Mimi Malloy, At Last: A Novel by Julia MacDonnell

Mimi Malloy, At Last!_COVER

  • Title:  Mimi Malloy, At Last
  • Author:  Julia MacDonnell
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  April 2014 – Picador
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Meet Mimi Malloy: A daughter of the Great Depression, Mimi was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six beautiful daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi, a divorcée, is unexpectedly retired. But she takes solace in the comforts of her new life: her apartment in the heart of Quincy, the occasional True Blue cigarette, and evenings with Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a highball in her hand.
Yet her phone is arguably the busiest in greater Boston—it rings “Day In, Day Out,” as Ol’ Blue Eyes would say. Her surviving sisters love to gab about their girlhood, while her eldest, Cassandra, calls every morning to preach the gospel of assisted living. And when an MRI reveals that Mimi’s brain is filled with black spots—areas of atrophy, her doctor says—it looks like that’s exactly where she’s headed, to spend her days in “a storage facility for unwanted antiques.”
Mimi knows her mind is (more or less) as sharp as ever, and she won’t go down without a fight. As she prepares to take her stand, she stumbles upon an old pendant of her mother’s and, slowly, her memory starts to return—specifically, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood, a sister who was sent away to Ireland, and the wicked stepmother she swore to forget.

My take:  Mimi Malloy’s daughters are so annoyed that she refuses to take care of herself despite her doctor’s warnings of stroke and certain death. She also will not leave her low-income apartment for a beautiful new senior home. She likes her independence and familiar surroundings, thank you very much.

When Mimi’s sister’s young grandson works on a genealogy project for school Mimi is asked to fill out a family history. She’s not one to live in the past so this is about the last thing she wants to do. After a little pestering she does as asked and that’s when she starts being visited by sisters and others who’ve passed. It’s as if they are leading her to discover details of their early lives that she remembers quite differently from the others.

Julia MacDonnell’s characters seemed so familiar to me. It was like watching and listening to my mother and her sisters gab at reunions when I was a young girl. Were the details the same? No. But the characteristics and era were. They grew up in tough times and had responsibilities way beyond their years. When someone “fell” she tried her best to get back up and move on. As Mimi’s daughters listen to their aunts and mother they realize they didn’t know them as well as they thought.

There’s so much more to the novel. The decisions made during tough times changed lives and are remembered quite differently by Mimi, her sisters, and her daughters. Their acceptance of the various perspectives lead to understanding on a new level.

I really liked this novel of family dynamics and perseverance and will recommend it to family and friends next time we’re together – there’s a reunion this summer!

Review/Giveaway: Just Destiny by Theresa Rizzo

Just Destiny (April 26)

  • Title:  Just Destiny
  • Author:  Theresa Rizzo
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  March 2014 – Smashwords
  • Source:  Author

Synopsis:  What would you do if your whole world fell apart? Jenny Harrison made some poor choices in the past, but marrying Gabe was the best thing she’d ever done. They had the perfect marriage, until a tragic accident leaves Gabe brain dead and her world in ruins. Devastated by grief, she decides to preserve the best of their love by conceiving his child, but Gabe’s family is adamantly opposed, even willing to chance exposing long-held family secrets to stop her. Caught in a web of twisted motives and contentious legal issues, Jenny turns to best friend and attorney, Steve Grant. Steve wants to help Jenny but he has reservations of his own. When something so private and simple turns public and complicated, will Jenny relent? What is Steve willing to sacrifice to help Jenny?

My take:  Theresa Rizzo’s novel is an emotional tale that made me ask myself “what would I do?” or “would I do that?”. For that reason I think  Just Destiny would be a good book group choice. Discussion questions are provided at the end of the book.

Jenny is caught in an ethical and, some might say, moral dilemma. She faces tough choices throughout the months following her beloved husband’s death. It’s bad enough she has to learn to live without Gabe but then to have people in her life make things even harder is disheartening.

