Homegoing Book Cover Homegoing
Yaa Gyasi
Fiction
Knopf Publishing Group
June 7, 2016
Hardcover
320
Publisher via BEA

"Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into two different tribal villages in 18th century Ghana. Effia will be married off to an English colonial, and will live in comfort in the sprawling, palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising half-caste children who will be sent abroad to be educated in England before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the Empire. Her sister, Esi, will be imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle's women's dungeon, and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, where she will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the north to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi's has written a modern masterpiece, a novel that moves through histories and geographies and--with outstanding economy and force--captures the troubled spirit of our own nation"--

My review:

4.5 stars

A powerful story about half sisters whose paths veer from birth in very different directions. The book begins in Ghana, where we follow the generations of one of the sisters throughout most of the book. At the same time (in alternate chapters) is the generational story of the other sister, whose family ends up  in America.  Spectacular writing makes this a must read! It is tough to get through at times, as it is brutally honest about such things as the slave trade, coal mining, the ravages of tribal wars, mental illness, and drug addiction. Even though we only spend a chapter with each generation, the characters are drawn so well that one is completely captivated by each of their stories, and you feel as if you are a witness to their lives. I wish we could have kept going with some of their lives in more detail. The only minor complaint that I have is that I was disappointed in one aspect of the ending, I felt that it was too contrived to have been believable. A minor distraction from an otherwise epic novel!

I listened to this on audio, and while I loved the narration, I was very glad that I had a hardcover book to refer to the family tree at the beginning. It would have been more difficult to figure out who was part of which family at least until I understood the back and forth plot of the story.

While not what I would call an uplifting novel, this one is a must read for the quality of the writing and the gutsy story it tells of the past. Amazing debut novel from a writer I hope to hear much more from in the future.

 

Every summer there are a few authors who generally have books that are published from May to September. They are usually touted as beach reads, and I pretty much auto-buy them for that reason. What is a beach read? To me, it's a book that has an engaging plot that makes you fly through the pages, but at the same time doesn't require you to think too hard in case you want to enjoy what is going on around you without losing the general plot (if you read it in fits and starts). This year there were five such books on my list. I've finished three of them, have one due from the library (audio), and have one more to read. With a week and a half until Labor Day, I think I can make it. So......how did these books stack up this summer season?

AllSummerLongAll Summer Long
Dorothea Benton Frank

I've read a bunch of books by this author, and I may need to take a break. There wasn't anything overly bad about this one, but the writing (other than her wonderful way of making you feel like you are in the lowcountry) is just okay. I got kind of bored with this one. I wasn't really feeling any of the characters, the plot was kind of just there, nothing really stood out to make it memorable. What really saved my rating for this book (and I give a big thumbs up) was that this was not a theme where a woman has to end up with a man (very common in Frank's books and usually annoys the heck out of me). I gave it 3 stars, but it's probably closer to 2.5.

FlightPatternsFlight Patterns
Karen White

It has a beautiful cover, there are some fun facts about bees, and I loved learning about the Limoges china patterns........but that was pretty much all I loved about this one. It took SO long to get to the point in this one that I almost put it down several times. The plot line with the china pattern was something that never would have worked out the way it did (no spoilers, so I can't really say what was ridiculous about it). I wasn't crazy about the sisters, and I found their pettiness irritating. And there is a secret at the end that is just kind of accepted by everyone that made me want to throw the book at a wall!  I gave this 2 stars, but mostly for the bees and china.

TrulyMadlyGuiltyTruly Madly Guilty
Liane Moriarty

I liked this one, although not nearly as much as 2014's Big Little Lies. Moriarty follows a pattern with her books that may become problematic once she gets a few more under her belt. I say that because I felt like I was almost reading Big Little Lies over again, but with different characters and a slightly different plot. It took an extraordinary amount of time before something happened in this one, making the second half of the book way more interesting than the first. The characters were well drawn, but other than Oliver and crotchety old Henry, I didn't feel much for them. Some interesting twists toward the end left a satisfied taste for the novel as a whole, but you may feel like you are slogging through the first half. My rating for this was 4 stars.

