NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

3.0 out of 5 stars - Dark and disturbing...

This unusual psychological drama takes place over the course of a single Christmas day as the increasingly unreliable narrator, Holly, is set to prepare a dinner for guests that end up unable to come for the feast due to a severe winter storm that blankets the Michigan area in a huge amount of snow. Holly is not alone at home, however -- her adopted 15-year-old daughter, Tatiana, is asleep when husband and father, Eric, leaves for the airport to pick up his parents before the storm hits. The reader immediately knows that something is not quite right about Holly when the phrase: "Something had followed them home from Russia," is repeated so often in her thoughts as to become more annoying than chilling. A bit later, it comes clear that something is also a bit off with Tatiana - a beautiful "Jet Black Rapunzel" whom Holly and Eric had brought back and adopted from Pokrovka Orphanage #2 in Siberia.

The twisting tale has flashbacks that reference Holly's medical issues and childhood and to her and Eric's visits to Russia during the adoption process. She's quite quickly painted as being a bit unstable with a huge propensity for denial. Tatiana is particularly difficult throughout the day as Holly continues to prepare the meal, and secrets that Holly has locked away inside her winter mind start to affect and disorder thoughts and behavior. Just what happened at the orphanage 13 years ago -- and exactly what is going on there in the cozy house between mother and daughter on this Christmas day?

I found the ending both somewhat predictable and also surprising. The writing is a cross between prose and poetry and I read the book in a matter of a couple of hours but had to go back and reread several sections just to make sure I "got" it all. There are some unresolved issues, however, but those dangling ends probably can best be left to the reader's imagination. Enjoy!

I selected this book because I had read and enjoyed two of this author's other novels: The Raising: A Novel and In a Perfect World: A Novel.

Amazon Vine ARC

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

4.0 out of 5 stars - "Life was a series of obstacles that just had to be negotiated, possibly through sheer act of will."

Jess is a single mom to an unusual pair of children: Goth Nicky and Geeky Tanzie. After her depressed husband left to get himself together, she takes whatever jobs she can find to make ends meet but still is falling behind. A chance encounter with Ed Nicholls, co-owner of a software development company, and a man about to be indicted for insider trading, turns her busy life around -- but not in the way anyone expected.

This is the kind of novel that you know in advance is going to have a happy ending -- but even so, you don't mind getting there after all. Despite its predictability and saccharine conclusion, the story provides laughs, sighs, and the type of insights that you get with the wisdom of experience. Mistakes made and lessons learned. Definitely it is chick lit, with a degree of sentimentality and a huge measure of romance, but I enjoyed the book anyway!

Thank you to NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Viking for the ebook ARC to review.

Innocence by Dean Koontz

2.5 out of 5 stars - "Depart, impious one, depart, accursed one, depart with all your deceits."

Addison Goodheart is said to be an abomination who lives alone beneath the city, hidden in an old bomb shelter. He spends his days quietly down under while roaming the uptop world at night -- to gather supplies, food, thrift store clothing. One night, while exploring the library, he meets a girl who appears to be just as broken and damaged as he is. Her name is Gwyneth and they instantly become friends. (Oh wait, it was love at first sight.) After establishing some ground rules - she is not to look at him and he is not to try to touch her - they embark on a series of missions during a winter snowstorm that has nearly shut down the city. These activities require that Addison trust Gwyneth as their purpose becomes more clear.

First, I must say that I have read almost every Koontz novel ever written, and there are many I really enjoyed, especially his earliest ones. I have noticed, however, that Koontz tends to write as if he wants to impress the reader with his vocabulary and long detailed descriptions of scenery, weather, etc. None of which add to the story or advance the plot. The narrative in Addison's point of view goes back and forth in time (painfully, tediously) as the reader slowly gets more details about him and his life. The meandering doesn't create suspense, just irritation. When (most) all is finally revealed and the whole point of the story becomes known, the denouement is totally unexpected and not necessarily in the good way of a thriller.

During the course of the story, the reader is treated to what I imagine are the author's own viewpoints on religion, humanity, the nature of evil, and the nature of innocence or purity.
I'm sure a book club could pick up on any of these themes and have quite a discussion if the members are inclined to the debates.

I was disappointed by the turn taken and the ultimate conclusion to yet another TEOTWAWKI novel.

I received this book as an ARC in a LibraryThing early reviewers giveaway.

Gemini by Carol Cassela

4.0 out of 5 stars - Medical drama, mystery and love story...

Dr. Charlotte Reese, an intensivist, is on duty at Beacon Hospital near Puget Sound when an unidentified woman is admitted to the ICU -- the victim of a vehicular hit and run. Severely injured and unresponsive, the Jane Doe begins to consume Charlotte's thoughts and life. Who is this woman and why has no one reported her missing? Since there is no family to give medical directive, the hospital executives and legal team step in to assume responsibility. Meanwhile, in her personal life, Charlotte, is conflicted over her relationship with Eric as it seems to be going nowhere.