Just Destiny’s layers are revealed at a good pace. Filled with characters that are believable (and many are flawed) it certainly held my interest as I wondered what would happen next in Jenny’s tumultuous  life. This book has romance, suspense, and courtroom drama so if those fit your preferred genres you’ll want to read Just Destiny.  I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

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About the author:

Theresa Rizzo is an award-winning author who writes emotional stories that explore the complexity of relationships and Theresa_2013_0279families through real-life trials. 

Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, she currently lives outside of Boulder, Colorado with her husband of thirty years. She’s raised four wonderful children who are now scattered across the country. Theresa’s debut book, He Belongs to Me was a finalist in the General Fiction Category of The 2013 USA Best Book Awards!  Her second book, Just Destiny, was released March 31, 2014. Find Theresa on the web at www.theresarizzo.com, or connect with her on Facebooktwitter or Goodreads. Purchase Just Destiny at Amazon,  Barnes, NobleiBookstore & Smashwords.

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Giveaway

Theresa Rizzo has generously provided a digital copy of Just Destiny for one lucky reader.

Please click here and fill out the form.

Giveaway has closed

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

trp

  • Title:  The Rosie Project
  • Author:  Graeme Simsion
  • Narrator:  Dan O’Grady
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  October 2013 – Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. 

Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.  (publisher)

My brief take:  The Rosie Project is Graeme Simsion’s charming novel about a socially awkward professor on the search for the perfect wife. When he meets Rosie he quickly determines she’ll not be a candidate for the Wife Project. These two people seem about as far apart on the compatible scale as two people could be so they don’t even think about a romantic involvement. That made their story even more enjoyable. It’s a bit of a comedy of errors at times that had me laughing as I listened. To that point – I’m glad I listened to the audiobook. Dan O’Grady did a great job voicing the various characters. His narration added to my enjoyment of the novel. Recommended.

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay

that part was true

  • Title:  That Part Was True: A Novel
  • Author:  Deborah McKinlay
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  February 2014 – Grand Central Publishing
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson’s colorful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love-life and Eve’s tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris–a meeting that Eve fears can never happen.

My take:  Early on in my reading of this slim novel I wondered where it all was going and how would it end. I mention that because I found the end to be quite satisfying even though it was rather unexpected.

Being in the same age group (50ish) I could relate a bit to both Jack and Eve. That made the reading all the more enjoyable. Jack is grappling with why he can’t get a relationship right. Eve is dealing with her deep shyness (and something bordering on agoraphobia) that has shown itself in public recently leading to panic attacks.

I loved how the two counseled each other as they discussed cooking in their brief letters. I smiled often while reading the letters.

I’m not sure what more to reveal except to say that I’m glad I read That Part Was True. For readers who enjoy recipes included in novels like this, there are a few.

Audiobook: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

ordinary grace (audio)

  • Title:  Ordinary Grace (audiobook)
  • Author:  William Kent Krueger
  • Narrator:  Rich Orlow
  • Genre:  Fiction; Mystery
  • Published:  Recorded Books – March 2013
  • Source:  purchased

Synopsis:  New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder. 
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family— which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother— he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.  (publisher)

My brief take:  I highly recommend the audiobook edition of this novel. The narration by Rich Orlow is superb.

Just read the synopsis above. If that doesn’t grab you, well, never mind. I think it will. And, in the end, you’ll probably be glad you read (or listened to) it. I don’t want to say much more than what I posted on Goodreads:

. . .  A coming of age novel where ordinary grace meets the awful grace of God in a small town in Minnesota during one summer in the early 1960s.

It’s one of my 2013 Favorites.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

the all-girl filling station's last reunion

  • Title:  The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion – A Novel
  • Author:  Fannie Flagg
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  November 2013 – Random House
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  With her last daughter’s wedding behind her, Sookie Pool is looking forward to relaxing with her husband on a much-needed vacation when she receives a registered letter that turns her life upside down. The letter pushes Sookie on a journey of discovery as she tries to solve the mystery that has suddenly taken over her life.

