Categories
Fiction General Fiction Suspense

ARC Review: Dead on the Delta by Sherry Knowlton

Thank you so much to Milford House Press for the digital ARC of Dead on the Delta!  Seeing as I live in frozen western NY, this armchair safari to Botswana was a good pick for me right now

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dead on the Delta
  • Series: Alexa Williams, #5
  • Author: Sherry Knowlton
  • Publisher & Release: Milford House Press, 2/16/21
  • Length:254 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for fans of the genre!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Alexa Williams is about to spend four months doing lion research in the African bush with her boyfriend Reese. She looks forward to witnessing the elemental life and death struggle of the wild, but she never imagines she’ll become one of the hunted on the remote Okavango Delta.

Botswana protects its wildlife with strict policies and an entire army deployed to combat poaching. So Alexa and Reese are shocked when poachers wipe out an entire herd of elephants. At the site of the mass slaughter near their lion project, they promise authorities that they’ll watch for suspicious activity as they travel the Delta.

When the country’s strict wildlife conservation policies come under debate in the capital, tensions flare and Alexa begins to suspect the ongoing poaching incidents may be about even more than the illicit ivory trade. Especially when a close friend dies when caught in the crossfire.

After an alarming series of near escapes, gunmen attack the safari camp where she and Reese are staying, and Alexa must brave wild animals and the dangerous labyrinth of Delta channels in a desperate attempt to save the hostages, including the man she loves.

The book definitely has two strong points: setting and atmosphere.  I never had trouble picturing the sights, smells, and animals of Botswana.  Whether they were bouncing along in the camp vehicle or hanging out on the deck at the lagoon, Knowlton exceeds at providing even the sounds of the environment.  The prevailing mood was always apparent as well which was a great way to keep me immersed in most of the scenes.

Alexa, Reese, and the other characters are a good bunch and they seemed to have realistic relationships.   I liked that none of them were perfect and they all had real life issues to work through as well.  The romance is pretty cute too, I can tell they care deeply for each other.

This is Alexa Williams book #5, and my first read of the series.  That said, I don’t expect an info dump but I spent the first few chapters not knowing if Alexa was a researcher, tourist, detective, Interpol or what the heck. Come to find she is a lawyer.  A very brief introduction to Alexa and Reece was definitely needed, I felt like the characters were moving shadows in the environment as everyone except Handsome Harry lacked physical descriptions as well.

The book had plenty of harrowing danger and political intrigue, although Alexa was only involved peripherally in the poaching investigation.  She stumbled upon them by accident at every encounter and we never really knew if the Defense Force was making any progress with the poachers.

I also tuned out a bit when the commission was discussing conservation policies.  It was interesting to learn about poaching and some of the wildlife conservation issues though, I think more detecting, poking around by Alexa, and overall suspense would have made it a better read for me.  It seemed like either total disaster mode or everyday life with little between mood wise.

Overall – I totally enjoyed the reading experience.  I might have even googled safaris to see what was involved in booking one.  I would like to go back and read the first Alexa novel to learn a little more about her, but I can definitely safely recommend the book for fans of good characters, strong settings, lawyers, animals, and conservation efforts!  

Free book received in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own

Here are some links for the book and author!

Categories
General Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

Thanks so much to Bookish First and HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for the advanced copy of The Arsonists’ City in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

This is an extremely rich and nuanced look into family, life, heritage, and identity, but I struggled with whether or not to feature this one on the blog.  I try really hard to stick to cleaner content these days and there are more than a few mature sexual situations & adultery in this one, but there’s also a discourse on humanity, immigration, and reconciliation that as a 30-something, I could appreciate, and hey, we are all adults here.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Arsonists’ City
  • Author: Hala Alyan
  • Publisher & Release: HMH, 03/09/21
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the genre

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home

The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father’s recent death, Idris, the family’s new patriarch, has decided to sell.

The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.

I was originally interested in this book because allegedly my grandfather was a random Syrian exchange student’s brother, and I sometimes feel interested in Syrian books assuming he came from the actual motherland.

