The Hope Chest
Thomas Dunne Books
March 21, 2017
The Hope Chest is a deeply emotional novel about three people who have seemingly lost all hope until one woman’s heirloom hope chest is rediscovered in the attic, along with its contents and secrets. Mattie is a fiercely independent woman battling ALS; Don, her deeply devoted husband is facing a future without his one true love; and Rose, their struggling caregiver, is a young, single mother who feels trapped in her life. With each item that is discovered—including a beloved doll, family dishes, an embroidered apron, and an antique Christmas ornament—the hope chest connects Mattie, Don and Rose to each other and not only helps them find hope again in the face of overwhelming life challenges but also brings new meaning to family.
Such a sweet and lovely story about an elderly couple, one of whom is in the last stages of their life. The characters were depicted in such a real fashion that I felt like they were my neighbors. If only we could all have a man like Don in our life when we get old (I'm chuckling as I write this since my husband's name just happens to be Don)! I loved the way the sections were divided to be about the various items within the hope chest, and the corresponding stories surrounding them from the past. Good writing, although not as thought provoking as the characters, who were the main focus of this novel. I did think it got a bit schmaltzy in places, particularly with the caretaker "turned family member" Rose, but who doesn't need a bit of that in a book once in a while? This is a vivid picture into the lives of a couple who have loved each other through the ages, and I lapped it up.
A sweet character driven story about the end of a woman's life, and the treasures she holds dear that she wishes to pass on in her memory. Grab the tissue box for the ending. And let's all strive to be a man like Don, or find one like him.
The Devil and Webster
Jean Hanff Korelitz
Grand Central Publishing
March 21, 2017
Naomi Roth is the first female president of Webster College, a once conservative school now known for producing fired-up, progressive graduates. A former student radical herself, Naomi isn't alarmed when Webster students, including her own daughter, begin an outdoor encampment to protest a popular professor's denial of tenure.
But when Omar Khayal, a charismatic Palestinian student with a devastating personal history, emerges as the group's leader, shocking acts of vandalism begin to destabilize the campus. As the crisis slips beyond her control, Naomi struggles to protect her friends, colleagues, and family from an unknowable adversary. A riveting novel about who we think we are, and what we think we believe.
I have mixed feelings about this book. The plot was super interesting to me. I was never one to engage in any kind of protests when I was in school, but with what's going on in our country today, I can definitely relate to the concept now. I loved the satirical aspects of this novel, it was slyly (or not) poking fun at elite colleges, and what draws people to them. There was some neat college history thrown in. The rules which prevented the administration from explaining tenure and student admission decisions were as fascinating as they were frustrating, within the novel's framework. I even really liked Naomi Roth, the main character.
Sounds great right? It was great, to a point, but what I felt this book severely lacked was good editing! There was way too much information thrown out there that I think wasn't entirely necessary for this novel to work. There were run on sentences, even run on paragraphs that made me bleary eyed. I think most of the information could have been edited down so that the reader still got it, but didn't want to yell "let's just get back to the story".
Overall a great story about college life, mostly from an administration perspective, but beware that there is lots of extraneous writing that I wish could have been edited out.
Never Let You Go
St. Martin's Press
March 14, 2017
The author of Still Missing targets her readership with a novel that hits all the notes they come to expect from her—and ratchets up the stakes even more. Lindsey Nash has left an abusive relationship and her ex-husband was sent to jail. She has started over with a new life, her own business, and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties. There is no way he can ever find her and her daughter again. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded. Even her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it's her ex-husband, even though he claims he is a different person and doesn't want to do her any harm. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead even closer to home than she thought?
This is my first book by Chevy Stephens, and after devouring it, I'm sure it won't be my last! This was a fast paced page-turner with lots of twists and turns. The characters were well sculpted, the plot (with a few exceptions) seemed totally plausible, and it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. As usual with these types of books, it's impossible to say too much without revealing anything, but you know the whole time that it's not going to be the obvious suspect. There are several bones thrown out, to make you think "well maybe it's him", and even though my suspicion proved correct, I was floored by the reason behind it.
A great thriller that will keep you reading, and your heart pounding, well after it's tidy conclusion. An awesome escape from reality novel. Can't wait to read more from this author!
All Grown Up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
March 7, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
From the New York Times best-selling author of The Middlesteins comes a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, childfree woman who defies convention as she seeks connection. Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she's a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it's what she leaves unsaid--she's alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh--that feels the most true. Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult: her best friend, Indigo, is getting married; her brother--who miraculously seems unscathed by their shared tumultuous childhood--and sister-in-law are having a hoped-for baby; and her friend Matthew continues to wholly devote himself to making dark paintings at the cost of being flat broke. But when Andrea's niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart? Told in gut-wrenchingly honest, mordantly comic vignettes, All Grown Up is a breathtaking display of Jami Attenberg's power as a storyteller, a whip-smart examination of one woman's life, lived entirely on her own terms.
I had a hard time liking this one, but I can see why others would. I was a big fan of two previous novels by Ms. Attenberg (Saint Mazie and The Middlesteins), so I'm not a stranger to her writing. And I love her writing, I really do, I still do. However, I did not like the main character in this book AT ALL! She reminded me of those books about 20 somethings who can't get their act together and figure out their lives (and if you've read my blog, you know those are not books I tend to enjoy, with a few exceptions). The problem was, that Andrea is thirty nine years old. Come on now! I kept reading (because the writing style just flows so well that you want to continue on), waiting for a major change in her character. I guess it kind of, sorta happened at the end, although not well enough to convince me, and far far too late. Her behavior was appalling to me, and although the book was trying to convey why she acted that way, I just couldn't buy into it (especially at her age).