Filled with colorful characters, my favorite of the book was Sookie. Although I didn’t identify completely with her there are certain aspects of Sookie that every woman will understand. I think we’re all on the same journey – just at different places along the way.

Fannie Flagg is one of my favorite authors. I adore her charming and funny way of telling a story that never fails to pull me completely in. That was the case in this novel. She also taught me about the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of WWII. I’d always heard about the war effort on the home front but the WASPs were new to me. What an amazing group of women!

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is one of my favorite books of 2013. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud and possibly learn something new you’ll want to read this wonderful novel.

Note:  You can learn more about the WASPs here.

Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

inst. heatwave

  • Title:  Instructions For a Heatwave
  • Author:  Maggie O’Farrell
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  June 2013 – Knopf
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  It’s the summer of 1976 and London is experiencing a heatwave that seems never-ending. One morning Gretta and Robert Riordan have a bit of breakfast and then Robert heads out as usual to buy the morning newspaper. He doesn’t come back.

The three grown Riordan children soon gather at the family home to try to figure out what’s happened to their father and to try to calm their mother. The three all have issues – in their own lives and with each other. Michael Francis, the eldest, is a history teacher in a local school. It’s not the job he’d dreamed of but it’s how things worked out for him. The school year is over and he has six weeks off to enjoy his children and try to figure out if his wife will ever speak to him again.

Monica is in her second marriage and trying to make this one work. Her step-daughters don’t like her and her husband seems inclined to take their side in any situation. She’s not a happy woman. Now that her sister is back home she’s finding it impossible to contain her anger over a past betrayal.

Aoife, the youngest Riordan, has lived in New York for several years. She’s found a job she loves, a man she might love, and continues to hide a secret that no one knows –  not even her family. It takes courage to go home again but she does.

If you have siblings there’s a lot to relate to in this novel. It was interesting to see them fall into the same patterns as when they were young and then snap out of it when they seemed to realize they didn’t have to continue that way. Coming from a large family I could relate to that and found humor in a few scenes.

Gretta and her children search for clues to find Robert. Eventually the search takes them to the west of Ireland. Along the way long-held secrets are revealed giving all a chance to forgive and move forward. I enjoyed Instructions For a Heatwave. It’s a family drama filled with secrets, lies, misunderstandings, forgiveness, real life.

The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson

the humanity project

  • Title:  The Humanity Project
  • Author:  Jean Thompson
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  April 2013 – Blue Rider Press
  • Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis (publisher):  After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?

My take:  Filled with colorful characters and of-the-moment circumstances and events, The Humanity Project reminded me of a Cat’s Cradle string game. Everyone is connected and their lives seem to be an intricately woven mess. Humanity, right?

Most of the characters have been marginalized by family or society. From a young teen who witnessed a school shooting to the down-on-his-luck divorced father who just can’t seem to catch a break to the wealthy widow whose children seem to be waiting for her to die so they can gain their inheritance – they and several other remarkable characters share the spotlight. Remarkable maybe, but not all that likable.

Can a foundation such as The Humanity Project help those in need? Or will it encourage greed on different levels? And where did that money come from in the first place? Do some people even want to be helped? I had my own little book club discussion in my head as I read. I appreciated the epilogue from one character’s perspective that let me in on what happened to some of the other characters. I wanted some sort of resolution and that was close enough.

 

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life

  • Title:  Life After Life
  • Author:  Kate Atkinson
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  April 2013 – Reagan Arthur Books (544 pages)
  • Source:  Review copy from the publisher

Synopsis (publisher):  What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? 

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. 

Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?

My take:  What a unique story! It’s the first of Kate Atkinson’s novels I’ve read and after a bit of a sluggish start I really liked it. Sluggish because I started reading and then life got busy for me. It took me about a week to read the first 200 pages. So I recommend reading this book in as few chunks of time as possible. I think that would have helped me get into the rhythm of the story more quickly.

