NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, May 31, 2013

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

5.0 out of 5 stars - Am I my brother's keeper?

This novel was brilliant, insightful, bitingly truthful, and held me rapt from the moment I opened the book to its first page. I've read several of Shriver's other books and loved them all -- each takes a central theme and then expounds on it in ways that the reader can't anticipate. You don't read a Shriver novel and walk away unchanged. The central question: how severe is the obesity epidemic and what can a single person do to change an outcome for one she loves?

In this story, Shriver handles the increasingly sensitive issue of weight. In fact, the situation is about how a younger sister deals with an obese older brother. Pandora is married to Fletcher and has two two teenaged stepchildren when she receives a call that ends with her invitation to her brother, Edison, to come to Iowa for a visit. A struggling jazz pianist, Edison arrives weighing over 350 pounds and has changed into someone that his sister doesn't recognize. During the visit, it becomes clear that Edison's problems have both led to and resulted from his massive weight gain. What can an adoring younger sister do but try to fix him, right?

Without spoilers, I will say that Pandora's decision and what happens next in the book will have the reader both cheering and sighing. A masterpiece of invention, Baby Monotonous -- the product made by a company that Pandora started and that has made her a well known and wealthy entrepreneur, is such an original idea that I hope this item is actually being made and is protected or patented!

The novel is about love in its many guises and the responsibility that a single person has to help another, to ensure their happiness and success, and to help someone change IF they can. How responsible are we for fixing the problems and issues of our siblings and how far must we go to help those who won't help themselves. If obesity is a form of slow suicide, it surely requires treatment other than changing perspectives or habits about food, eating, and diets. Can a sister save a brother? And what will it cost her?

It wasn't until after I finished this book and was raving about it online that I discovered that the author based this novel on her own brother who died from complications of obesity.
( We are bombarded by media that indicates a definite change in the size and weight of humans -- how BIG is this problem and what can be done about it. Most importantly, how can it be prevented? There are no shortcuts to losing weight and it is much easier to put on than to take off. As Shriver says, a person is much more than how much they weigh, but society looks askance at the obese in a judgment that doesn't wholly believe that the individual is not completely responsible for becoming that way.

I highly recommend this book. Shriver is an incredible writer and has an acerbic wit combined with intelligent observation that will leave the reader thinking about these characters long after the final page is turned. Pandora, Edison, Fletcher...all the characters come alive and are so believable that you feel you actually know them. I was rooting for them all and holding my breath for a "big save"...

Review copy from Amazon Vine

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lie Still by Julia Heaberlin

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Secrets and lies...

Pregnant Emily and her husband Mike move from New York because he is taking the job of Police Chief in Clairmont, Texas. Unfortunately, Emily is carrying more than a baby with her -- she is a woman with many secrets, a hidden past -- and she has not shared these with her husband.

Upon arrival in their new town, Emily is invited to a gathering of Clairmont's most wealthy matrons and is introduced to Caroline Warwick, the apparent power in this group of women. Caroline has secrets of her own and Clairmont's multimillion dollar mansions hide a multitude of sins committed by those pampered ladies in this odd sorority.

Soon Emily is caught up a maelstrom as her husband hunts for a murderer even as her own past catches up with her.

Interesting and quirky characters make this a fun and fast read. Grab it for your commute or summer summer vacation!

Goodreads first reads giveaway ARC.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

4.0 out of 5 stars


Emily steps out of her life and marriage -- one day she gets on a train with money from her cleaned out bank account and a few clothes in a holdall. She leaves her wedding ring in a restroom on her way to a life that she reinvents day by day. The reader gets small hints that a tragedy has occurred which has propelled her to a strange city, a run down shared flophouse, and a new job. Without revealing any of her past, Emily, now Cat, tries to make new friends but gets caught up in her hysteria to leave memories buried thinking that everyone will be better off with her gone.

