The Mother's Promise Book Cover The Mother's Promise
Sally Hepworth
Fiction
Macmillan
February 21, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
336
Publisher

All their lives, Alice Stanhope and her daughter Zoe have been a family of two, living quietly in northern California. Zoe has always struggled with crippling social anxiety and her mother has been her constant and fierce protector. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe’s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works—until it doesn’t. Until Alice gets sick and needs to fight for her life. Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers, but who are her only hope: Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets—secrets about abandonment, abuse, estrangement, and the deepest longing for family. Imbued with heart and humor in even the darkest moments, The Mother’s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, and the new ways in which families are forged.

My review:

I'm a huge fan of Sally Hepworth's novels, and this one is definitely one of my favorites! A wonderful exploration into the mother/daughter bond, with the added bonus of secondary characters who have family problems of their own. I loved the subject of social anxiety being at the forefront of this novel. I have a daughter with a mild form of this, so I could relate so well to Zoe and her struggles. All the characters were very well drawn, and the story flowed nicely, causing me to want to continue reading well into the night. The only flaw that I could find was the story behind Zoe's father and its subsequent follow through. I wasn't a bit fan of the coincidences that occurred, but this was a minor stumbling block and should not deter anyone from picking up this fulfilling story. While the ending was sad, it also held so much promise for the future that I did not get weepy, and was completely satisfied.

A beautiful story about a mother and daughter, alone with a terrible burden, but who have people who step up in times of crisis to become a new kind of family. Another winner from Ms. Hepworth, well worth the read.

4

Pachinko Book Cover Pachinko
Min Jin Lee
Fiction
Grand Central Publishing
February 7, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
496
Publisher via BEA

A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone. PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

My review:

A wonderful family saga that is well written and opened my eyes to some of the prejudices against the Korean people living in Japan. This is a sweeping tale involving several generations of Koreans from 1910 to 1989. Lots of history that I was not familiar with including the Japanese invasion of Korea, the division of Korea, and the Koreans fleeing to Japan for the possibility of a better life. I thought the characters were well developed, and the story moved along nicely, although if I had any complaints to make it would be that this is a chunkster of a novel. It was probably due to my personal circumstances of moving houses while reading it, but I did feel, even though I was engaged with the story, that I was likely never going to finish it. I really felt for these characters, particularly the fact that many of them were never able to get out of the poverty and oppression holding them back. While it certainly is not an uplifting novel, it is important to understand prejudices on a world scale, sometimes we tend to look much closer to home.

I really enjoyed this novel, and feel it is worthwhile to delve into, but would suggest going into it knowing that it's a hefty read.

3

Always Book Cover Always
Sarah Jio
Fiction
Ballantine Books
February 7, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy ebook
288
NetGalley

From the New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter and The Violets of March comes a gripping, poignant novel about the kind of love that never lets go, and the heart's capacity to remember. While enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiancé, Ryan, at one of Seattle's chicest restaurants, Kailey Crane can't believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a writer for the Herald and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As they leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister. When Kailey met Cade ten years ago, their attraction was immediate and intense--everything connected and felt right. But it all ended suddenly, leaving Kailey devastated. Now the poor soul on the street is a faded version of her former beloved: His weathered and weary face is as handsome as Kailey remembers, but his mind has suffered in the intervening years. Over the next few weeks, Kailey helps Cade begin to piece his life together, something she initially keeps from Ryan. As she revisits her long-ago relationship, Kailey realizes that she must decide exactly what--and whom--she wants. Alternating between the past and the present, Always is a beautifully unfolding exploration of a woman faced with an impossible choice, a woman who discovers what she's willing to save and what she will sacrifice for true love.

My review:

While this was a good story with an engaging plot, I definitely had some problems with it. Classic case of having to choose between two men, I felt that the author was leading the reader to agree with the protagonist's choice in the end. I also found it interesting that circumstances worked out so that the choice was not as far fetched as implied at the beginning of the book. I'm also not a big fan of the idea that we all have a "soul mate" in life. I'm not buying it, no matter how an author sugarcoats it. I did find this to be an easy read. The characters, while a bit superficial, were interesting enough to keep the story moving. While not terribly literary, the writing flowed well and the story didn't drag for me. Probably my favorite thing about the book was the spotlight on homelessness and mental health issues. I feel that more on this topic would have made the book even better for me.