I really don’t want to say much about the plot because the synopsis tells enough. Kate Atkinson’s writing is lovely. With each lifetime another layer of Ursula’s story was added. And with each lifetime I cared more about Ursula. There were a couple of times in the second half of the book that I found myself in tears quite unexpectedly. That just doesn’t happen to me very often.

Atkinson brings to life London during the blitz as well as Germany in the time leading up to WWII. We see it all through Ursula’s eyes and feel the powerful emotions felt by many characters.

So, if you’re up for a memorable novel I think you might like Life After Life. It’s filled with good characters, settings, and a compelling era. It would be a fabulous book club selection. There are definite philosophical points to discuss. I know that Ursula, Hugh, Teddy and all the others will stay with me for a long time.

My thanks to Reagan Arthur for sending me the book.

News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh

news from heaven

  • Title:  News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories
  • Author:  Jennifer Haigh
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  (expected) January 29, 2013 – Harper
  • Source:  Review copy from Harper

Synopsis: Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania— the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh’s award-winning bestseller Baker TowersNews from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become. Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century. Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments.  A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming. A woman must come to terms with a heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. And characters familiar to fans of Baker Towers—indomitable Joyce Novak, her eccentric sister Dorothy, and their mysterious younger brother Sandy—return for an encore performance. Written with poignant realism, News from Heaven deftly captures our desire for escape and our need for connection, and reveals the enduring hold of a past that remains ever present in the lives of ordinary people struggling to understand themselves and define their place in the world. 

My take:  I shouldn’t be surprised that Jennifer Haigh’s collection of short stories made me rethink my automatic response to the format. Normally I don’t care for them at all. I find them bleak, depressing, and a chore to read. Not so with News From Heaven. Reading each story was like paging through a scrapbook. There’s history, relationships, celebrations, heartbreak, regrets, and even a bit of optimism. 

Bakerton, Pennsylvania was home to the coal mine that employed most of the men from town. Once the mine was mined out the jobs were gone and the town was thrown into hard times. Haigh’s connected stories cover the ups and downs of the townspeople – from the  mine owners to the workers and everyone in between.

I grew up in a small town so I could identify with the aspect that Joyce in “Desiderata” acknowledged of everyone knowing your story – or at least thinking they know. I don’t live there anymore so they don’t know the rest of my story. That’s not the case with the older residents in Bakerton. More than likely they were born there, raised families, and will eventually die there. Their complete stories known to all.

My favorite story (if I must choose one) was Broken Star. It’s about Regina, a girl in her early teens, and the summer her young aunt and cousin came to visit.  I also liked the final story in the collection: Desiderata. The high school principal died a few months earlier and his wife is sorting through his things. Poignant, relatable, uplifting. Really, though, I enjoyed each story.

Jennifer Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I know it’s only January but I expect News From Heaven to be on my 2013 Favorite Books list. It was a pleasure to read.

Note:  I read Baker Towers several years ago (the month it was published) and although I remembered the general story there was a lot I forgot. If you haven’t read Baker Towers I recommend doing so before News From Heaven. It’s not imperative but it could help in your overall enjoyment of these connected stories.

In the Bag by Kate Klise

In The Bag

Synopsis:  (back of the book) – A European vacation. A luggage mix-up. A note from a secret admirer.

Meet two single parents who think they’re too busy to date. 
And two teenagers who can’t stop writing flirty emails. 
This is a tale of connections–missed and made–in a universe that seems to have its heart set on reuniting Ms. 6B and Mr. 13C.

Webb
I can’t believe I picked up the wrong bag at the airport. My dad is never going to let me hear the end of it.

Coco
I don’t understand why Mom told me to pack my worst underwear. And now I’ve lost my bag? Ack!

Andrew
I cannot stop thinking about that woman in seat 6B on the flight to Paris.