The narrative shifts in voice and time as the reader is given glimpses into Cat's family and the events that have led up to her choice to flee rather than to deal with her life. Although the reader might not really like Cat or understand the (bad!!) decisions she makes at every turn, empathy comes.

A delicious twist at the end that I didn't really see coming! It was quite entertaining and a very quick, enjoyable read. Will be recommending!

Thank you to NetGalley and Kirk Parolles for the ARC.

He's Gone by Deb Caletti

4.0 out of 5 stars "People usually bring their same self wherever they go."

Couldn't put it down!

Dani and Ian had an affair that destroyed both of their marriages. Moving on together is challenging, but they believe they have found in each other a soulmate and that life can finally move on away from the misery in their old situations. They can be happy now that they have what they want. Dani's ex-husband used physical violence to control her and she feels rescued by intelligent, articulate and tender Ian. Ian's former wife lives in the expensive house with his two daughters and alternatively lures and punishes him with their former suburban life -- she got the spoils and the friends. Nevertheless, Dani and Ian finally can appear in public and they eventually marry and move to a houseboat on a beautiful lake where they can acknowledge that they have gone through hell to be together and build what they swore they wanted.

One morning, after a late night party where Dani drank too much, she awakens alone in bed. Her feet are muddy and she doesn't remember too many details of the evening. It isn't until later in the day that she realizes that Ian is gone. He's not picking up coffee or working or running an errand. His phone goes straight to voice mail. The police arrive and ask her questions she can't answer. Where has Ian gone? His car is still parked near the dock. His clothes, computer, razor - nothing is missing. In the course of searching for a husband that may be missing by choice, Dani comes to some shocking realizations and some very painful truths about herself and those she loves.

This is a suspenseful story with a mystery but more a very engrossing psychological study of family, marriage, and relationships. The characters were believable and fragile in their honesty. The self analysis Dani works through is a window into the soul of anyone who has tried to understand the nature of love in all its forms. How can we stop repeating the patterns of thought and behavior that take us down the same wrong path again and again.

I loved this book and recommend it to readers who like novels dealing with love, secrets and the search for answers to very difficult questions.

ARC compliments of Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Interesting novel about a woman who has a Type A personality, who is a Harvard Business School graduate and who works 80 plus hours a week as a high powered human resources manager who has an automobile accident on her way to work one morning and wakes up with a neurological dysfunction known as Left Neglect.

Unable to see the left side of the world or use the left side of her body, Sarah has to slow down and learn to appreciate her life and her family in a whole new light. It was a bit too sappy for me, and too neatly tied up at the end, nevertheless was a reminder that even though a horrible accident is survivable, the rehabilitation and restoration to the level of function one had before is not always possible or may take a very very long time.

I never really connected with the main character in this novel - Sarah -- and agree with others that her point of view got tiresome with the extreme level of self-absorption she exhibited. It was a good story to educate others about this syndrome that is not only suffered by victims of accidents, but also by those with strokes or other brain injuries.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown

4.0 out 5 stars - "The power of the human spirit to endure any challenge, no matter how daunting."

Despite my reservations, because of all the hype for it, I enjoyed this 4th novel in the Robert Langdon series. It was a fast paced adventure with symbolist Langdon on the hunt for a 'plague' of some sort that was purportedly hidden in an mysterious underground lagoon by a brilliant genetic engineer and scientist. Bertrand Zobrist represented the epitome of the Transhumanist movement and put his belief into action to attempt to use technology and intellect to create better humans and end the possibility of human extinction because of overpopulation. Though some have panned the book because of the writing style and Brown's tendency for repetition and verbosity on obscure fact points, the novel was to me, pure and fun entertainment. Not only did I get a fantastic lesson in art history and a great 'tour' through Florence, Italy and many other wonderful wonders of the world, I learned a great deal about Dante's Inferno.

Suspend any disbelief and just go along with the ride. I think most readers will enjoy the book and be prompted to do a little investigating and research on their own! I can't wait to see the illustrated hardcover version of this novel.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Is this Tomorrow

4.0 out of 5 stars - "When someone disappears, what happens to the people who are left behind?"