So let’s just discuss content first because it’ s the first thing that anyone reading the book encounters.  A man is murdered in the prologue, and it sets the whole book up to be super dramatic and interesting and I am thinking “oh boy this is going to be good!!”  Then the next thing you know one of the characters is on her stomach thinking about a deflated condom, like, shit.  So now I have to remember her depressing sex life throughout the rest of the book, and it’s a theme through all the characters’ chapters, including a heavy discussion of the gay sibling’s sexuality, which is tied to Beirut’s youth culture in general somehow. Between that and pretty much everyone either contemplating or committing adultery at some point, I am like… Well sex is not what I want to read, and it’s depressing.

But it’s part of life, which along with death, are major themes of the book.  Idris and Mazna immigrated to America on asylum when he started his surgical residency, leaving his ancestral house behind.  Years later once Idris’ father dies and the house is empty of family he decides to sell it – which brings the scattered family all back together.  In Beirut.  For one very enlightening summer.

Each of the three siblings and Mazna the mother, were the chapter points of view. This sorted into the present (the kids) and past (Mazna).  It is always interesting to see people struggle bus through their 30s in slice of life style, because that’s me, but a big part of me just didn’t care.  Mazna’s story was legitimately interesting with her life between Damascus and Beirut, and seeing the war, plus being brown in America once they immigrated.  None of the characters were really likeable for me though, like I wanted to like Mazna but she’s so stubborn and then hooked up with that film guy, plus she took Idris (a heart surgeon) for a total moron.

The book spent a LOT of time building each character. It is kind of the point of the book, but some parts involving the siblings were just boring to me.  I didn’t care about Marwan’s band or Ava’s cheating husband, or even Naj, even though she had the most interesting life by far it was all flings and drugs and music. Once they got to Beirut and all the secrets started coming out, it got more interesting.  

There were so many side characters mentioned too that I just couldn’t keep track… Many of them not horribly relevant but still.  Also I liked Alyan’s writing style and language use overall but occasionally just lost her train of thought.  She would get philosophical/ profound at times and drift off into left field to the point where I had no idea where the train of thought ended up.

One thing that I thought Alyan did really well was setting – she gave a good feel for the sights and smells and weather, food, even the knick knacks in rooms, plus the atmosphere in general. 

I can relate a lot of the book to real life though – for example – being entitled to our secrets, and maybe not needing to know all of our parent’s secrets.  Also learning that we (as adults) are maybe a little bit more like them than we like to admit.

I know this is a book that a lot of people are loving for Alyan’s fantastic writing style and the story of love, loss, immigration, and familial reconciliation that she tells, and I don’t blame them at all. I think fans of the genre will love this. I just found it to be a 12 day long snooze fest when the kids were featured and I was limited to one rather long chapter at a time.

Overall: definitely recommend for fans of family dramas, sagas, and character based books!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Fiction General Fiction Historical Fiction

Book Review: Open Heart by Gregory D. Williams

Thank you so much to Grand Canyon Press and Bookish First for the finished copy of Open Heart in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!  I just want to say first how real this book felt – this is why I love books about medicine and life written by medical people

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Open Heart
  • Author: Gregory D. Williams
  • Publisher & Release: Grand Canyon Press, December 18th 2020
  • Length: 418 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yesss

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads: 

Life is fleeting. Love is a gift.

In this coming of age novel set in the 1970s, Gene Hull is whitewashing the trunks of Arizona citrus trees when he spots a beautiful girl and falls instantly in love. The girl is vulnerable and shy. Though Gene breaks through her reserve, a date at a wave park turns into a near disaster, and Gene must call on the one person he can always rely on—his doctor father.

Although the girl survives and Gene wins her over, what will happen when they leave for college? Is she truly “the one,” or will distance drive them apart?

When a freak accident blows a hole in Gene’s freshman year, his grades tank, and he bobbles the ball with the love of his life. She’s gone forever. Not only that, but he’ll never get into med school on grades alone.