Daisy
I don’t have time to worry about the creep sitting in 13C who slipped a note in my purse. I have to find my daughter’s missing bag before this ruins our vacation.

“In the Bag” is a smart and stylish story that explores the old-fashioned art of romance in a modern world, where falling in love can be as risky as checking a bag on an international flight. Buckle your seat belt–it’s going to be a bumpy vacation!

My take:  The back of the book synopsis gives a good sense of what to expect in this entertaining and, some might say, predictable novel. I enjoyed it for the fun plot, the interesting characters, and the snappy dialogue.

I was taken by surprise, in a good way, by the discussions of songwriter Jimmy Webb and his songs – especially Wichita Lineman, a song that always makes me stop whatever I’m doing and listen. There’s just something about that song. Anyway, Andrew was such a fan that he named Webb after him.

All in all, this novel reminded me of those Disney teen movies that always leave an audience smiling. It was a welcome diversion during a busy week.

Title:  In the Bag

Author:  Kate Klise

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  May 2012 – William Morrow – PB: 306 pages

Source:  I bought my copy

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Title:  The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

Author:  Jenny Wingfield

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  July 2012 – Random House Trade Paperbacks – 352 pages

Synopsis:  Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.

With characters who spring to life as vividly as if they were members of one’s own family, and with the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield emerges as one of the most vital, engaging storytellers writing today. In The Homecoming of Samuel Lake she has created a memorable and lasting work of fiction.

My brief take:  Oh my goodness! What a wonderful novel! I loved being immersed in the southern setting and I loved the Lake family. Jenny Wingfield’s characters and story completely pulled me in.

My heart was captured by Swan. She had a remarkably mature empathy for the people in her life but expressed it in such an age-appropriate way that it made me smile. My heart went out to her as shocking events unfolded but I was left feeling uplifted and optimistic for what the future would hold for her.

Swan is the main character but the other members of her family (immediate and extended) are interesting and endearing. They could probably each have their own novel – and I would want to read them!

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake will be on my 2012 Favorites list. Highly recommended.

Disclosure:  I received this book from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.

Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

Title:  Ninepins

Author:  Rosy Thornton

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  April 2012 – Sandstone Press

Paperback – 320 pages

My take:  As she did in The Tapestry of Love, Rosy Thornton gives her most recent novel Ninepins an interesting setting that could almost be considered one of the main characters. The changing atmosphere of the fens fascinated me!

Ninepins is a quiet yet compelling novel. Laura and her 12-year-old daughter Beth take in 17-year-old Willow as a boarder to help make ends meet. Willow is just coming out of the foster care system so she has a social worker, Vince, who regularly checks in on her. Willow seems emotionally fragile and has a troubled past. Beth is dealing with a few issues herself. She’s at a new school, trying out new friends, and is pretty much a hormonal mess. The latter causes her to take out her frustrations on her mother.

Laura learns of Willow’s past after she agrees to let her rent the small pump house on the property. She’s willing to let her stay because she’d have trouble renting the space to anyone else at this time of year. When a flood forces Willow out of the rental she’s invited to stay in the spare room of the main house. Laura has concerns about Willow’s influence over Beth who recently seems to be acting out quite often. Even more disturbing is when Willow’s mother appears at the front door one night. Laura suddenly has a lot to deal with in addition to working full-time.

Rosy Thornton’s layered story of Willow, Laura and Beth unfolds at an even pace that kept me turning the pages. Assumptions and suspicions are revealed and play out in ways I’m happy to say were unpredictable. That’s something I’ve found true in Thornton’s other novels as well.

Ninepins is a thoughtful and realistic drama that touches on single parents, step-families, social welfare issues and more – book groups would find several topics for discussion. I enjoyed Ninepins and look forward to Rosy Thornton’s next book.

Goodreads rating

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from the author. I was not compensated for my review.

