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?

 

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The Mothers Book Cover The Mothers
Brit Bennett
Literary fiction
Riverhead books
October 11, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
288
Publisher via BEA

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

My review:

This book was one of the five chosen as the editor's fall picks at BEA. Upon reading this book, I could easily see why. The writing is absolutely beautiful! Here is a line from the very beginning of the book, to give you a sense of what follows:

"Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip."

The mothers in this story are actually all members of the local church. They get together for bible group, and of course like to chat about what's going on in their church community. These impressions are woven into the novel in a very clever way, although they are not the main focus. The book is really about three people over the course of about ten years. Two are best friends, who have the fact that they are both motherless in common, and the other is the pastor's son, who weaves in and out of their lives throughout the story. It's about a secret (which the reader is privy to from the beginning), and how that effects their lives throughout the book. Mostly it's about how the main character deals with being left by a loved one, and ultimately carrying on the loss, guilt, and shame. I wish the book had been just a bit longer, so that we could have even more depth given to the characters, but I am still so impressed by the writing that I'm going to chock my criticism up to the fact that I just wanted to read more!

A must read, gorgeously written debut novel (yes, it's a debut, and the author is only 25!). I cannot wait to see what Ms. Bennett comes up with next.

 

 

 

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Small Great Things Book Cover Small Great Things
Jodi Picoult
Fiction
Ballantine Books
October 11, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
480
Publisher via BEA

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

My review:

Praise the lord, she's BACK! The most difficult review I've ever done on this site was the one for Jodi Picoult's last book Leaving Time. Suffice it to say, I was not a fan, but since I am such a fan of hers, the review pained me to write. At the same time, as a book reviewer, I felt that it needed to be written. I don't want every one of my reviews to be all rosy because that is not my purpose. I want to expose my readers to my opinions on the books I read, and they cannot all be winners. As I said at the conclusion of that review, I was not ready to give up on reading Picoult's books, and thank goodness I didn't. I have high praise for this one! I loved the writing, the plot, the characters, the pacing, the fact that we get to go back into a courtroom, and most of all.......this book, as all of her books, makes you think about your opinions and reactions to major events going on in the world today. I will say that I am probably exactly the demographic that this book was written for. A white woman who sees herself as not having racial prejudices. I though the character of Ruth (a woman of color) was convincing and well written, but I'm not sure how this book will be received by those who do not have my skin color and privilege. The only negative I could give would be that I thought the end was a bit too tidy. Speaking of the end, there is always a twist in Picoult's novels, one which I never figure out until it's revealed. Thanks to my background in laboratory science, I was so proud of myself for getting this one 🙂

A fantastic fictionalized look at race in America, most specifically targeted at those of us who think we are not prejudiced, this is Picoult at her best. A treat of a book not to be missed.

4

Today Will Be Different Book Cover Today Will Be Different
Maria Semple
Fiction
Little, Brown
October 4, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
272
Publisher via BEA

A brilliant novel from the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future. Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.

My review:

I can usually tell when a book just isn't working for me when I'm not motivated to pick it up in my spare time. Such was the case with this one. I loved the author's first book (Where'd You Go, Bernadette) because of its quirky, funny, engaging storyline. While there were some snippets of that in this one (the Costco scene was probably my favorite), I felt it was overall kind of a lackluster story. I wasn't particularly fond of the main character Eleanor. Once again, I really didn't dislike her, just found her to be kind of meh. I did enjoy her son Timby, but unfortunately that didn't sway me enough to care about what ultimately happens to the family by the end of the day. I had high hopes for this one that were kind of dashed. Who doesn't want to start each day with a list of things you'd like to do differently to better yourself and those around you? I did finish this one, hoping for some humor or something to spark my interest, but ultimately the story just wasn't compelling enough to drive me to that finish.

Lots of great reviews for this one, so check those out before making a decision. This may have been a classic case of "it's not you, it's me". I won't let this cloud my decision for any future books by Semple. An author can't hit it out of the park with me every time.