Thursday, August 17, 2017

MY (NOT SO) PERFECT LIFE BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must admit Sophie Kinsella is one of my favorite chick lit authors. I got turned on to her, not for her Shopaholic series, but with Can You Keep a Secret? She always makes me laugh and her endings always make me happy. I would say her books offer a ray of sunshine if you need a break from darker, heavier content.

In My (not so) Perfect Life, we meet Cat (aka Katie) Brenner who is trying to give it a go as a successful advertising associate at a large firm in London. She is trying desperately to fit in and not be such a small fish in a very large pond. Unfortunately, because of the economy she gets fired and is forced to go back home and help her family with their start-up glamping business. In this comedy of errors, of course, her former boss shows up with her family to partake of this glamping experience. Katie sees this as a prime opportunity to get revenge. But, as with most things fiction and real, people are not what they seem. And once you really get to know them beyond their surface, you find there is more than meets the eye.

Kinsella definitely did not disappoint in the area of humor in this book. There is also the typical love element (girl wants to get a gorgeous guy). All standard chick lit stuff, am I right? The surprise is that the author delved more into what motivates someone in their career. She also tackles the importance of relationship development, not just romantic ones but familial and professional as well. And most importantly she broaches the very timely topic of how we all present ourselves on social media. It all looks glitz and glamor, but is it really that way for anyone? We're all a little raw once the masks (and make-up) come off. I appreciated that little nugget.

Recommendation: If you're a Kinsella fan, this book will strike you because it is a bit more serious in tone. However, she still offers up her unique humor in a style that keeps the reader intrigued till the end. Great read for a long summer weekend!

Until next time ... Read on!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

KNIGHT ON THE TEXAS PLAINS BY LINDA BRODAY

  Genre: Western / Historical / Romance
Date of Publication: August 1, 2017
Pages: 352
Synopsis:
Duel McClain buries his wife and infant son, climbs in the saddle, and rides off. Locked in grief, he drifts from one Texas town to another as the months pass. He rides into a border town and gets in a card game in the saloon. On the last hand, the opponent across from him runs out of money. The man reaches down for a baby and plunks her in the center of the table. Whoever wins the pot, gets her too. After Duel wins with the Deadman’s Hand, he tries to give the baby back. But when the man tells him he’ll sell her, Duel keeps his prize.

On the way back to his home, he runs across a woman covered in blood. She only says her name is Jessie and the blood isn’t hers. The deep fear in her eyes touches Duel and he has to do something. He strikes a bargain—he’ll take her anywhere she wants to go in return for helping with the child.

Jessie sees honor, respect, and kindness in his eyes. And the moment she holds the baby in her arms, her heart melts. Once they reach Duel’s home, she confesses she killed her husband and tells him the law will come. Desperate to save her, he offers marriage and she accepts.

They settle in and love develops. But each day grows more tense. Lawmen are coming and they can’t stop them. Soon, she’ll face the hangman’s rope.

“Broday (the Men of Legend series) has a knack for capturing the hesitations of both Duel and Jessie and unfurling a twisting plot without resorting to melodrama. Through carefully deployed flashbacks, she slowly exposes the horrors of Jessie’s marriage, culminating in a truly grisly image of depravity without overwhelming the tender love story. Fans of historical romances will be pleased.”  ~~Publisher’s Weekly

"The instant a sweet baby girl, an abused woman, a stray dog, and a reluctant hero meet, readers are drawn into a tender and tough love story that touches many emotions and will have them believing in the healing power of love.”  ~~Romantic Times 4 ½ Stars Top Pick!

“Broday’s latest is a tender romance to touch the heart.”  ~~Bookpage

“This story is simply endearing, packed with powerful message of humanity and the true healing power of family and love!!” ~~Addicted to Romance  
Throughout the well-paced story, there was suspense, tears, fear, revulsion, and no shortage of laughter and joy. I didn't want the story to end.” ~~Teresa on Goodreads

About the Author:

Linda Broday is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 8 full length historical western romance novels, with another set to release 2017 as well as 10 short stories. 

"Watching TV westerns during my youth fed my love of cowboys and the old West and they still do. I reside in the Texas Panhandle on land the American Indian and Comancheros once roamed. At times, I can feel their ghosts lurking around every corner. Texas’ rich history is one reason I set all my stories here. I love research and looking for little known tidbits to add realism to my stories. When I’m not writing, I collect old coins and I confess to being a rock hound. I’ve been accused (and quite unfairly I might add) of making a nuisance of myself at museums, libraries, and historical places. I’m also a movie buff and love sitting in a dark theater, watching the magic on the screen. As long as I’m confessing…chocolate is my best friend. It just soothes my soul."