Overall a good read for when you don't want to have to think too much, although it did feel that the author was dragging the reader to the proper happily ever after ending.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth Book Cover The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Lindsey Lee Johnson
Fiction
Random House
January 10, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
288
BEA and Penguin First to Read

A captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng s "Everything I Never Told You "and Curtis Sittenfeld s "Prep" "The Most Dangerous Place on Earth" unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school. In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

My review:

Where might this be you ask? High school of course 🙂 It was hard to throw myself back that far and remember, but I thought the author did a great job of writing about the angst and social issues most students face. Also, having a child who was on occasion bullied meant that I had an extremely emotional reaction to the first chapter. The rest of the book jumps ahead three and four years later where we follow several of the students introduced at the story's beginning. Some of these students I liked, some were annoying, but all were very well written. Interspersed within the students stories is that of a young, newly hired teacher who wants to create more of a friendship with her students. While I believe the point of the book was to make us see the impact the bullying incident had on each child's life, I did feel that it missed the mark a bit on some of the characters. It almost seemed that the first chapter was stuck in there, but not referred back to enough for it to have been there in the first place. It makes you realize as a parent, how much can go on right under your nose even if you are responsible (and clearly some of these parents were not). I'm fairly certain that I would not want to parent any of these kids.

Overall I thought this was a well written narrative of the high school years, albeit maybe a bit of a letdown from the first chapter. I'm just thankful that I've made it through the high school drama myself, and with my kids, hopefully not too worse for wear.

Thanks to Penguin First to Read program for the opportunity to read this novel. As always, my opinions are my own.

PenguinFirstToRead

4

The Sleepwalker Book Cover The Sleepwalker
Chris Bohjalian
Fiction
Doubleday Books
January 10, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy ebook
304
NetGalley

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge. The morning of Annalee's disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee's husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs' Victorian home. As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee's disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?
Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers."

My review:

Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite writers, not just because he happens to be from my home state of Vermont, but because despite the fact that he has well over twenty books published, each one is different. We all know that even if you love an author's writing/books, they usually have a set formula/plot to them. Sometimes this doesn't matter, but sometimes it can get boring and mundane to pick up a new book by that author. Bohjalian always makes each of his books fresh and different, which I admire in a writer. The Sleepwalker did remind me somewhat of The Guest House in that there was a mystery involved, but the circumstances surrounding that mystery were completely different. The other great quality about Bohjalian's books is that you always learn a lot about a subject that you probably never thought much about in your daily life. Such is the case with all the information contained here about sleepwalking. The different types, the genetic aspect, the treatment protocols, the emotional and psychological effect it can have not only on the patient, but on their family. As always, the characters in this book are superbly written, and the story flows well, even when it does step back in time with background information. There is some gritty content within these pages, but other than not liking part of the ending (which I can't go into detail about here), this is another solid hit for Mr. Bohjalian.

A mystery surrounding a sleepwalking woman, this is another solidly written novel by one of my favorite authors. A gritty character study into the life of a family who is way more complex than the outside world views them.

The Art of Baking Blind Book Cover The Art of Baking Blind
Sarah Vaughan
Fiction
St. Martin's Press
May 5, 2015
Hardcover
416
Own copy

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookbook writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs. Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now that her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her facade shouldn't slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest pastry seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn--as Mrs. Eaden did before them--that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life, in Sarah Vaughan's The Art of Baking Blind.

My review:

This book completely hooked me! Even though the extent of my baking these days involves box brownies and apple pies made for Thanksgiving, I am a sucker for those baking competitions shown on television. Not just the competitions, but I was also hooked for awhile on Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. This book was made for me! Not surprisingly, the baking competition at the heart of this book was what initially drew me in. However, this book is much more than about a baking show, the five contestants all have compelling stories that we follow during the course of the novel. We find out what prompted them to enter the competition, what they are perhaps hoping to prove, and how they each come to some answers about themselves and their fellow contestants throughout the process. Concurrent with the present day story, there are flashbacks to the woman who wrote the original Art of Baking in the mid 60's. Her story is also fascinating and lends the perfect topping to this desert of a book!

Fans of cooking competitions (particularly The Great British Bake Off) should love jumping into the middle of this well written character study of the original cooking queen, and her upcoming royalty. And trust me when I say, not only will you think about baking as you read, but your mouth will be watering with all the descriptions of the treats!

We Are Unprepared Book Cover We Are Unprepared
Meg Little Reilly
Fiction
Mira
August 30, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
368
Publisher via BEA

Ash and Pia's move from Brooklyn to the bucolic hills of Vermont was supposed to be a fresh start—a picturesque farmhouse, mindful lifestyle, maybe even children. But just three months in, news breaks of a devastating superstorm expected in the coming months. Fear of the impending disaster divides their tight-knit rural town and exposes the chasms in Ash and Pia's marriage. Ash seeks common ground with those who believe in working together for the common good. Pia teams up with "preppers" who want to go off the grid and war with the rest of the locals over whom to trust and how to protect themselves. Where Isole had once been a town of old farm families, yuppie transplants and beloved rednecks, they divide into paranoid preppers, religious fanatics and government tools.