Sorry to say that the character ruined this one for me, although Attenberg's writing style has not lost anything since her previous books. Count me in to read the next one, I'm just hoping for a character I like better. Be sure to check out other reviews of this around social media, sometimes it is just not the right book for me, yet others enjoy it immensely.
Everything Belongs to Us
Yoojin Grace Wuertz
February 28, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
"This debut novel takes place at the elite Seoul National University in 1970s South Korea during the final years of a repressive regime. The novel follows the fates of two women--Jisun, the daughter of a powerful tycoon, who eschews her privilege to become an underground labor activist in Seoul; and Namin, her best friend from childhood, a brilliant, tireless girl who has grown up with nothing, and whose singular goal is to launch herself and her family out of poverty. Drawn to both of these women is Sunam, a seeming social-climber who is at heart a lost boy struggling to find his place in a cutthroat world. And at the edges of their friendship is Junho, whose ambitions have taken him to new heights in the university's most prestigious social club, called "the circle," and yet who guards a dangerous secret that is tied to his status. Wuertz explores the relationships that bind these students to each other, as well as the private anxieties and desires that drive them to succeed" --
This was quite the up and down read for me. And I'm not speaking about my emotions, I'm speaking about the ups and downs of whether I was going to continue reading. The book starts off with promise, with a protest from some textile workers in a South Korean factory. Then it drags on about these two guys, who at some point do have a connection to the story. Every time I would decide to just read one more chapter before I gave up, the story would swing back around to my favorite character, and become interesting again. In other words, I loved the story of Namin, and pretty much was bored with all the rest of the parts. To be fair, I have a known affliction with books about twenty-somethings who are trying to "find themselves" in the world, so this could weigh heavily on why I didn't enjoy many parts not related to Namin (who was trying to claw her way out of poverty for her family). There was nothing wrong with the writing, although I wouldn't hang any literary awards on it, and if I had been more engaged in all the characters, I think the plot would have moved along more quickly. I was also hoping to glean a bit more knowledge about South Korea in the 70's, but that didn't really happen.
All in all, I'm giving this 3 stars. The Namin parts were a solid 4 stars, and the rest was 2 stars. Not a horrible book, but if you don't engage with the characters from the first few chapters, it may not be worth your while to finish.
Windy City Blues
February 28, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy ebook
Publisher via Penguin First to Read
In the middle of the twentieth century, the music of the Mississippi Delta arrived in Chicago, drawing the attention of entrepreneurs like the Chess brothers. Their label, Chess Records, helped shape that music into the Chicago Blues, the soundtrack for a transformative era in American History.
But, for Leeba Groski, Chess Records was just where she worked...
Leeba doesn't exactly fit in, but her passion for music and her talented piano playing captures the attention of her neighbor, Leonard Chess, who offers her a job at his new record company. What begins as answering phones and filing becomes much more as Leeba comes into her own as a songwriter and befriends performers like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. But she also finds love with a black blues guitarist named Red Dupree.
With their relationship unwelcome in segregated Chicago and shunned by Leeba's Orthodox Jewish family, she and Red soon find themselves in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and they discover that, in times of struggle, music can bring people together.
Ms. Rosen has done it again! I really enjoyed her previous work White Collar Girl, about a young woman in the newspaper business. With Windy City Blues, the reader gets to experience the music business in Chicago from right after WWII up through the civil rights movement. I loved the main protagonist Leeba, who works for one of the record labels, and is also a songwriter trying hard to make it after work hours. The other story with Leeba is that she is also in love with a black man. This sets up a great side plot regarding race tolerance, particularly with her family and the sentiments of the time. The struggle for all the blues musicians of this time was made so very real, and I thought the integration of the fictional characters and real history making singers (such as Chuck Berry and Elvis) was seamlessly written. The surrounding characters were all well drawn, and I felt the emotions springing off the page. I learned a lot about this time during music history, but because it's a work of fiction, it was entertaining as well as factual.
They always say the music biz is a tough one, but this book drives home that point so very well. Great characters, a well formed plot, good pacing, and good writing make this a must read, particularly if you are interested in the music business during this time period. I can't wait to see what Rosen comes up with next!
I was given access to this book via Penguin's First to Read program. As always, my opinions are my own.
The Nearness of You
Amanda Eyre Ward
February 21, 2017
Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.
Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selections, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.
Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of reading The Same Sky by this author. I was a big fan of that book (see my review here), so was looking forward to another novel by this author. This one is another gem that I highly recommend. Ms. Ward has a way with characters that makes them leap off the page and you feel like you are immersed in their lives. Even though a couple of these characters were not even that likeable to me, the way they were written still had me feeling emotions and relating to their troubles. This book had me hooked following the lives of these characters. Perhaps because I've been involved in the adoption process, although not using a surrogate, I could relate so much to Suzette and her intense need to protect her child, even without that biological bond. There is even an interesting twist at the end that you can kind of see coming if you are paying close attention.
Despite the end being a bit too tidy and quickly wrapped up, this is definitely another winner from Amanda Eyre Ward. You will love these well written characters.
The Mother's Promise
February 21, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
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.
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.
Min Jin Lee
Grand Central Publishing
February 7, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy
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.
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.
February 7, 2017
Advanced Reader Copy ebook
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.
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.