Connect with the Author:
WEBSITE   FACEBOOK     PINTEREST    TWITTER    GOODREADS


THREE SIGNED COPIES!
(US ONLY)

  August 15-24, 2017 
8/15/17
Guest Post
8/16/17
Review
8/17/17
Character Interview
8/18/17
Review
8/19/17
Notable Quotable
8/20/17
Author Interview
8/21/17
Review
8/22/17
Scrapbook Page
8/23/17
Review
8/24/17
Excerpt


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

WE'RE ALL DAMAGED BY MATTHEW NORMAN

Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman from Amazon.com's Kindle First benefit for Prime members in May of 2016.

In this adult fiction book the main character, Andy Carter has moved to New York and is recovering from an unexpected and recent divorce when he is called back to his hometown in Omaha to be with his dying grandfather.

Going back home proves challenging as Andy's self-esteem has taken a hit because his ex-wife divorced him for a paramedic who lived down the street from their marital home. Andy returns home to find that the once-lover is now married to his ex-wife and living in the house she and Andy once owned together. On top of that, his father is possibly having an affair. And his mother is completely wrapped up in furthering her career as a conservative, right-wing talk show, which is causing turmoil in their new posh neighborhood.

While in Omaha, Andy meets the mysterious Daisy who seems to have a personal relationship with his grandfather. She becomes a pivotal character in the development of the story and also Andy's healing process.

This read was quick and light. It gave me a relief from some heavier stuff I had been reading. There was a nice inspirational message for those who have experienced heartbreak. I found many parts of the book to be funny. My only criticism is in the inclusion of the political banter. I don't know that it really added value to the book. It seemed unauthentic and a cheap way to get in some personally-held political viewpoints. Without that, I might have considered giving the book another star.

Recommendation: There's not really a lot to say about this short book. If you're looking for a quick read that will leave you with a smile, I'd recommend picking it up. It would be perfect for weekend or beach reading.

Until next time ... Read on!

Friday, July 21, 2017

BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD BY TREVOR NOAH

Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I adore Trevor Noah. I appreciate his comedic style. I find him to be intelligent, quick-witted, funny, and I'm not gonna lie, easy on the eyes. When I heard about his memoir, Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, I immediately added it to my to-be-read list on goodreads.com.

This year, I've vowed to learn how to really listen and pay attention to audiobooks. In addition to my traditional reading, this has quickly helped me get through more reads. I've found that listening whilst on the treadmill is a way to metaphorically kill two birds with one stone. And as any reader knows, the more you can read; the happier you are. So, I thought this book would be a good one for audio.

Noah opens the autobiography with a story that illustrates the relationship between he, someone who seems to struggle and question faith, and his mother, a lifelong and devout Christian. This theme not only sets the stage for what is to come but permeates the entire book.

When I decided to read this, I thought I might get some laughs. Don't get me wrong, there are some funny parts. But since I have listened to the book, I've heard that Noah intended the book to be a tribute to his mom. Now knowing his intention, I would say he did not fail to accomplish the task. It was nice to get to peek into his life. (Isn't that always fun? That's why we are a reality TV society.) But more importantly, learning of his love for his mother and hearing it through his own voice as he narrated the book truly made her the heroine. The stories he shared were heartfelt, and I could tell through his reading that he was very vulnerable in some of the information he shared.

My critique of the book is that it jumps around in time from telling stories about his toddler years to his parents' illegal relationship before he was born to post-high school.  (During apartheid interracial marriage was illegal, therefore, procreation between two different races was very much a crime.) Sometimes the overall story was a little hard to follow since the vignettes were not told in linear format. However, I think he composed the book thematically - sharing stories about his relationships, race relations and apartheid in South Africa, and his struggles with his identity of not really fitting in anywhere.

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book, and I would actually recommend it as an audiobook. There are several parts in the book where Noah speaks in various tongues. He always offers translation. I also think him acting out the characters gave the book more depth. After reading this book, I adore Trevor Noah just a little bit more than before.

Until next time ... Read on!

Monday, July 10, 2017

DEFENDING JACOB BY WILLIAM LANDAY

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up a copy of Defending Jacob by William Landay at Half Price Books annual clearance sale for a whopping $0.50. I think I got my money's worth.

Andy Barber, the story's narrator, is an attorney in Newton, Massachusetts. He has assigned himself the lead prosecutor in a high profile murder of one of his son's classmates. Things turn for the worst when his son, Jacob, is accused and put on trial for the murder of Ben Rifkin. Andy is suspended from his job, his wife and Jacob's mother is literally dying from stress, and the whole family becomes outcasts in the community.

From there, Landay takes you on a roller coaster ride of a trial along including betrayal from friends and relatives, conflicts between professional and personal lives, and suspicious characters lurking in dark places. In the end, the author offers up, what I deem two plot twists that leave you jaw ajar. There is a conclusion, but I wouldn't say it's a particularly tidy one.