Hoping to improve his chances of admission, he spends the summer trailing a famous heart surgeon. But can Gene, determined to live up to his father’s legacy, turn his summer in the “Heart Room”—an operating theater of chilling cold, bone saws, and macabre humor—into an experience that would make his father proud? Will he ever love again?

If you like novels where family life is complicated, and parents’ expectations trickle down into their children’s lives, then you’ll love Gregory D. Williams’ roman à clef about life, love, and finding one’s own true path.

Buy Open Heart today for an inside look at a team of surgeons healing broken hearts and a young man trying desperately to heal his own.

I always thought The House of God was the quintessential fiction so read for people coming into medicine, but Open Heart has it’s place right alongside it

I’m inordinately sad that the author passed away, the book feels like his legacy and love letter to medicine. Kind of Ironic considering that Carl’s death had a huge impact on the book – I wonder if the author knew it was coming, or if he died suddenly? I want to take the text in context if he thought he was writing his legacy!

Williams really touches on what it means to trust each other and lean on your family / “family” in healthcare. He even mentions death breakfast (death cheese anyone?) I feel like every hospital has a Jesse. And an Irene. And heck, there’s a Dr Harrington too. I feel like there’s something in the book that every medical person out there can relate to.

*That patient you just felt helpless about for so long, even though there’s nothing you could have done for them

*Or that time you f*cked up and it’ll haunt you just the same

*Have you ever lost your shit over an outcome?

Like I said, this will hit medical people right in the feels

There is a lot of medical talk (1970s style) about heart surgery and bypass that I am not sure laypeople would get through without skimming, but I found it fascinating. Gene’s life, growing up, taking ownership of your mistakes, and learning all about love should be enough to keep anyone interested in the book.  Being accountable and owning your actions are hard concepts for young folks to learn.

I obviously liked the OR chapters the best, and the parts about forgiving yourself for mistakes, growing up, moving forward, letting your heart “come off bypass” so to speak

Jesse the tray guy and Rui’s bad elephant jokes were more perfect additions. Honestly the doctors and nurses were really great characters and I liked the parallels between the OR family life and Gene’s family.  Reconciling what you think your parents are like and learning the truth is always a hard lesson.

100% recommend Open Heart for anyone in medicine, and anyone looking for a good coming of age story as well. This is a superbly written novel for anyone that likes reading about characters learning hard and real life truths.

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan

Thank you so much to the publisher for my Advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Butchers’ Blessing
  • Series: n/a
  • Author: Ruth Gilligan
  • Publisher & Release: Tin House Books, November 10th 2020
  • Length: 312 or
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡sure,  because I think it’s a personal problem

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Every year, Úna prepares for her father to leave her. He will wave goodbye early one morning, then disappear with seven other men to traverse the Irish countryside. Together, these men form The Butchers, a group that roams from farm to farm, enacting ancient methods of cattle slaughter.  

The Butchers’ Blessing moves between the events of 1996 and the present, offering a simmering glimpse into the modern tensions that surround these eight fabled men. For Úna, being a Butcher’s daughter means a life of tangled ambition and incredible loneliness. For her mother Grá, it’s a life of faith and longing, of performing a promise that she may or may not be able to keep. For non-believer Fionn, The Butchers represent a dated and complicated reality, though for his son Davey, they represent an entirely new world—and potentially new love. For photographer Ronan, The Butchers are ideal subjects: representatives of an older, more folkloric Ireland whose survival is now being tested. As he moves through the countryside, Ronan captures this world image by image—a lake, a cottage, and his most striking photo: a single butcher, hung upside-down in a pose of unspeakable violence.

A widow’s grief after losing her 7 sons and husband in a war, led to the curse: no cattle can be slaughtered without 8 men present and touching the cow at the time, to celebrate her grief and keep it alive. Enter the butchers – a squad of men that go around Ireland, leaving their families behind to slaughter cattle for people that believe in the old traditions.

First off – I made the mistake of thinking this is historical fiction – and it is definitely more literary fiction and coming of age than historically true, as the curse and butchers are fictional.