This was a novel that I read and savored slowly, turning the pages was like peeling back an onion as the story unfolded and the characters developed. It is 1956 and Ava Lark is different. She works outside the home and is the only divorced, Jewish single mother in the quiet Boston suburb where they have moved to start a new life. Lewis, 12 years old, doesn't understand why his father has not come to claim or visit him, but he finds friendship with two other children on the block whose father has died. Jimmy and Rose, along with Lewis, roam free and are constant companions until the day that Jimmy goes missing.

The police and the suspicious neighbors question Ava and search diligently for Jimmy until they finally give up, believing he has run away, been kidnapped, murdered, had an clues were ever found. Lewis feels guilty because he was supposed to meet Jimmy the day he disappeared and did not show up. Rose moves away with her devastated mom. Ava is marginalized by her connection to the family and because she is so different from the other women in the neighborhood so she's left without friends or solace as her son retreats further from her in his own loneliness and guilt.

Lewis leaves home as he searches for a connection that will restore him to the person he was before Jimmy disappeared and for some sort of absolution. Ava, left on her own again, finds fulfillment in a surprising way.

I thought the tone of this novel was sad and it was touching and beautiful in a way that left me a little bit depressed. Even when the mystery of Jimmy's disappearance is solved, the happy ending I so wanted for them all was not assured.

Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin books for the ebook to review.

Monday, May 13, 2013

NetGalley Badge

I love to read advance copies of upcoming books and write reviews of them. Happy reading!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

5 stars! The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

5.0 out of 5 stars - "There is no greater sorrow than to recall our time of joy in wretchedness." (~Dante)

When I closed this book after being glued to the pages for hours, I was struck by many emotions -- chief among them -- satisfaction. It has been quite awhile since I've read a novel that touched me on so many levels. Simply, it is an enthralling tale of enduring love, family bonds, war's devastation, of inexplicable loss, and unending bereavement. It drew me in immediately and never let go. Put this one on your BUY list at publication: July, 2013!

The noble Rosati family lives in quiet luxury in a lovely villa south of Florence in 1943. War is raging throughout Europe and the Germans occupying the area initially come to their door seeking Etruscan artifacts from an ancient burial ground on Rosati land to send out of the country, demanding allegiance from the Italians, and eventually commandeering their property. What was once an idyllic life becomes a nightmare and their villa a prison as little by little the family is shattered.

Flash to 1955 and witness a cold blooded murder of the Rosati's daughter-in-law, Francesca, who had suffered horrendously at the hands of the Germans as they were fleeing Italy ahead of the Allies in 1944. The detective assigned to the investigation for the Florence Police Department is Serafina Bettini. She has unspeakable memories of the war and the scars to prove her own involvement and painful history.

Suspenseful and beautifully written, the story is both mystery and historical fashion blended into a book that will have the reader thinking about it long after the ending. I'm afraid I can't do the review justice or describe all the reasons explaining how much I loved it, but I'll be recommending it to everyone I know!

Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday Publishing for the ebook to review.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Seduction: A Novel of Suspense by MJ Rose

4.0 out of 5 stars - "There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees." (Victor Hugo)

This is a novel that inspired the researcher in me! I am a huge fan of author Victor Hugo so I was quite curious when reading the summary of the plot and wanted to see how he fit into this story of reincarnation and mythology. The book blends fact and fiction smoothly and the reader learns of Hugo's fascination with seances and his obsession with the spirit world.

This is the second novel (follows The Book of Lost Fragrances) featuring Jac L'Etoile, a mythologist, who travels to Jersey, Channel Islands, Great Britain, to investigate sites that are thought to be from the time of the Celtic Druids. Despite her intentions, she is drawn into another mystery by an old acquaintance, Theo Gaspard, who is desperate to uncover information about Hugo's conversations with the spirits he claims visited him during the over 100 seances held at the house he lived in during his exile from his beloved Paris. The seances were Hugo's grieving attempts to contact his beloved daughter who had drowned, but Gaspard's grandfather believed Hugo had communed with the Shadow of the Sepulcher (Lucifer?) and wanted to find any manuscripts that detailed this. Theo, whose family still lives on the island, seems haunted and he is a very troubled soul. Jac agrees to accompany him on his search through the secret caves that may hold the answers.