Here'sToUsHere's To Us
Elin Hilderbrand

Waiting for Overdrive at the library to deliver this one on audio. I'm about 2 weeks out (I think) so it might be around Labor Day for this one).

 

 

 

TheWeekendersThe Weekenders
Mary Kay Andrews

Here is another author that tends to write the same theme over and over again, but in her case I pretty much buy into it anyway. Why? Because this woman is just funny. Not the kind of funny that the Shopaholic series brings to mind, but there are always a few key places in Andrews books that I find myself guffawing out loud! While I'm saving this one for last in my beach reads, I did listen to another of her books, Hissy Fit, this summer and was delighted with it. I hope this one holds up to all her others. Stay tuned 🙂

Anyone read any of these "beach reads" this summer? Let me know what your thoughts were.

 

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society Book Cover The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Joy Callaway
Fiction
Harper Paperbacks
May 31, 2016
Paperback
368
Publisher via She Reads

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, her best friend, neighbor and first love. Yet when Charlie proposes to another woman, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and obsessively rewrites how their story should have gone.

Though Ginny works with newfound intensity, success eludes her—until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s handsome author friend John’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Amongst painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under John’s increasingly romantic attentions. Just as she has begun to forget Charlie, however, he throws himself back into her path, and Ginny finds herself torn between a lifetime’s worth of complicated feelings and a budding relationship with a man who seems almost too good to be true.

The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows, and as Ginny tentatively navigates the Society’s world, she begins to suspect all is not as it seems in New York’s dazzling “Gay Nineties” scene. When a close friend is found dead in John’s mansion, Ginny must delve into her beloved salon’s secrets to discover her true feelings about art, family, and love.

My review:

3.5 stars

This was a solid read for me. There were things that I enjoyed, and some that I did not. First the good........This was well written, the plot moved along at a steady pace, and the characters were well defined. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the stunning cover, always a plus for me. I loved learning about the artists society, a place where artists of all persuasions (writers, musicians, painters, actors) got together to show their craft and get feedback and encouragement for their works in progress. I was impressed with the description of the role of women of that time, and what was expected of them, and how some of the women rejected that role for their craft (since it was frowned upon to be anything but a wife). What didn't excite me was the time period that the book took place in. While I found the opinions about women to be interesting, I'm just not a fan of books taking place before the 1900's. This is by no means a reflection on this book in itself, it's just a personal preference of my own. What I had a harder time swallowing was the relationship of Virginia and Charlie. Ugh, three words for you sweetie......let it go! I've known plenty of people, myself included, who have had a first love that don't pine away for them the rest of their lives. I seriously wanted to slap her a few times 🙂 I'm sure it could partially be chocked up to the time period, but I just wasn't buying it.

A good solid debut with an interesting take on artists of the late 1800's. If you enjoy this time period I think it will really appeal to you. I had a few problems preventing me from calling it a great read, but it was interesting enough for a solid 3 rating.

This book is one of the summer reads for the She Reads blog network. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review. As always, my opinions are my own.

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The Long Hot Summer Book Cover The Long Hot Summer
Kathleen MacMahon
Fiction
Grand Central Publishing
July 5, 2016
Hardcover
400
Publisher

Nine Lives. Four Generations. One Family. The MacEntees are no ordinary family.
Determined to be different from other people, they have carved out a place for themselves in Irish life by the sheer force of their personalities. But when a series of misfortunes befall them over the course of one long hot summer, even the MacEntees will struggle to make sense of who they are.
As media storms rage about them and secrets rise to the surface, Deirdre plans a family party for her 80th birthday-and with it one final, shocking surprise.