My review:

I must admit that my main reason for reading this book is that it takes place in Vermont, where I lived for thirty five years. I've certainly been through my share of super-storms living there, but now that I'm in the south, we have hurricanes and ice storms 🙂  There is basically no getting around the weather, but how prepared are we when disaster is looming? Ash and Pia have moved to Vermont (from Brooklyn) to live a more rural life. Their first few months after moving in, they learn about a storm due to hit their tiny town that very first winter. They both have very different reactions to the impending disaster, and this is at the crux of the story. Having dealt with storms in both parts of the country, I found this part of the book fascinating. There is also a sweet part of the story where Ash tries to care for the neglected seven year old neighbor, and the sweet elderly lady down the road.  I do wish that the actual storm had started a bit earlier in the book, and that we had more detailed follow-up to what happens to the town and its people after.

If you tend to watch the weather channel waiting for news of any of these super-storms, I think you will enjoy this one. A great look at small townfolk and ways of preparing for "the big one". An eye opener in these days of global warming and climate change.

2

hohohorat2016What a fun week of reading! I even managed to finish ALL the books I had picked out, so high five to me 🙂 Here is the final wrap-up, including a short review, rating, and page count of my chosen books. Click on the titles to be taken to the Goodreads page for more information.

These are the five books that I selected this year:

img_1570Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand:

Page count: 256
Rating: 4/5 stars

The third in the series (Winter Street and Winter Stroll preceded this one). I love this family, and was so excited to step back into their world for another Christmas story! It's a typical Hilderbrand novel, with all the family drama and love. While this can be a stand-alone, if you are thinking about reading the series, you will want to read them in order to avoid spoilers.

The Hundred Gifts by Jennifer Scott:

Page count: 384
Rating: 5/5 stars

My favorite of the books I read! The main character was a woman my age, it was about a cooking class, and the ladies who attend said class. Along with the cooking, they take on a mission to provide holiday cheer to a grumpy old lady who lives upstairs from the class building. There is humor, sadness, great characters, life questions, and more. Truly a treat!

The Christmas Secret by Donna VanLiere:

Page count: 291
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Sweet story about a down on her luck mother who moves to a new town and makes a fresh start during the holiday season. Lots of lovely characters, maybe just a tad sappy at times, but it is the holiday season 🙂

The Christmas Party by Carole Matthews:

Page count: 417
Rating: 4/5 stars

Great tale about an office Christmas party with all the ensuing drama and cast of characters. When I say characters.....oh my, there are some doozies here! Really funny moments, although a bit far fetched at times, make for a delightful read with a satisfying ending.

I Heart Christmas by Lindsey Kelk:

Page count: 369
Rating: 3/5 stars

This book had great promise, it was so funny at times, but ended up being my least favorite due to the unbelievably immature behavior of the main protagonist. There was only so much of the partying lifestyle I wanted to read about, so I had to knock off a star. Otherwise, the plot and humor made this a winner, but probably would appeal more to a younger adult audience.

And there you have it, another successful HoHoHoRAT! Can't wait to start my holiday season off again next year by participating. Thanks to Kimberly at CaffeinatedReviewer.com for hosting.

Total books read: 5
Total page count: 1717

 

 

 

1

hohohorat2016

Yay! I love this one! I get to dig out my holiday themed books and spend the week enjoying the festiveness of the upcoming season! This will be my third year participating in this event, brought to you by Kimberly @ Caffeinatedreviewer.com. Many thanks to her for hosting. For all the information you need to follow along with us, click on the following:

Ho-Ho-Ho Readathon November 9th-15th Signup

Here is what I've got planned for choices. I may or may not make it through all of these in six days, but that doesn't mean that I still won't finish them before the holidays roll around.

img_1570

I'll keep you updated on my progress. Who else is joining us in this fun tradition?

1

The Book that Matters Most Book Cover The Book that Matters Most
Ann Hood
Fiction
W. W. Norton & Company
August 9, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
358
Publisher via BEA

Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.

My review:

3.5 stars

The premise for this book deserves all the accolades in the world from me. A bookclub decides to choose a book each month for a year that is a defining book for each of its members. During the course of the book, the reader gets to see what book each member chose, and why that book mattered the most to them. I loved this idea, and I loved all the parts in the book that related to this (even if I hadn't read all the books chosen). I so wanted to stay with the book club members and find out more about their lives, but the book, while it does come back to the meetings every month, takes a different path. The main character decides to choose a book from her childhood that she can no longer find anywhere, leading to a mystery of sorts. Concurrently, the daughter of the main character has her own problems while living in France, which I felt was part of the book to help facilitate the end. Both of these stories did not inspire me the way the book club stories did, and the ending was so tied up and rosy that it felt ridiculous. This was a fast read, and the pacing was good. While the writing will not win any literary praise, it was readable and relatable.

I would recommend this book for the book club theme, which I felt was its strong point. The parts that I didn't enjoy as much, while lowering my overall review, would not keep me from recommending it as a light, quick read that will get you thinking:

What book would I choose as the book that matters most to me?

I'm going to go with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which was the book I read in 8th grade that started me on my path to loving books! What about you?