I enjoyed the legal aspect of this story as well as the moral question - how far will a parent (or parents) go for their child(ren)? There are parts in the book that flash forward to present day, making the reading a little confusing. I gave this book 3 stars because I guessed one of the plot twists, which is really saying something because I'm not that great at solving mysteries. However, the writer's style was thought-provoking and interesting enough to keep me engaged as a reader throughout its 400+ pages.

Recommendation: If you are a parent and enjoy mysteries and don't mind graphic murder descriptions, you might find this one worth picking up. At $0.50 investment, you won't lose too much in return.

Until next time ... Read on!

Friday, July 7, 2017

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE BY FREDRIK BACKMAN

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with most of his books, Fredrik Backman's Britt-Marie Was Here gave me all the feels. A departure from how I normally consume books, I listened to this one. I've read all of Backman's books with the exception of his latest book, Beartown, released this May. You can read my reviews of: A Man Called OveAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell you She's Sorry - all on this blog.

This story starts out with Britt-Marie in search of a job, and ultimately a new life, after she learned that her husband of more than 40 years had cheated on her. Right after the financial crisis, the only job she is able to land is a temporary caretaker/house cleaner at a soon-to-be demolished recreation center in the pitiful town of Borg. While there, life happens to her. No matter how hard she tires to avoid it, she connects with people. A wheelchair-bound lady, named Somebody, Sven, the local police officer, Bank, a soccer legend with sight limitations, the delinquent - Sami, and a myriad of children who convince Britt-Marie to be their team's soccer coach. In this odd little town, we see that someone in her 60s can still come-of-age.

Similar to the Terry McMillan novel I read earlier this summer, we learn it's never too late to change the direction of your life by choosing ... you!

As I've mentioned before, the reason I enjoy Backman's stories is because of his beautifully-constructed prose. He takes simple themes that we've all read or seen and illustrates them in a very emotional, heart-tugging way. The main characters is most of his books are in their third act of life, but they are full of life and quite relatable. Britt-Marie is all of us, teaching us lessons that we can appreciate in any time in our life. Wanna get filled up and experience a variety of emotions from laughter to anger to sadness to joy? Read this book ... or any of Backman's novels.

Recommendation: This is a solid 5 stars out of 5 for me. I liked it a little more than Ove, and that was my book of 2016. My only caution is that this book has more profanity than the others. Don't let this dissuade you though. You'll find yourself wanting to visit Borg yourself!

Until next time ... Read on!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

THE THINGS WE KEEP BY SALLY HEPWORTH

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth is the first book for my newly-formed book club, Richly Read. We will be meeting to discuss in mid-July.

The fictional story centers around Anna who is a thirty-eight year old (former) paramedic suffering the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. When it is no longer feasible for her to live with her twin brother and his family, she takes residence in the Rosalind House where another thirty-something, Luke, who has been diagnosed with a different form of dementia, also lives.

The reason I describe Anna as suffering and Luke as diagnosed to illustrate the point that Anna was having difficulty coming to terms with the disease (that the author insinuates is genetically received from Anna's mother), whereas Luke seemed better equipped to deal with his reality.

Anna and Luke fall in "love." And there is much debate and dialogue in the novel regarding the ability for two people with memory deficiencies to fall (and stay) in love.

The secondary protagonist is Eve. Rashly thrown into the role of a single mother due to a recent tragedy in her life, Eve comes to the Rosalind House as head cook and temporary housekeeper. She's also dealing with her young daughter's grief and trying to manage her difficult school life. When Eve learns of Anna and Luke's guardians' desire to keep them separated, Eve must decide whether she will risk her livelihood to help them.

This book was very easy to read. The medical portions were explained in such a way that anyone could understand. The tempo of the book was good. Each chapter was narrated by either Anna, Eve, and Eve's daughter. Some chapters were told in present time while others worked from the past and flashbacks, which made the read a little cumbersome. I also think Hepworth took on too many heavy topics (dementia, healthcare, scandals, bullying, grief, romance, among many others) to cover in such a short book. It seems like she ran out of time (or energy) and wrapped up the ending a little too tightly for my liking.

Recommendation: I like that this book offered a different perspective to dementia, and I feel like I learned some things. It's worth a quick read on a summer weekend.

Until next time ... Read on!

Monday, June 19, 2017

I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT YOU BY TERRY MCMILLAN

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan is a light, funny read that suited me well for this time of year. It's a story that's been told many times, but I enjoyed McMillan's take on it.