My review:

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me, helped immensely by the fact that I am a sucker for a family saga story. Although this was in a shortened time span, taking place over the course of just one summer, there was plenty of backstory provided to create an understanding of where the various family members were coming from. I loved the format of this book. It's told through chapters by each of the nine family members, but in a continuous time frame. Very interesting take on several narrators keeping the story moving forward in time. This did present a slight problem for me in that some of the stories were not quite resolved as well as I think they could have been had there been a bit more back and forth. Overall though, I felt the innovative setup mattered more. Lovely writing also added substance to this book. Even though I didn't love all of the family members, I feel that they remain true to who they are throughout, and I respect that this diversity of personalities is true to form in most families.

Engaging family story. Not a lot of action, but plenty of emotion and family dynamics. A good solid read, especially if you like family sagas.

 

 

3

Results May Vary Book Cover Results May Vary
Bethany Chase
Fiction
Ballantine Books
August 9, 2016
E-book
352
Publisher via Penguin First to Read

Can you ever really know the person you love? She never saw it coming. Without even a shiver of suspicion to warn her, art curator Caroline Hammond discovers that her husband is having an affair with a man—a revelation that forces her to question their entire history together, from their early days as high school sweethearts through their ten years as a happily married couple. In her now upside-down world, Caroline begins envisioning her life without the relationship that has defined it: the loneliness of being an “I” instead of a “we”; the rekindled yet tenuous closeness with her younger sister; and the unexpected—and potentially disastrous—attraction she can’t get off her mind. Caroline always thought she knew her own love story, but as her husband’s other secrets emerge, she must decide whether that story’s ending will mean forgiving the man she’s loved for half her life, or facing her future without him. Compassionate and uplifting, Results May Vary is a bittersweet celebration of the heart’s ability to turn unexpected troubles into extraordinary strength.

My review:

Trying to describe this book brings one word to mind.......readable. And while that may sound rather boring, it's meant to be anything but. I'm giving credit to such excellent writing that this book just flows effortlessly along, making it, well, readable! This was not your typical story of infidelity, but I'm not sure that really matters because that type of plot is not usually something I'm fond of, but not in this case. The settings were captured to make me feel like I was in them (being from Vermont I can vividly still remember the various seasons in the northeast). There was a plethora of emotion throughout, with many ups and downs, back and forth. Sorrow, anger, forgiveness, friendship, sisterly bonding, humor, guilt, and more all wrapped up in 336 pages. The whole plot is made more interesting when we realize that Caroline has never been with another man, and spent half her life with this one. Explains a lot about her way of handling things. How she comes out the other side makes for compelling reading. There were a couple of sticking points that kept me from giving this 5 stars. While I thought Caroline and all of the secondary characters were well fleshed out, I had a hard time with Adam. Other than his one scene toward the end of the book, he came across rather flat, making it difficult for me to feel much emotion toward him.  It also annoyed me that Caroline, without ever being a parent, is not understanding of Neil's feelings regarding his children. I can't really go into the exact spot without revealing too much, but I was so angry with her that she didn't get it! Small points in an otherwise lovely book. I would also be remiss if I didn't comment on all the great Patriots references......GO PATS 🙂

Pick this one up if you want a book to sink into and let the prose carry you away. Highly readable, with great characters and settings that make you think you are there. I hope to go back and read Ms. Chase's previous book The One That Got Away because I am a fan!

This book was provided for me to read as part of Penguin's  First To Read program. As always, my opinions are my own.

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Today I have the honor of revealing the cover to my author friend Kristy Woodson Harvey's new book! This is a big deal for me since the initial reason I connected with Kristy (for her debut novel) was because I thought the cover was so stunning that I had to know more! Unfortunately you're going to have to wait until April 25, 2017 for this gem to hit shelves, but in the meantime, Kristy has a contest going on over at her page. You can win a $100 amazon gift card and some book bundles, so head on over to enter:

http://kristywoodsonharvey.com/blog

Here is a little bit about the book:

SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE:

From the next “major voice in Southern fiction” (New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand) comes the first in an all-new series chronicling the journeys of three sisters and their mother—and a secret from their past that has the potential to tear them apart and reshape their very definition of what it means to be a family.

Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she'd spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley.

Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley's life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open.

Exploring the powerful bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters, this engaging novel is filled with Southern charm, emotional drama, and plenty of heart.

And the cover (I love that it's a beach scene again....yay!):

SlightlySouthOfSimple

 

Be sure to check out Kristy's previous novels (if you have not already done so) while you await this new series (yes, it's a series!). Click the links for my reviews:

Dear Carolina

Lies and Other Acts of Love

Also follow Kristy on social media to keep updated on book news and tour stops!

Twitter
Facebook
Website

 

 

 

 

2

Last Ride to Graceland Book Cover Last Ride to Graceland
Kim Wright
Fiction
Simon and Schuster
May 24, 2016
Paperback
352
Publisher via She Reads

Lauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father? Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth. A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister's daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.

My review:

This is my third book by Kim Wright, and she is fast becoming one of my favorite southern authors! This book was fabulous in so many ways! I love her characters. Her two previous books have had older women protagonists, of which I heartily approve because I don't think there are enough books (or movies) out there for us. This one however had two younger main characters who tell the story from two different time frames. The back-up singer for Elvis, traveling from Graceland back to her hometown in Beaufort SC shortly upon his death, and her daughter, taking the opposite route back three decades or so later. I love the way Kim writes her characters and how she portrays the south. Here is the opening paragraph to the novel:

"I was a premature baby who weighted nine pounds and nine ounces. Yeah, I know. Impossible. But you have to understand that this particular kind of medical miracle is common in the rural South. Jesus still looks down from billboards around here and people care what their neighbors think. We pray and we salute... and most of all, we lie. It's why we have so many good writers per capita, and so many bad writers too, because all of us learned to bend the truth before we could even half talk."

Now if that doesn't get a giggle out of you and make you want to read on, I don't know what will. There are lots of little snippets of humor thrown into the story along with many soul searching facets for both women on their respective journeys. Even though this is a work of fiction, I learned some facts about Elvis that I didn't know. I was never a huge fan, but I do remember the hullabaloo when he died. I appreciated the way the author incorporated such tidbits into the narrative.

A fantastic southern tale with fabulous characters and a bit of Elvis history to boot, I highly recommend this one. Also be sure to check out The Unexpected Waltz and The Canterbury Sisters by this author. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

This book is one of the books of summer for the SheReads blog network.

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Once Upon a Wine Book Cover Once Upon a Wine
Black Dog Bay
Beth Kendrick
Fiction
NAL
July 26,2016
E-book
336
Publisher via Penguin First to Read

Cammie Breyer needs a big glass of cabernet—her restaurant failed and her chef boyfriend left for a hotter kitchen. Just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, her Aunt Ginger calls with a surprise. She’s bought a vineyard—in Delaware. At Ginger’s command, Cammie returns to Black Dog Bay, the seaside town where she spent her childhood summers with her aunt and her cousin, Kat.

The three women reunite, determined to succeed. There’s only one little problem: None of them knows the first thing about wine making. And it turns out, owning a vineyard isn’t all wine and roses. It’s dirt, sweat, and desperation. Every day brings financial pitfalls, unruly tourists, romantic dilemmas, and second thoughts.  But even as they struggle, they cultivate hidden talents and new passions. While the grapes ripen under the summer sun, Cammie discovers that love, like wine, is layered, complex, delicious, and worth waiting for

My review:

3.5 stars

Want a great beach book this summer? Beth Kendrick's books are a go-to beach read for me. Many of her novels revolve around a fictional town of Black Dog Bay, Delaware........promoted as the place to go to get over a breakup. The town has embraced its reputation, with lots of businesses touting names relating to common heartache terms. This book, as well as all the others, is a stand-a-lone, and does not require you to read any of the others. But what fun it is to see some of the old familiar characters make guest appearances in each one! As with all of the previous stories, this one revolves around a new love blossoming amid the heartache of betrayal (in this case betrayal to another restaurant, not a person). Honestly, I could do without this sappy part of the story, but the rest of the novel held my interest, and since it's pretty much a given for this series, I can overlook it. I loved the snippets about the vineyard, for some reason every book I read on this subject has me hooked. The characters are fun, the setting is gorgeous, and now I want to go get me some strawberry wine!

