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The Underground Railroad Book Cover The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead
Literary fiction
Doubleday Books
August 2, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
306
Publisher via BEA

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

My review:

I should probably be up front in this review and reveal that books about slavery (or that contain any parts about it within their pages) are almost always a sure hit for me. Recent reads that I also loved were Homegoing, and The House Girl. Yes, they are difficult to read, but so necessary, especially in light of what's going on in our country today. This is literally a story about a slave who breaks free, and takes to the underground railroad to find her freedom. I was so invested in the story, that I didn't even catch on to the fact that Whitehead uses an actual railroad (with tracks, trains, and engineers) as a metaphor, that the actual underground railroad did not consist of trains running underneath the country....duh! I was completely sucked into Cora's quest, and terrified on her behalf throughout most of the book. I did read a few reviews pointing to the lack of character development, and while I can see where they are coming from, I think the book might have ended up dragging a bit with having to develop all the people Cora came into contact with. I was satisfied that we did find out the fate of most of these folks by the end, not that I was happy with the majority of it. I just loved the writing in this book. It was informative, lovely without being over the top descriptive, and gave a nice flow to the plot.

I loved this one, but then again I did warn you that this is my kind of book. Anyone have any suggestions for other books about slavery (fictionalized please) that I can add to my ever growing to be read pile? Pick this one up for the writing, and for the importance in our history.

 

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The Things We Wish Were True Book Cover The Things We Wish Were True
Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Fiction
Lake Union Publishing
September 1, 2016
Paperback
276
Publisher via She Reads

In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations. From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house. Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors intertwined lives begins to unravel. During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?"

My review:

An enjoyable, light read about a neighborhood dealing with a crisis, and several secrets, during the course of one summer. I thought the characters were well drawn, or as well as they could be since the book has a lot of them. It had nice pacing, I never felt that it dragged, although I was invested in some plot lines more than others. I liked the plot twists, the major one I figured out, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story. The only real complaint I had was that it seemed there were just too many characters who harbored secrets. The first few chapters we are thrown hints about every single character having a secret. It would have seemed more believable to me to have a few "regular folks" thrown into the mix. I was very satisfied with the ending, even if it did tie everything up rather nicely.

This book reminded me of a shorter, lighter version of Liane Moriarty's latest, and that's not a bad comparison to have made for any book! This would be great to tuck in your suitcase for a weekend away, where something heavy and long just doesn't usually suffice.

This book is the September read for the She Reads book club. Click the link in my sidebar to be taken to their blog, which has lots of great book talk and suggestions. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy. As always, my opinions are my own.

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The Orphan Mother Book Cover The Orphan Mother
Robert Hicks
Literary fiction
Grand Central Publishing
September 13, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
320
Publisher via BEA

In the years following the Civil War, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Carrie McGavock--the "Widow of the South"--has quietly built a new life for herself as a midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. But when her ambitious, politically minded grown son, Theopolis, is murdered, Mariah--no stranger to loss--finds her world once more breaking apart. How could this happen? Who wanted him dead?
Mariah's journey to uncover the truth leads her to unexpected people--including George Tole, a recent arrival to town, fleeing a difficult past of his own--and forces her to confront the truths of her own past. Brimming with the vivid prose and historical research that has won Robert Hicks recognition as a "master storyteller"

My review:

This book is a companion book to a previous novel by the author entitled The Widow of the South. I must mention that I have not read that novel, so I'm not sure if that would affect my view of this particular story. Some of the characters are intertwined, particularly Mrs. McGavock. I liked this book, but I didn't love it. At times I thought the writing was beautiful, and at others I felt that it bogged down the plot and was there just to be beautiful, not to solidify the story. I loved the race relations parts of the book, and would have loved even more of that and less of the meandering around with Mariah trying to find out who killed her son (which is already revealed to the reader near the book's beginning). The relationship between Tole and Mariah could have been expounded on a bit more, and it got a bit crazy toward the end. A bit more resolution for some of the remaining townspeople would have been of interest to me. In the end I would say that I found some parts of this book very interesting and thought provoking, and other parts I could have done without. The writing was beautiful, but at times it hindered the story rather than enhancing it.

A book worth reading if you enjoy the period following the Civil War, or if you have read the previous book. Some parts were lovely, while other parts had me meandering through. A book I would recommend with reservations, depending on your interests.

 

The Weekenders Book Cover The Weekenders
Mary Kay Andrews
Fiction
Macmillan
May 17, 2016
Hardcover
464
Own copy

Some people stay all summer long on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Some people come only for the weekends-and it's something they look forward to all week long. When Riley Griggs is waiting for her husband to arrive at the ferry one Friday afternoon, she is instead served with papers informing her that her island home is being foreclosed. To make matters worse, her husband is nowhere to be found. She turns to her island friends for help and support, but each of them has their own secrets and the clock is ticking as the mystery deepens. Cocktail parties and crab boil aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the secrets of Belle Island, the husband she might not really know, and the summer that could change everything.

My review:

First of all, let me state right off that I'm a big fan of Andrews books, and I honestly don't know why. She's not at the top of the list for a wonderful writing style, her books generally follow a simple plot point (except this one was a bit different, more on that later), and her characters are usually quite shallow. With all that being said, I just really enjoy reading her books! I think a lot of it has to do with her settings (almost exclusively in the south), and she has a way of writing scenes that make me laugh out loud. This book was a bit of a diversion from her typical "beach read". It has a mystery element to it where we have to figure out who dunnit? Of course there are a bunch of suspects since the victim was dirty dealing all over town. This made the book a bit less humorous than most of her previous ones, but I still enjoyed the goings on of the small island town. I could have done without the predictable love story, but this is a trademark of all Andrews books, so I would have given up on them a long time ago if this really bothered me too much.

Bottom line, this has reviews all over the place on Goodreads, but I just love Mary Kay Andrews for reasons I can't put my finger on, and you can bet I'll be in line to see her (she always comes to my Indie bookstore on tour!) and purchase next year's novel 🙂

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.

 

 

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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!

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