Flashback to a small town near Olympic National Park where Raney, 13 years old and living with her grandfather, meets Bo, a twelve year old boy who is visiting for the summer. The shift in perspective and time was disconcerting until this second story's connection became obvious.

Throughout the rest of the narrative, this changing point of view provided the backstory that ultimately connects to the present day and current situation with all the characters. The conclusion is predictable and mostly satisfying though I found it ultimately quite heartbreaking.

I have read Cassella's two previous books (Oxygen and Healer) and was so excited to see a new one. The writing is beautiful and a smooth blend of scientific fact, philosophy, religious speculation, discussion of ethical issues, and an exploration of love in its many forms. The female characters are multidimensional and believable. I would have preferred more medical focus and a more linear tale by a single narrator, but the construction of the story does work when it converges. The author provides many subjects for discussion and debate so it would be a great choice for a book club.

This book was an ARC and reviewed for Amazon Vine.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Book of Someday by Dianne Dixon

4.0 out of 5 stars "Some people are defined by what they're looking for. Others by what they're hiding."
Typically I don't care for a book with an ambiguous ending; I feel frustrated that there is no conclusion and no logical completion of a story arc. In the case of this book, however, I found it to be perfect.

Three women, seemingly unconnected, are searching for a sense of love and belonging. Their poignant stories of longing and a sense of "aloneness" streams across their collective consciousness. The narrative is told in the alternating viewpoints of Olivia (Livvi), Micah, and AnnaLee from 1986 to present day. The main theme of the book is love -- in all its forms -- the love that exists (or doesn't) between family members, between a man and a woman, and between mother and child. Throughout the perspectives of each is this sense of foreboding as the reader feels that there is a sinister hidden truth in their stories that will propel the women to a cataclysmic revelation.

Livvi is a writer who felt unloved and unwanted by her father and stepmother and who finally meets the man who can give her everything she's missed -- or can he? Micah, a famous photographer, is dealing with a death sentence in the face of a cancer diagnosis but her internal demons ask if she should bother to try to save herself because of a horrendous crime she committed years ago. AnnaLee, who was forced to give up her dreams when a horrific accident destroyed her ability to dance, is married to a man who has intellect but no courage -- can she help him be the man he needs to be to save her and their child? Each story is heartbreaking in its earnestness and each woman feels the pain of the circumstances that ultimately bring them together in a fascinating tale of sorrow and loss. The reader is drawn to each woman in this deftly drawn tale where there are more questions than answers. Why and how are they affected by the photograph of the woman in the silver dress and the pearl-button shoes?

I loved the story. It is a very fast-paced novel with characters that tug at heartstrings without feeling melodramatic or manipulated. This novel would provide great topics for a book club discussion and I recommend it!

Thank you to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Landmark for the e-book ARC to review.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Love Story with Murders by Harry Bingham

3.0 out of 5 stars - This is the second novel in the series following "Talking to the Dead" featuring protagonist Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths. I didn't enjoy this as much as the first book - the pace was slower and the overall plot of the story was a bit confusing and less interesting to me.

The setting is Wales, and it's very cold when Fi and her partner receive a call to pick up some strange "rubbish" at the end of a long day. What they find is a leg with a high heel on it, packaged and frozen in the garage chest freezer of a recently deceased old woman. Shortly after, body parts of another person are found scattered throughout the area - but this one's parts are male. Two murders -- both involving dismemberment -- are they related? The case takes Fiona and her boss Inspector Watkins off on several other tangents including illegal arms dealing. The reader needs to pay close attention to all the details as the investigation probes many angles and Fiona experiences several harrowing incidents, including an attempt on her life.

Still unsolved is the central mystery -- who is Fiona Griffiths and where did she come from? She suffers from a rare mental disease but is getting better. But the book still leaves a lot of loose ends and her character is not as fully developed as she seems to be a cross of several other memorable "off" characters in recent crime fiction. The people around her and with whom she is involved don't really get much fleshing out and seem one-dimensional: the loving boyfriend, the boss who likes her, the dad with a gangster-like past.

Not sure I'll move on to another book in the series, but definitely Fiona is a complex character with lots of room to grow.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell for the ebook ARC to review.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham

4 out of 5 stars - Trust reason, not feelings...

This novel, the first in a series, introduces an unusual protagonist Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths. She's a rookie on assignment in South Wales when a prostitute and her 6-year-old daughter are found dead in a squat there. What's unusual about the case is that a debit card belonging to a millionaire who died in a plane crash is found in the squalor. In an interesting twist, Fiona begins to feel that this murder is related to an embezzlement investigation she is concurrently working on.
Drawn especially to the dead child, Fi goes out on a limb seeking answers for the victims and ultimately for herself. For, you see, she suffers from a very rare psychiatric condition that she and others refer to as her two years of "breakdown."