I was 100% on board with this as fiction set in 1990s Ireland, until the last page, which made me re evaluate the whole entire book. I can’t say why it threw me without spoilers, but it was so out of character for the entire book. What did I miss? What happened next? I also wasn’t following some of the things that happened in the last few chapters, the finality didn’t make sense and I felt like the aim of the story unravelled a bit as it was coming to a close. I was at 5 stars until i finished the book and dropped to 3-3.5, and it didn’t help that I originally read it thinking “historical fiction,”

Set in a time of Irish cultural change, The Butchers’ Blessing is a meditation in faith, growing up, growing apart, and changing culture. My brain had it pegged as historical fiction but its just stereotypical of Irish legends, in a more modern setting. Regardless, this is a great story (minus the last page). It is labelled as a literary thriller and while definitely dark and poetic at times, I don’t think its really a thriller. There is the ever present issue though of how the heck a Butcher got hung up by his feet and left in a cold storage. Tension in the country surrounding BSE and old vs new in general, is a huge ongoing theme in the novel.

The chapters bounced between Gra, Una, Davey, and Fionn, four characters at different life stages. Una is probably the main character and has to cope with growing up while her dad is off slaughtering 11 months out of the year, targeted by her classmates, and wanting to follow in her dads footsteps. Davey is learning who he is before he heads off to college. Gra and Fionn both are dealing with growing apart from their kids, difficult parenting, and various senses of desperation and loss. Each character has to come to terms with the changes brought to their personal lives as Ireland and it’s people modernized.

For a meditation on growth, self discovery, a bit of corpse defamation and mystery, Irish legend, beautiful writing, and a whole lot of growing pains, this is an excellent read for anyone I would say 14+. I just didn’t like the ending and felt like it brought the whole book out of character, as well as some events occuring that I just don’t personally care to read about. I would still recommend to anyone interested in Irish folklore, life, and some 90s throwback culture!

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Mysteries

Book Tour Review! The Green Beach File by K.A. Perry

Thank you so much to Kate Rock Book Tours and K.A. Perry for having me on the Instagram tour for The Green Beach File! I posted yesterday but wanted to post a full review here because so many people were saying that they wanted to check the book out! Yay! I may be primarily a SF/F blogger but I absolutely love branching out when the opportunity presents itself!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Green Beach File
  • Series: No
  • Author: K.A. Perry
  • Publisher & Release: Permuted Press, July 2020
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: *FOUR Stars* and YES for mystery fans!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A funny, engaging legal mystery for all those who love and enjoy nature—and reading at the beach.

First, an amphibian expert is found murdered in the fancy shoreline town of Mayfield, Connecticut. Then, a second, shocking murder of a well-respected community leader occurs. Why are there murders happening in a town as peaceful as Mayfield?

Jenn isn’t the perfect clever attorney. She doesn’t love her job, has no innate ability to solve mysteries, no superpowers, and no awesome legal skills. But she does have her love and respect for nature—which tends to distract her from her legal work, yet still somehow guides her. Along with her entertaining and dysfunctional family, Jenn weaves her way into the midst of a momentous fight over land preservation.

The murders appear to be tied to the development of the largest parcel of pristine beachfront land between Boston and New York. Most folks in Mayfield want the unique beachfront preserved for the public and object to the construction of expensive homes, but are any of these folks extremist enough to murder for the environment and save coastal land? And how much will Jenn stretch the law to solve the mystery?

The book is smarter than your average cozy mystery, so I guess it’s just a mystery?  The protagonist, Jenn, is a lawyer with a love for the outdoors and multiple beverages at once.  She is quirky and feels like a real person to me. There are concerns regarding the competency and professionalism of the local detective/police force, so Jenn uses her environmental and legal expertise to help reason out the case. Her sister, community members, other lawyers, and one handsome policeman are also on the cozier side of the case.   I liked the characters a lot, I could relate to a lot of Jenn’s issues as a 30 something year old workaholic who likes her “pet trees” more than most people.  I can’t count how many people have tried to set me up with their friends or someone they know, so I feel Jenn’s pain.

