least it seemed rickety to me. It has a ruined and decrepit castle/monestary.

The story is unique because it is clever and unpredictable. It is chick lit but not as light reading as a usual chick lit. Included are new characters, Star Wars references, and a surprising pet. I really enjoyed this one.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Just very entertaining. Irreverent. It's the story of the people in the margins where all the slasher movies happen. Weird stuff happens all the time. A year or two ago it was the vampires. It's been going on for at least a couple of generations. This time the immortals are trying to take over. Of course, they are usually looking for the people in a certain group in high school. These kids aren't it. So it's just what happens while all the stuff is going on to the people it isn't happening to. Quite funny, actually.

Golden State by Stephanie Kegan

Golden StateGolden State by Stephanie Kegan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75 stars. If you read the description, you know what the book is about. What Kegan captures perfectly is the protagonist's, Natalie's, relationships and the way they are impacted. Natalie's roots are from the Golden State. Her ancestors were pioneers that settled even after the Gold Rush ended. Her father was a powerful poitition that fought for liberal notions. They were not hippies, simply politically active with a picture perfect facade. Bobby, the oldest, was always a genius, attending Princeton at the age of 15. He took care of Natalie, 6 years younger. Sara was the middle child, cheerleader, openly rebellious. They all went different directions in adulthood.

Plagued by a politically minded bomber, Natalie sees similarities in tirades from her brother, living in the wilderness. Natalie shares her suspicions and the world has she knows it falls apart. Some side stories of interest is that the FBI and the world of law has no oversight. Also, law is motivated by politics. This is true. Arrested means the same as guilty even though our laws state innocent until proven guilty. I liked that part of the book, too. I think it is an important facet to publicize. The story starts with Natalie as a suburban mother and wife, private school educator with little contact with her siblings to her suspicions to the end of the legal proceedings. All very well done. But the main story is about how all of this impacts her relationships.

How does Natalie reconcile her suspicions that the gentle brother she loved might be the Cal Bomber? How does she face her widowed mother knowing that she made the original allegations? How will her older sister react? How does she live her private life when the allegations become public? How does it impact her marriage, her children and their decisions? How does she redefine her normal?

Like any woman or man for that matter, when something big happens in our lives (although few will have an infamous sibling), we must re prioritize, redefine, and refine who we are. That is really what this book is about.

Alive by Scott Sigler

Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1)Alive by Scott Sigler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After I started reading the book I regretted it. Not because it didn't grab me because it did. It was foreign yet descriptive but I thought I was reading a reincarnation of another book, an oldie but goody, Lord of the Flies. You know, chaos, attempts at order and all that stuff. Turns out, I was wrong, although there is a some of that. Then I saw the ending coming too soon and thought I was going to finish the book without a proper ending. You know those books you read and provide absolutely no closure for the simple reason that authors refuse to write one book but a long, drawn out trilogy? I hate those. Fortunately, I was wrong again. There are a great many twists and turns and this is book 1 of a series. The author leaves the story open for a continuation but wraps the book up enough that I feel satisfied. Enough explanation is provided that I'm glad I spent the time consuming the story because it ended right where it needed to.

I liked it.

Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Damage DoneDamage Done by Amanda Panitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well. Not a lot I can say about the book except that the author did a wonderful job of revealing just enough without giving away the twist. Very early in the book you know there is something weird about it all. The book description provides enough of a grabber; Lucy had a twin brother who caused mayhem in a school shooting where only Lucy walked out alive and unharmed. Her parents moved and changed heir names and she begins a new life in a different city. Things are going relatively well for her in school and her social scene when she begins to see glimpses of the psychologist that treated her brother in his early stages of mental illness. Has he found her? Will he reveal her identity? Pretty unethical, if you ask me. But then you start wondering if the psychologist might be mentally unstable as you see his own diary from the time of early treatment of Ryan and catch Dr. Spence's motives.

There's a lot going on and I did see a possibility of the twist but I saw a lot of possibilities throughout the book. By the time the book ends, enough hints are provided that it is not altogether a shocker but, like I mentioned, the author leads the reader along for a few different conclusions. Well done. Disturbing but well done.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's not just the story. It's the way it is written which is very odd since the author is Swedish. I think. However the translation took place, it is perfect. Just to be very clear, I read A Man Called Ove. Once again, the story was one part of the enjoyment but it was the writing, the character development, the timing that grabbed me. This one is just like that one only a different story, different characters, yet a similar struggle.

This one opens with Elsa and her grandmother at the police station. It has been many months since I read this book so I won't be able to quote verbatim, but it went a lot like this (with better wording and delivery). Elsa is lonely at school and at home but her grandmother is her best friend. Her grandmother is definitely not the maternal type. Elsa is feeling a little down and somehow contacts her grandmother who breaks out of the hospital where she is (reasons are later revealed) and they are arrested by the police for breaking into a zoo and throwing animal poop. At people, as I recall. Elsa's grandmother is now looking for a way to open the barred windows and smoke a cigarette. She taps one out and turns to Elsa, "Do you have a lighter?"

"I'm seven," Elsa replies.