Twice-divorced Dr. Georgia Young is tired of her bland, comfortable, and responsible life as an optometrist, mother of adult children, and grandmother to a couple of grandchildren. One day a daughter of one of Georgia's previous love interests come into her optometry practice and Georgia learns that the woman's father unexpectedly died several years prior. The visit makes Georgia think about what all could have been. As a result, she makes a list of past loves who she vows to get in contact with and let them know she didn't forget about them and knowing them helped shaped her life.

The story is told from Georgia's point-of-view. Not only do we learn about her love interests, but also her two best girlfriends, and her family. The story is funny and relatable. My only critique, probably because I have an "a-type" personality, is that McMillan had Georgia start down the list, but she never really completed it. It just seemed out of character for someone who went to medical school. You'd think a doctor would be more methodical. However, maybe that was the underlying point McMillan was trying to make. Georgie spent several decades doing what her parents, her teachers, her friends, maybe even the world, expected of her. I enjoyed that she decided to change her narrative.

I also appreciated the theme that all people - good, bad and indifferent - mold our life journey. There are no failures only lessons learned.

Recommendation: This is a quick and fun summer read. It inspired me in that it's never too late to decide what your life will be, and that's a message that can be helpful no matter who you are or where you are in life!

Until next time ... Read on!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

THE DINNER BY HERMAN KOCH

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I purchased a copy of The Dinner by Herman Koch at my local Half Price Books store for $4 plus tax. I'm glad I didn't spend anymore, or I might have felt cheated. The book is set at a posh restaurant in Amsterdam and occurs over the course of dinner shared between two brothers and their respective wives. Through flashbacks, we learn about some sinister activity involving each couple's respective 15-year old son.

The story is basically one that involves a moral dilemma: How far would a parent go to protect his or her child? By the end of the book, the reader learns that no one at the dinner (or their offspring) are exceptionally moral in character. The characters seemed a bit out of touch with reality, self-absorbed, and highly unlikable. I suppose this makes them realistic, but not particularly enjoyable to read. The one character who tries to exercise sensible judgment suffers a horrible fate at the hands of his/her family members.

There was no happy ending in this book. There was no redemption. It was a simple story told over nearly 300 pages with a very unsatisfying ending.

Recommendation: I really can't think of one thing I could offer a recommendation for this story. The book has been turned into a movie featuring Richard Gere. So, maybe go see the movie and enjoy the Gere eye-candy. Sorry, that's the best I can come up with.

Until next time ... Read on!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE BY DIANE ACKERMAN

Image: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really excited to read The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman. One because I nominated it as a book club selection (and it won! I rarely win things.) and two because I enjoy reading books set during the WWII/Holocaust time period.

This well-researched non-fiction book tells the story of a zookeeper, Jan Zabinski, and his wife, Antonina, who, together, saved more than 300 Jewish residents after Germany invades Poland. By hiding them in plain sight, the couple and their young son work together to smuggle Jews out of the Polish ghetto and hide them in the zoo before pushing them along the "Underground." Similar to the Underground Railroad in the United States during slavery, the Warsaw Zoo was a stop for many on the path to freedom and away from the horrific torture and terror of the Nazis. Much of the content is pulled from (and attributed to) Antonina's diary in which she documented the daily activities at the zoo.

At times the book was a bit difficult to read because of the enduring injustices and abuses to not only people but also animals that were recklessly used for sport and food. Knowing the history does not help numb the pain endured. The author paints a vivid picture of the time period by viewing it through a slightly different lens. However, the book is bearable, because in times of trouble, there are always helpers. This book, of course, focuses on Antonina and what she and her family did to help, but Ackerman also gives nods to other people who risked their lives to save Jews.

At the end, the author quotes Jan describing - in the most beautiful, relevant way, his wife's bravery during that tumultuous time:

"Her confidence could disarm even the most hostile. It wasn't just that she identified with them, but from time to time she seemed to shed her own human traits and become a panther or a hyena. Then, able to adopt their fighting instinct, she arose as a fearless defender of her kind." 

Ackerman does get a little bogged down in documenting the details and proving the accuracy of her content by offering pervasive annotations and citations throughout. Because of this the book sometimes reads like a dissertation rather than a story, and I tend to appreciate non-fiction that reads a little more like fiction than this book did.

Recommendation: If you are a slow reader who gets easily distracted, you may find it difficult to make it through this book. However, this book does provide another perspective on this time period that is worthy of telling. A movie by the same name featuring Jessica Chastain was released in April of 2017. While I haven't seen it, my guess would be that the movie is a little easier to digest after Hollywood adds its drama and removes some of the mundane detail the slowed the pace of the book.

Until next time ... Read on!

About Melyssa

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Hello! Thanks for visiting my blog. I am an avid reader who enjoys reading fiction. I also read biographies as well as fiction and non-fiction books about the Holocaust and Civil Rights period ... and I've been known to read a blog or two! If you'd like me to review a book, please complete the contact form below my bio. I'll be in touch!

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