The mystery itself was interesting because there were so many potential suspects.  Most locals don’t want the stretch of beach in question to be developed, and there are so many people with a stake in the profits and action.  There is one kind of obvious red herring, then at least 4 or 5 other suspects who totally could have committed the murders, with equally as many motives floating around.  It wasn’t busy though and I could easily keep track of the people and plot lines.  I made a good guess but it wasn’t the right person or motive.

I definitely recommend for fans of mysteries that are looking for a good summer read, beach book, or mystery to cozy up with next to at a winter fire.  The book is funny and on the lighter side but definitely also interesting with real life issues and a small twist of romantic interest.   Oh gosh I also love how awkward Jenn is with Matt, likening his eyes to potting soil! That’s something I would blurt out too 😀

Anyone want to recommend their favorite mystery to me? Have you read this one? Drop a comment!

Thanks again to Kate Rock Book Tours and KA Perry for my book in exchange for a feature and honest review!

Categories
Fantasy Fiction General Fiction Paranormal

Book Review: Out of the Nowhere by K.B. Elijah

Thank you so much to the author for sending me a gorgeous finished copy of her anthology of short stories/novellas!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Out of the Nowhere
  • Series: Moments in Time Anthology, #2
  • Author: K.B. Elijah
  • Publisher & Release: Self – May, 2020
  • Length: 335 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes for anyone 14+

An excerpt from the synopsis:

Out of the Nowhere: An android, a vampire, a time-traveller and Death himself walk into a bar. It may sound like a joke, yet this meeting is anything but…

Each of these novellas tells a great story with a beginning, a punch, a twist, and an ending, and most had a good laugh in there somewhere too. It is notable that anthology #1 does not need to be read prior to this one!

Death is featured as a normal guy running an office building. He is addicted to sweets and his wife is a vet. I just loved his two stories so much, especially the recap at the end where the book draws it’s title from – Out of the Nowhere.

Some other fun stories include a pirate fighting off the curse of an indignant ghost, which had me laughing quite a bit at the end. These shorter stories really connected over a short period of time which doesn’t always occur.  Another features a man trying to go back in time to save his brother, who learns a few things about fate and public nudity.

How about a god hog-tied to a horse, accidently sacrificed to another god? I can not believe how many hilarious, serious, unique things she came up with in such a short number of pages.

I ordered anthology #1 immediately upon finishing and can’t wait to read more from the author!!

Do you like anthologies?  Have you read any good short stories or novellas recently?

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Suspense

ARC Review: The Way You Burn by Christine Meade

Thank you so much to Books Forward for the advanced copy of The Way You Burn by Christine Meade! The book was received in exchange for an honest review, and all opinions are my own.

Here is the description from Amazon:

When David approaches his New Hampshire cabin one cool October night to find it engulfed in flames, he knows his girlfriend Hope set the fire. At least, he’s pretty sure he knows.

David first decides to upend the creature comforts of his post-collegiate life and try roughing it for a year after he inherits two acres of land and a rustic cabin from his deceased grandfather. Life at the cabin proves to be more difficult than expected, however, and it all starts with the woman he loves—Hope—whose dark past is written in the twisting pink scars covering her body. Their relationship is challenged after his car slides through an intersection one dark night and, later, his realization that someone is out there, watching him through the trees.

Over the course of five seasons, David struggles to maintain his relationship with Hope. Ultimately, in an attempt to understand the sacrifices she has had to make, he decides to rewrite their story. In doing so, he explores the lessons he’s left with–after everything he thought mattered is gutted or burned away—and the surprising bits of wisdom he finds in the ashes.

Those years right after college are when a large percentage of new adults are off in the world learning how to be successful and happy humans.  As a 30 something year old this is my favorite coming-of-age group to read about, as it is easier for me to relate to.  David is the main character and he decides to leave his parents house to go live in the New Hampshire cabin that his recently deceased grandfather left him.