"When are you going to stop using that as an excuse?" Elsa's grandmother replies in a surly fashion.

And that is the way the story continues to be told. In unexpected character development. Elsa's grandmother is actually very ill yet retains her surliness, much to my delight. As revealed in the description, Elsa's grandmother dies but leaves Elsa a mission to accomplish. Elsa must deliver a number of letters to people and monsters that would otherwise frighten Elsa. As she encounters the new characters, she also recalls the fairy tales her grandmother told her and an entirely different person emerges that was her grandmother.

I loved it so very much. I want to read it again.

The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

The Ice TwinsThe Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was unpredictable. Sure, I saw some of the story lines emerge that I would expect but I truly did not know which twin was the one that lived and died and I definitely didn't predict the final twist at the end. It was creepy. The identical twins were creepy. Yet when it was all said and done, it was quite sad. Why only 3 stars? Surprisingly, it just didn't grab me like I wanted it to. Not that it won't grab others, I just wasn't in the mood for a creepy, ghost-y story. I did skim the parts where the protagonist waxes philosophical and thoughtful while she describes the Scotland landscape. Someone who loves Scotland would probably enjoy that part. I like Scotland. I find the lighthouse island intriguing but rather creepy. So creepy it is.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

Accidents of MarriageAccidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Exploring emotional abuse and traumatic brain injury with unblinking honesty, ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE (Atria Books; Trade Paperback June 9, 2015) is a blindingly clear and immediately engaging account of life inside of a marriage and the choices that can make the difference between living in hell and salvation.

The latest page turner from Randy Susan Meyers, ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE never lets go of the reader from the first page to the last. For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband Ben was her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant and charming Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker Maddy never knew what would cross him. When Ben was in a conciliatory mood, they worked on techniques for communication and anger management but on the day of the accident, nothing seemed to help. He was furious at having to drive Maddy to work, the road was wet, and that SUV was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ben never meant for them to go off the road or for Maddy to go flying through the windshield.

Now she’s on a ventilator in intensive care and no one knows if she’ll reawaken from her coma and, if she does, whether she’ll ever be her old self. Maddy’s family blames Ben. Maddy’s friends blame Ben. The children blame Ben. Ben blames Ben—and he is sick to the pit of his soul over the fear of losing his one true love.

Fourteen-year-old Emma sees things a little differently. She desperately misses her mother but misses being a teenager more as she’s forced to pick up the slack from Ben and parent her younger siblings Gracie and Caleb. On the cusp of coming of age, she needs Maddy so she can discuss the hard decisions she’s being forced to make. And her confrontations with her volatile father are growing more heated by the day.

RANDY SUSAN MEYERS is the author of The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughters and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Her writing is informed by her work with batterers and victims of domestic violence, as well her experience with youth impacted by street violence. She lives with her husband in Boston, where she teaches writing seminars at the Grub Street Writers’ Center. She is also a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post.

By Randy Susan Meyers
Atria Books; Trade Paperback June 9, 2015
$16 US/$21 CAN; 368 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7305-0

My thoughts: This book resonated for me for an entirely different reason than the description predicted. I watched a piece of my life being told through this book but not the one the message portrays. Maddy is a social worker who suffers a debilitating traumatic brain injury. Without revealing too much about her injury, she struggles initially with speech and emotional regulation. This is not necessarily the worst of her symptoms but those skills are paramount to a social worker. In layman's terms, the story explains the different symptoms and the way the patient may react to these symptoms that fascinated me and gave me a better comprehension of what my husband, the social worker, went through when he underwent a removal of a hemangioma located in the speech center of his brain. His healing was different but terrifying for those first few weeks when he struggled to speak, knowing his career depended on regaining this skill. I'd love to continue on this vein, but it would give spoilers of the book and reveal secrets that are not mine to share. So I'll return solely to the book.

The three perspectives are very necessary to fully explore the affects of a man with strong narcissistic tendencies and lack of anger management. Yet I thought the author did an exceptional job with providing a multi dimensional character. He's not a bad man. He feels guilt, rationalization, love, lust for power, and anger. His emotional outbursts are not clear cut. The relationships he has are complex. He has insecurities and truly believes he is changing. He's trying to put himself right.

Prior to the accident, Maddy is not a cowering victim. She is a strong woman who balances the demands of a family and a career with both gratitude and frustration. She is also human and not above reproach. That said, post accident, Ben doting on her, she has the faculties to know she is not functioning at previous levels and she blames herself. She turns her anger and frustration inward yet acknowledges that people don't just want to help a victim, they also want to kick a victim.

Emma is the oldest child of this couple. Her perspective is that of an adolescent that is caught between childhood and adulthood yet thrust into adult responsibilities as her mother is disabled and all attention shifts to Maddy and her recovery while Emma is left caring for two siblings and the house. In the meantime, it becomes her role to keep the home peaceful in case Ben snaps. She becomes the protector but with deep resentment as her own brain is not fully formed and she still needs a childhood.

There is much, much more that I believe would make for an interesting discussion. I enjoyed the book almost as much as Lisa Genova's, LEFT NEGLECTED.