Thursday, March 29, 2012

Catching Up

I had Spring Break last week and was able to finish a bunch of books.  Now I'm behind on my reviews again!!!  As you can see below, I have lots of book reviews coming up. I hope to get them all done in the next few days so please keep checking back.

I can't believe all the wonderful books that are coming out this Summer!  There have been boxes and boxes of books hitting my doorstep and I only hope I can keep up with them all.  I'm also happy to have two more children's picture book reviews coming up. 

Stay tuned and happy reading!!!

THE EXPATS by Chris Pavone

I am not a spy novel fan.  I've never really been drawn in by one although I do enjoy the occasional spy/action thriller movie.  I was attracted to THE EXPATS because of its female protagonist and its promise of a convoluted mystery in its plotline.

At first glance, Kate Moore seems to be your average working mother.  Her husband works in financial security and she spend her days trying to find that elusive balance between work and motherhood.  There is also the matter of her little secret.....she works for the CIA.  When her husband gets a lucrative job opportunity in Luxembourg, Kate jumps at the opportunity to let go of her complex life and take up her new identity as an expat-housewife.  As Kate and her family begin to settle into their new life as expats in Luxembourg, she encounters an American couple who have just moved to town.  Kate begins to suspect that they are not what they seem and fears her mysterious past may be catching up with her.  As she begins to unravel the truth surrounding her new friends, Kate realizes that there may be more to this mystery than she bargained for.

I found this book to be very readable. I was drawn in by the story and I loved the complexity of Kate's life and all the secretiveness surrounding it. The story is an excellent reminder of how everyone has secrets---both big and small---and you don't need to be a secret agent to have a complex life.  The story was solid and the ending satisfying but I was little disappointed with Kate's character.  For an ex-CIA agent, she seem pretty inept.  She can't successfully pull of even the most basic surveillance and that rang false to me.  She seemed more goofball than spy.   Kate's family and her relationship with her husband were much more compelling.  To me, the relationships were more interesting than the thriller aspects of the book.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations.  Parts of the book were a little disappointing but it was still very readable. It would make a great vacation read.

SHADOW OF NIGHT by Deborah Harkness

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Fans of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES rejoice! Harkness returns with the second book in her ALL SOULS trilogy.  I was dubious when I picked up the first book in the series.  Don't we have enough books about witches and/or vampires?  I was so surprised that Harkness managed to find something new and compelling to say on the subject!  In the first book, Harkness sets the stage with witch/scholar Diana discovering a long-missing text in the Bodelian Library. It appears that this text could explain the origins of creatures---witches, vampires and daemons.  What followed was a whirlwind race among the various creatures to secure the lost text while Diana began to learn about her own past and the powers contained within. Coupled with a romance with a vampire, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES promised much more adventure to come.

With SHADOW OF NIGHT, Harkness really delivers.

**SPOILER ALERT for those who have not read the first book**

The first book in the trilogy ended up with Diana and Matthew making the leap into timewalking in an attempt to escape their pursuers and to learn more about the mysterious Ashmole manuscript.  SHADOW OF NIGHT picks up right where it left off. We follow Diana and Matthew into Queen Elizabeth I's England where they encounter enough historical figures to fill a history book. I love how Harkness cleverly wove the historical characters into Diana and Matthew's story.  It made me feel as if I had time-traveled with Diana and Matthew.  The pacing of the story is excellent and the details are wonderful.  I especially enjoyed the scenes with Matthew's family.  (don't want to give away too much here!!!)  I thought this book was really really enjoyable.


BOTTOM LINE:  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I loved SHADOW OF NIGHT even more than A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. The setting and historical figures really made the story.  There was so much more to the story whereas the first book was more action driven.  I am so looking forward to the final book in the trilogy. It will be hard to wait.  This book (and its predecessor) would be great vacation reads for the Summer.


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Anne Tyler's slim new novel delves into the many aspects of grief and how it can sometimes make us a little crazy.  Aaron was left cripple by a childhood illness and spent his childhood being controlled by an overprotective sister.  When he meets Dorothy, an independent and strong doctor, he believe he has found the perfect match.  Their marriage proves to be perfectly pleasant and unremarkable until the day a tree lands on their house and kills Dorothy. Aaron is left reeling by the loss of his wife until she starts "appearing" to him.  These appearances lead him through the various stages of grief and into some surprising self-revelation.

I loved Tyler's unusual take on grief.  Unexpected death can change our relationship with a lost loved one in more ways than one.  It might make us romanticize their lives or cause us to focus on the most mudane of details.  I think the process of Aaron's grief is both fascinating and moving.  It often goes in unexpected directions as we follow his progress in dealing with his loss while finding a way to live in the world again.  I only found myself wanting a bit more to the story. The whole tale is so brief!

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  An unusual take on grief and loss from a very talented writer.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

HEAVEN IS HERE by Stephanie Nielson

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I am always interested in how well bloggers can make the leap from the more informal style of blogging to the more formal style of writing a book.  Sometimes an individual's story translates well and sometimes it doesn't.  Bloggers must walk a fine line between offering something new to their long-time readers while attempting to share their story with people who may be new readers. 

I started following Stephanie Nielson's NIENIE DIALOGUES blog just after her horrific plane accident in August of 2008.  I was drawn to her story because of all the many many member of the blogging community who banded together to help the Nielson family.  So, I have been reading her blog for the last 3.5 years.  I was very familiar with her story but I was hoping her book would fill in some blanks for me as a regular reader of her blog.