This author knows how to serve up some summertime reading pleasure. I loved being back in Black Dog Bay, and hope this won't be the last we see of these great residents.

Thanks to Penguin First to Read program for providing me with an advance copy of this book. As always, my opinions are my own.

PenguinFirstToRead

 

 

4

You Will Know Me Book Cover You Will Know Me
Megan Abbott
Thriller
Little, Brown
July 26, 2016
Advanced Reader's Copy
352
Publisher via BookSparks

Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with "exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl," (Janet Maslin) You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition.

My review:

I'm just going to admit it, this author just isn't for me. I have read a previous book by her (Dare Me) and really didn't like it much, but since I received this for review, I thought I'd give her another shot. Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with Abbott's writing, or her ability to pull you into a story, it's more that I hate the characters in her stories. For some books, unlikable people are part of the plan, we are supposed to not like them. Sometimes they redeem themselves, sometimes not. Except that in the case of this book, I think the reader was supposed to feel something for these characters. The only one I liked was the younger brother Drew, who I felt extremely sorry for throughout the story. Basically we are taken on a journey where these parents will do anything for their daughter to achieve her gymnastic goal of the Olympics. And when I say anything, well that is where I draw the line with these parents. I get it, my daughter was a competitive cheerleader for ten years, but this was just too much! I did enjoy the gymnastics aspect of the book, and that whole competition feel, but then it just got crazy. All I came away with at the end was that too many people knew the secret, and some day someone was going to crack.

Bottom line, there are tons of people who love Abbott's books, so read some other reviews before making your decision. It was very readable, even page turning, but it just hit some hot spots for me, and I can't say I would personally recommend it.

This book is part of the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to find out more about the challenge and follow along on social media using #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver to find more reviews of this book and others.

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So Close Book Cover So Close
Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus,
Fiction
Sparkpress
June 7, 2016
Paperback
316
Publisher via BookSparks

Amanda Beth Luker has spent her whole life desperately looking for someone who can show her the way out of her trailer park Florida town. And then, finally, help arrives in the form of Tom Davis, a successful lawyer with political aspirations who grew up just a few towns over from Amanda. But it's his wife, Lindsay, who really captures Amanda's imagination. Strong, smart, and determined, she gives Amanda something she's never had: a role model. Meanwhile Amanda is introduced to the wealthy, charismatic, and deeply troubled Pax Westerbrook. He clearly desires Amanda, but if she gives in will that move her closer to the life she's always dreamed of or make it impossible?

Amanda rides Davis's political success all the way to Washington, where he becomes Senator and will later be tapped for president and even make a bid for the White House. But when Amanda starts to suspect, and later confirms, his moral indiscretions, her loyalty is tested. Will a girl from a trailer park even be believed if she goes public with damning information? Will she be willing to risk losing everything she's gained?

My review:

I really loved this book in the beginning. I loved the story of Amanda trying so hard to better her life. I found there to be a great balance between humorous and serious parts. The political story (loosely based on John Edwards, who happens to be from my state) was captivating, particularly in this election year. The character of Lindsay was a gem, very well fleshed out. Then thrown into that we have Pax, who I thought should have been ditched from the story entirely! I never warmed to him, I felt that the relationship between he and Amanda was forced with absolutely zero chemistry. For me, while the writing remained solid, the story started to go a bit downhill in the second half. I got a bit tired of the campaign, didn't like Amanda and Pax, and Lindsay started to lose a bit of her luster. Not the most satisfying ending either.

Overall I would call this a quick beach read. It's well written, got some good humor, along with a couple characters to root for, but it gets tiresome as it progresses.

This book is part of the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to find out more about the challenge and follow along on social media using #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver to find more reviews of this book and others.

BookSparksJuly2016