Island Apart by Steven Raichlen

Title:  Island Apart

Author:  Steven Raichlen

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – Forge Books

Audiobook: narrated by Susan Boyce – AudioGO

6 CDs – 6hrs 38min

Synopsis:  Claire Doheney, recovering from a serious illness, agrees to house-sit in an oceanfront mansion on Chappaquiddick island in Martha’s Vineyard. The New York book editor hopes to find solace, strength, and sufficient calm to finish her biography of the iconoclastic psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich.

The last thing she expects to find is love.  

Then she meets a mysterious man the locals call the Hermit. No one knows his real name or where he lives. To their mutual surprise, Claire and the stranger discover that they share a passion for cooking that soon sparks something more.

But Claire’s new friend has a terrible secret that threatens to drive them apart forever. The clock is ticking. Can Claire let love into her life once more before it’s too late?

My take:  Island Apart is what I like to call an addictive read (or in my case, listen). I listened to the audiobook in one day.  It’s the story of two lost souls. One, the hermit, has isolated himself after going through a horrific personal event. The other, Claire, is going through cancer treatment and a divorce from the man who left the day she told him of her diagnosis. She’s staying at the home of dear friends on Chappaquiddick. When their paths cross the hermit and Claire begin an unlikely friendship. Very quickly they find a shared love of food and cooking. They leave gifts of food for each other before they start to see each other in person. A bond of mutual respect is formed and soon grows to acceptance and love even after an obstacle or two appear.

This novel had an almost fairytale-like quality. The theme that no man is an island runs throughout. It’s filled with minor characters and story lines that I’m not certain were absolutely necessary but I also don’t feel they took away from the main story.

All-in-all, I enjoyed spending a day listening to Island Apart. Warning: There are a lot of food descriptions so don’t be surprised if you feel hungry while reading.

Susan Boyce’s narration is straight-forward – meaning, in my opinion, she read the book as opposed to performed it. In this case that approach worked for me. I didn’t need the various characters distinctly voiced. I just wanted to see where the story was going – and she made that happen.

Goodreads rating

Disclosure:  I received an audiobook review copy from AudioGO via Audiobook Jukebox. I was not compensated for my review.

The Exceptions by David Cristofano

Title:  The Exceptions

Author:  David Cristofano

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  August 2012 – Grand Central Publishing

Hardcover: 480 pages

Synopsis:  No loose ends. It’s the Bovaro family motto. As part of the Bovaro clan, one of the most powerful and respected families in organized crime, Jonathan knows what he must do: take out Melody Grace McCartney, the woman whose testimony can lock up his father and disgrace his entire family. The only problem: he can’t bring himself to do it.

Had Jonathan kept his silence, Melody and her parents would never have been identified and lured into the Witness Protection Program, able to run but never to hide. So he keeps her safe the only way he knows how-by vowing to clean up his own mess while acting as her shield.

But as he watches her take on another new identity in yet another new town, becoming a beautiful but broken woman, Jonathan can’t get her out of his mind . . . or his heart. From the streets of Little Italy to a refuge that promises a fresh start, Jonathan will be forced to choose between the life he’s always known, the destiny his family has carved out for him, and a future unlike anything he’s ever imagined.

My take:  I read David Cristofano’s first novel, The Girl She Used to Be, a few years ago. When I finished reading it my hope was that there would someday be a sequel. I really liked Melody Grace McCartney’s story.

Well, Cristofano followed his debut with a sequel of sorts – it’s Jonathan Bovaro’s version of Melody’s story. The same story as seen through Jonathan’s eyes.

Cristofano paced The Exceptions just as he did TGSUTB – which means I didn’t want to stop reading. Maybe it’s because a few years have passed since I read the original story but, even though I knew the plot, I found it compelling, gripping, and thrilling. Seriously, my heart was pounding several times while reading. I don’t read many thrillers but when I do, I want them to make me feel the way I did reading this book.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot than the synopsis has. If you loved the first novel I think you’ll love The Exceptions. If you haven’t read The Girl She Used to Be, maybe read that first.