The narrative shifts back and forth in time and place from the 1850s to present day but is mostly set in Jersey. Jac, who doesn't believe in reincarnation, finds again that she has the ability to remember because scent is a trigger for her to experience certain happenings that seem to be from past lives. Not her own previous lives, but of those who lived there in ancient times.

I enjoyed the blend of fact and fiction that made this a very interesting reading experience. I loved the descriptions of the island and all of the other details about the ruins, the caves, and fragrances. It may seem complicated as there are quite a few plot lines coming together, but it meshes quite satisfactorily in the end.

Jac is an unusual character and I think it best if you read the previous book before this one so that her history is known; she has had a very troubled life and is very sensitive and it would help the reader understand her abilities a bit better. I hope there is another book featuring her.

I would recommend this book to fans of mysteries, and anyone interested in the subjects of reincarnation, Druid activity, and Victor Hugo. I really enjoy historical fiction and, though I don't believe in reincarnation or the ability to commune with the dead, the topic was fascinating.

ARC from publisher Simon and Schuster and Netgalley.

Friday, May 3, 2013

She Matters: A Life in Friendships

3.o out of 5 stars - This memoir about female friendships was not exactly what I had expected, it was the author describing the ups and downs with her...more 

Recent Reads with Ratings - see Goodreads for complete details!

The Laws of Gravity

3.0 out of 5 stars - The law cannot compel altruism.

This novel centers on a legal question: can someone be forced to give cord blood (or other body parts)

Secret Lives

2.0 out of 5 stars -- I have read and enjoyed a couple of Diane Chamberlain's more recent novels: THE LIES WE TOLD and THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

4.0 out of 5 stars - I am usually not a fan of memoirs, but this was a very interesting account of the author's descent into madness. Because she is a

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

3.0 out of 5 stars -Not what I was expecting but it was a quick, easy read. This book was selected by my group for the teen book club this month. I se 

Reconstructing Amelia

4.0 out of 5 stars - No matter what she might think, a mother doesn't really "know" everything about her teenaged daughter.

Amelia Baron, aged 15, seem 

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

4.0 out of 5 stars - I loved this memoir of a midwife in London's East End circa 1950s. Jennifer Worth worked and lived with nuns at Nonnatus House. R..

A Mother's Trial

True crime -- Very interesting, deals with a woman who was accused of murdering her adopted Korean daughter with sodium bicarbonate put into the formu

Cut & Run

3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and fast...

This is the third novel in the Rachel Scott adventure series that I have read -- previous titles are Burn.

Six Years

3.0 out of 5 stars -- You know what you're going to get when you select a book by Harlan Coben. Reading his novels is like eating comfort food. The pl

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)

I need to think about this book for awhile before I can even try to give a star rating or any review of it. Possibly for as long as it took me to read

The Shell Seekers

4.0 out of 5 stars - Beautiful story of a family told in alternating viewpoints over a couple of generations. The novel's main character, Penelope, re


3.0 out of 5 stars - “Memory is elusive because it is spread across so much of the brain…Stab eight pins into it [the brain]. Draw lines between them

The Bone Yard (Body Farm, #6)

3.0 out of 5 stars - this most recent of the Bill Brockton forensic anthropology novels takes the reader to Florida and long ago abuse and murder invo

Born in Death (In Death, #23)

3.0 out of 5 stars -- You know what you get when you read one of these in the Eve Dallas series. This was #23 and I still really enjoy the characters


4.0 out of 5 stars - "We make so many right decisions in life, but it is the wrong ones that can never be forgiven."

You might think you have already r...more