Stephanie Nielson is a Mormon Mommy blogger who rose to popularity with her tales of family life and creative celebrations of every day moments. In August 2008, Stephanie and her husband Christian were a plane crash that killed their friend and pilot Doug Kinneard.  Stephanie and Christian were both horribly burned with Stephanie sustaining burns to 80% of her body.  For the next three months following the crash, Stephanie hovered between life and death in a medically-induced coma.  Almost four years after the accident, Stephanie and her family have battled their way back from the accident as they recreated their lives and relationships.

I appreciated the amount of detail that Stephanie included in this book.  It filled in many blanks for me.  We learn of how she met Christian and their courtship and subsequent marriage.  We learn more about their early years together when Stephanie first became a mother and started blogging. And then there is the accident itself.  Stephanie is blunt and honest about her feelings when she finally woke from her coma and how she struggled to come to terms with her new life.  The most poignant moments in the book come from her attempts to reconnect with her children.  She doesn't gloss over anything and share how difficult her journey was and how much she had to rely on her faith.

The one thing I felt was missing from this story was how Stephanie and Christian rebuilt THEIR relationship.  When Stephanie appeared on "Oprah," she was still recovering and sorting through her memories of the plane crash.  At this time, she believed Christian pulled her from the plane. It was later revealed that he did not as he thought she had been able to follow him from the plane on her own.  Stephanie's sisters have talked frankly about how hard it was for Stephanie and Christian to rebuild their relationship even though there was never any doubt that they would.  I was very surprised that Stephanie didn't touch on any of this in her memoir. It is a confusing omission. 

Still, the story of the Nielson family is one of faith and the strength of love and family. I think it will appeal to many family- and faith-oriented readers even if they haven't read the NIENIE DIALOGUES before.  Long-time readers will find that the story they have followed so closely is more fleshed out in this book.  It is wonderful to see how far Stephanie and her family have come since the accident. Especially since they are now expecting their fifth child any day now. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for fans of inspirational memoirs.  It is definitely an inspiring story of faith and love that will probably leave you wanting to learn more about Nielson family.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I love the way Matthew Pearl so skillfully weaves mystery with historical fiction.  In THE TECHNOLOGISTS, Pearl focuses on the inaugural class of MIT.  When mysterious disasters begin to plague Boston, right in the midst of controversy over technology vs. humanity and the founding of the new Massachusetts Institute of Technology, members of first MIT graduating class find themselves drawn into the mystery.  The students must use their skills to discover who is behind the terrorist-like disasters plaguing Boston before he strikes again.

Pearl's mysteries are always dense and satisfying.  He paces them well and I love the historical angle.  I knew little about the origins of MIT and it was fascinating to see the controversy that its inception brought about within Boston and the threat that so many people saw not only in the college but also in technology itself.  The diversity of characters was wonderful.  One of them is even based on the first woman to matriculate at MIT.  The use of technology as terrorism provides an intriguing basis for the story.  Some readers may find the pace a little slow.  Pearl likes to take his time with his mysteries and goes into great detail with his characters and the setting.  I happen to like this about Pearl's books.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A satisfying read for Pearl fans and those new to his work as well.  A fun look at the origins of MIT and the technology vs humanity controversy set in post-Civil War Boston.  Plus a mystery!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Robert Goolrick is becoming quite masterful in ferreting out people's dark sides and the consequences of their actions.  He did it with A RELIABLE WIFE and he does it again with HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL.   In this book, stranger Charlie Beale comes to town looking for a new life and manages to alter the lives of its inhabitants forever.  After surviving the war, Charlie arrives in the Virginia town of Brownsburg with a set of butcher knives and a suitcase full of money hoping to make a fresh start.  He ingratiates himself into the family of the local butcher and immediately proves himself indispensible in the butcher shop.   He especially becomes a hero for 5-yr-old Sam Haislett, the butcher's son.  When Charlie lays eyes on Sylvan Glass, the young bride of the town's richest man, everything changes for him.  His illicit affair with Sylvan will change the lives of everyone in the town forever.
I actually liked this book even better than A RELIABLE WIFE.  Goolrick manages to take a fairly common theme and turn it into something surprising and affecting. I especially love Charlie's relationship with Sam and how the affair has profound consequences for the young boy. The setting is also especially effective. A scandal of this kind in such a small town can't help but affect everyone around the central characters. No one really makes it through unscathed.  The book is quite sad but also very moving. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A really well done account of the tragic consequences of an affair in a small town.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

HEFT by Liz Moore

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I love stories with quirky characters.  Life is full of such people and it is nice to see them represented in novels.  Liz Moore brings us 550 pound recluse Arthur Opp.   Arthur is a former academic who resigned from his position in scandal and has hidden inside his family home for a decade.    Arthur's only real link to the outside world is Charlene, a former student has become his pen pal.  Charlene breaks off contact from Arthur and he endures the silence for many years until he unexpectedly receives a phone call from her one day requesting his help with her teenage son Kel.  The story then switches to Kel's perspective as we see the difficulties he has faced as a poor child trying to make it as a baseball prodigy while dealing with a troubled mother.  Circumstances will bring these two unlikely heroes together in a surprising way.

Both Kel and Arthur are very sympathetic characters.  Their hearts are in the right place but each one must overcome the significant obstacles in their lives.    It becomes difficult to decide whose story is more heartbreaking. The reader can't help but root for both of them and hope that they will find a way to help one another. 

It's very difficult to review this book without giving away too much.  It is a bittersweet tale of two lost souls that really resonated with me.  Even though the subject matter was often sad and difficult, I found the book to be charming and sweet. Moore did such a wonderful job with these characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  An unexpectedly sweet book about two outsiders trying to find their places in the world.