Disclosure:  I received a review galley from the publisher via NetGalley. See sidebar for disclosure policy.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title:  Beautiful Ruins

Author:  Jess Walter

Narrator:  Edoardo Ballerini

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – HarperCollins

Synopsis (from the back of the ARC):  The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a slender blonde woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot – searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

What unfolds from there is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, teeming with Jess Walter’s trademark unforgettable characters: the Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically cynical film producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; and the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. . .

My brief take:  I enjoyed Beautiful Ruins so much I knew it would be on my 2012 Favorites list as soon as I finished reading it.  You get a sense of the novel from the synopsis but really it must be experienced. I loved how Jess Walter wove the various characters’ stories together. I wasn’t sure where they would all end up but I had faith I’d be satisfied with the conclusion. I was.

I’m so glad I decided to listen to Beautiful Ruins (I also read a print review copy) . There’s no way I could have voiced the characters’ accents, language, etc. in my mind anywhere close to the narrator. Edoardo Ballerini’s performance is perfect.

Recommend?  Yes! Read the book and if you enjoy listening, I highly recommend the audiobook.

Note:  I appreciated the Author Q&A included at the end of the audiobook.

Disclosure:  My review copy was from the publisher. I bought the audiobook. See sidebar for disclosure statement. I was not compensated for my review.

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Title:  Goodbye for Now

Author:  Laurie Frankel

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  August 2012 – Doubleday

Hardcover: 304 pages

Synopsis:  (from back of the arc) Sam Elling works for an internet dating company, but he still can’t get a date. So he creates an algorithm that will match you with your soul mate. Sam meets the love of his life, a coworker named Meredith, but he also gets fired when the company starts losing all their customers to Mr. and Ms. Right.

When Meredith’s grandmother, Livvie, dies suddenly, Sam uses his ample free time to create a computer program that will allow Meredith to have one last conversation with her grandmother. Mining from all her correspondence—email, Facebook, Skype, texts—Sam constructs a computer simulation of Livvie who can respond to email or video chat just as if she were still alive. It’s not supernatural, it’s computer science.

Meredith loves it, and the couple begins to wonder if this is something that could help more people through their grief. And thus, the company RePose is born. The business takes off, but for every person who just wants to say good-bye, there is someone who can’t let go.

In the meantime, Sam and Meredith’s affection for one another deepens into the kind of love that once tasted, you can’t live without.

My take:  In the beginning I had an issue with this novel – you shouldn’t mess with grief. We need to grieve when a loved one dies, right? But should we rely solely on our memories or could we benefit from technology – really, it’s almost a constant in our daily lives anyway. Laurie Frankel’s characters remind us that people grieve differently. To some it’s a very personal and singular process but others might be open to controlling the process through unorthodox means. After turning the last page I decided I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe I would and maybe not.

I’m so glad I read Goodbye for Now. It compelled me to consider things I haven’t been faced with thus far in my life – primarily the death of a close loved one – with the exception being my father-in-law who died several years ago from Alzheimer’s. That’s a grief process all unto itself.

There are a few issues that could be hot topics for book groups. I enjoyed the almost allegorical modern love story of Meredith and Sam as well as the theme that we must look after each other (loved ones, acquaintances, strangers) in this life.

Source:  Doubleday

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Title:  The Chaperone

Author:  Laura Moriarty

Published:  June 2012 – Riverhead

Narrator:  Elizabeth McGovern

Audiobook:  Penguin Audiobooks: 13 hours 14 minutes

Genre:  Fiction

My take:  In the summer of 1922 Cora Carlisle agreed to chaperone fifteen-year-old Louise Brook from Kansas to New York City where she would study dance for one month with two prominent instructors. One would think this novel might be about Louise but it’s definitely Cora’s story. There is a reason she was so willing to chaperone Louise. As the story unfolds we learn a lot about Cora. The novel, and Cora’s life, really take off in New York.