I found this to be a very fast-paced and compelling read. I am enjoying getting to know Fi and her family and colleagues. There's a bit of a surprise at the end that didn't really ring true (would parents really keep that sort of secret from a traumatized child who had a breakdown like that?), but other than that I find the portrayals intriguing and interesting.

I'm off to start book two in the series!
(Library Book)

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Supreme Macaroni Company

3.0 out of 5 stars Life, love and family...Italian style!, January 3, 2014

This third book in the series, after Very Valentine: A Novel and Brava, Valentine: A Novel, is definitely not a stand-alone so you will most certainly need to have read those others prior to starting it to get the full scope of the trilogy. This one was not as happy and fun for me, it didn't create the same mood and feelings that the previous books had. In fact, it was very sad. I had enjoyed the other books because of the connection they provided to my own memories of family and food and work. I always felt that Trigiani had the uncanny ability to make me taste the food, see the sights, smell the scents, and touch the fabric of the materials used in creation of the shoes. I truly reveled in the details of the wonderfully chaotic and mostly happy life led by Valentine Roncalli and her large Italian clan. I wish this had ended differently.

Overall, I enjoyed the series despite not ever really liking the main character, Valentine Roncalli, since most of the time I just wanted to shake her and tell her to stop being so self-centered and single-minded. I eventually developed some empathy for her and grew to admire her struggles to save the Angelini Shoe Company and continue the family legacy.

This series is one any fan of Trigiani's work won't want to miss. It was a sentimental and moving story of a very interesting family business and their interwoven lives.

Amazon Vine ARC

Happy 2014!

4.0 out of 5 stars -- It amazes me how I ended up liking this series even though I can't honestly say that I really like the character of Valentine Roncalli! Most of the time I want to shake her, but I usually end up empathizing with her struggles and challenges. This series continues where the first book left off as Valentine's grandmother and mentor in the shoe company marries her love and moves to Italy leaving Valentine her business, her building, and the chance to make Angelini Shoes grow and prosper. The trouble starts when dear Gram designates Alfred, Valentine's older know-it-all brother, as Valentine's partner in the business. They've never gotten along -- he even tried to get Gram to sell the building, but there they are left, stuck trying to turn a profit together in a bad economy.

The other difficulty is that Valentine has met a man -- and since she has some trust issues, she can't commit to him because she has come to believe that men can't be faithful.

Meanwhile there's a lot of fun in this huge Italian family with their squabbles and foibles -- some truly memorable characters.

I loved the descriptions of the food, the scenery, and the details about making shoes. I do have a minor complaint -- I don't speak Italian and it irritates me when I have to stop to look up words in the online translator! And yes, I have to do that because I want to know, not guess.

I'm off to start the last in the series! Enjoy!

(Library Hardcover)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

3.0 out of 5 stars - "Anything less than a fight for endurance is a refusal of the great covenant of life."

I started out really liking this book! Set in the early 1800s, the story focuses on Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a self-made wealthy entrepreneur who is born in and lives on a huge estate in Philadelphia, PA. To me, these first chapters were extremely absorbing and fast paced as the reader hears how Henry made his fortune and about his household. Alma's parents were not exactly gushing over their little newborn girl, but during her young years they both nurtured her development of a consuming passion for knowledge and she was allowed access to every part of the activities around the estate.

Midway through, the book fell flat, especially when circumstances call Alma to travel to Tahiti. The rambling about her time there, the long treatises on religion, mysticism, spiritual, supernatural, etc., just didn't absorb me and I didn't really find it interesting. Then there was the really tedious part about her thesis writing (think: Darwin)... I was not sure if I was reading a novel or a textbook at some points. I just wanted Alma's story, not a professional scientific paper! There are huge segments of the book devoted to botanical detail as well.

The story ends with Alma in Holland as an elderly scholar, The Curator of Mosses (her passion).

Overall, the story was interesting, but I really felt like I was getting a lot of lectures in some parts of it. Alma was a very interesting character with a quite unusual life for the time period. She certainly was not a typical female (some of those scenes in the binding closet got really old hearing about). The supporting cast of characters provided not much more than short term foils for Alma as she pursues her dreams and passions but never gets the one thing she really wanted == love of a man. She also falls a bit short in getting the academic respect she so craves, hesitating to publish her thesis, and living in relative obscurity despite her vast knowledge.

Overall, the book had some great writing. The research on the science was very obviously deep and well done. I think a large part of it could be excised without damaging the main story, but I'd recommend it to a serious book club who would love to discuss many of the circumstances that Alma faces.

Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for the ebook ARC to review.