She would owe this understanding to her time in New York, and even more to Louise. That’s what spending time with the young can do – it’s the big payoff for all the pain. The young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.

The Chaperone, page 156

The Chaperone is an interesting story that spans Cora’s life – a style of novel that appeals to me. Given her start in life it was easy to sympathize with her. But I also liked her pluck. She refused to let Louise steamroll over her. She also knew if things were going to happen in her life she had to assert herself. And that she did!

I loved Elizabeth McGovern’s performance. She just seemed the perfect person to voice the 1920s characters – maybe because I’m a fan of Downton Abbey. I listened to the audio while reading the print edition. I’m finding that combination really works for some books. Although the audio would be great on its own I enjoyed reading along.

Source:  I bought the audiobook and the book.

Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller – and a giveaway

Title:  Brand New Human Being

Author:  Emily Jeanne Miller

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

272 pages

My take:  Brand New Human Being is one of those novels I wished I had a friend who’d also read it so we could compare notes right away. I wanted to talk about Logan and Julie and Bennie and the rest of the characters. I wanted to talk about how differently we all handle grief especially when the center of the universe, in this case Logan’s father, has died.

Logan left grad school when his father was diagnosed with cancer. He’d met Julie several weeks earlier on a trip home. They spent every night together until Logan returned to school. Their son Owen was conceived during those two weeks. When Logan got the call about his dad he left school, married Julie and they both moved in with his dad Gus and Bennie.

Fast-forward a few years and Logan finds himself a stay-at-home dad with a 4-year-old son who seems to be reverting to a baby, and a wife who seems very unhappy. He also hasn’t finished his dissertation and feels the pressure of having less than a year to do so. On top of that there are other issues and people who are putting pressure on him. At times Logan made me think of a tea kettle building to a full whistle.

I can see where some readers might get annoyed with Logan and complain about his first world problems but really he’s a guy of a certain age (mid 30s) getting tired of letting life happen to him. He starts to take control of the things only he can. When even that seems impossible Logan does some things he almost immediately regrets. His father’s widow Bennie gets him to talk and she listens (and talks some sense into him). She seems to be about the only person who validates his feelings.

I liked Brand New Human Being and recommend it to readers who like books about imperfect people dealing with grief and trying to move forward.

Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for TLC Book Tour

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

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You can find out more about the novel and author Emily Jeanne Miller at her website. You’ll find a link to discussion questions there as well.

Click the TLC button to see the complete tour schedule

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And now for the giveaway!

One lucky winner from the US or Canada will win a copy of

Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller

Details can be found here.

Good luck!

Giveaway now closed

The Cottage At Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

Title:  The Cottage At Glass Beach

Author:  Heather Barbieri

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  May 2012 – Harper

About:  Wanting to flee the humiliating mess brought on by her husband’s infidelity Nora Keane goes home with her two daughters to Burke’s Island, Maine after receiving an invitation from an aunt.

My take:  I loved the setting, Nora, her daughters, and the people of Burke’s Island. I also loved the fairytale-like tone of the novel – even though I wish that aspect had been developed a bit more. In going home Nora is able to discover things about her past as well as come to know her aunt. She also finds that some people on the island aren’t thrilled by her visit. Add some family secrets and a mysterious character or two to the mix and you’ve got an intriguing novel.

I appreciated how the author showed how the two daughters worked through/expressed their feelings about their parents’ separation. And Nora needed to figure out what to do now that papers had been filed. She truly seemed adrift – which all seemed like an honest portrayal of a woman and her daughters – given their situation.

I’ve had some time to think about The Cottage at Glass Beach since I finished reading it. At first I wasn’t sure I liked the vague ending but after some reflection I decided it’s true to life. Much of our future is uncertain but we can continue to focus on what matters most.

Source:  Harper

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.