David has recently met a young woman named Hope, who has some obvious physical scarring caused by burns.  Before too long he gets  glimpses of her inner issues in the form of small manipulations, but he lets her get away with it due to a certain level of naivety.  A large portion of the book is about David learning some of Hope’s past, then he has to balance her traumas with the need to set boundaries with her behavior.  This is difficult for adults of ANY age and eventually… well … you can see in the description that she burns his home down.  I felt like David made {mostly} good decisions as he learned his lessons.

The first most obvious thing that I encountered in the book was Meade’s use of the second person narrative.  It was a bit hard to get used to reading David’s letters in this form but it put me right into his head as he tried to do his best with the situations he encountered.

I am going to brush over the setting too and just say that David’s land sounds absolutely gorgeous.  Meade does a great job describing the changing colors of the leaves, the pond’s eco system, and the other sights, sounds, smells, and weather phenomena of the woods.  I grew up by a river and can relate to the effects of water and a fishing hole on the soul.

The book has a small suspense element as well which I really enjoyed.  David keeps finding a mysterious horse tied up in the woods among other small oddities, and he is convinced that someone else is living in his proximity.  This is actually a great storyline, no spoilers though.  I believe that this storyline is used to show how David’s maturity level grew to allow such a tasteful handling of tbe situation.

So obviously the relationships in the book are David’s catalysts in personal growth.  My absolute favorite one is with an old man named Harold that David meets, befriends, and ultimately becomes the caregiver for.  Harold is an old timer full of stories and no judgement, who teaches David what love truly looks like.  Harold’s stories about women in the insane asylum, and his wife’s devotion to caring for them, gives David insight into some major historical women’s issues and a tool for understanding his own family’s secrets.

I can’t discuss Hope too much without spoilers but I just never liked her, despite the traumas of her past.  Even with institutionalized years she never developed good coping skills.  She drove me nuts controlling David in small ways, and my little nurse brain is over here thinking “this woman is a CNA? Is she hurting or controlling her patients like this?” It didn’t seem like a good idea for her to be a caregiver at all.  Speaking of: Hope’s mother is a nurse, and at one point the book states “two generations of nurses” – technically wrong, as it is illegal for non-licensed personnel to call themselves a nurse.  Small details but she should have written “two generations of caregivers”  or something similar.

Last but not least let me use that thought to  segue into the infamous OneReadingNurse medical talk portion of the review:  actually … Kudoes to Meade on her portrayal of the hospitalized character.  A fat embolism is a huge risk of orthopedic surgeries and she nailed it as far as a logical death.  The staff acted pretty realistically as well, although I was surprised that no one took down next of kin contact info.  I might have teared up during the funeral portion. I also think Meade did an amazing job portraying Harold’s descent into dementia and the additional services he needed, from basic forgetfulness to the lowest possible moment in the bathroom with David.   I don’t want to touch the mental health portions but it seems like it was handled tastefully, and I hope that Hope did or does  actually get the additional help that she needed.

Whew, that was a tough review because the book is so deep! Let me pull back and say that while the book handles some tough themes, it is superbly well written.  I would recommend it for anyone out of college at least, anyone that enjoys a good coming of age tale, and men or women alike trying to understand life’s complexities.

Thank you so much again to Jackie at Books Forward for the advanced copy! It releases 4/14 through She Writes Press so add it to your TBR now!

Categories
Fiction General Fiction

Book Review: Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie!  I received a free copy (and a super cute press kit) in exchange for an honest review!

My first impression was that the book isn’t my typical genre at all, but it moved along quickly, held my attention, made me laugh, and I felt like it accomplished it’s goal as a satire to shed some ridiculous light on Hollywood’s … ridiculousness.  A quick Google search told me that Levangie was actually married to a big producer (of A Beautiful Mind) and wrote some successful screenplays herself, so I had to wonder….is any of this insider knowledge?  I bet some of it actually happened in real life and I played a little ‘wonder if it actually happened’ game while reading!

Alright let’s talk about the book: Here is the description from GoodReads:

When he changes the locks, she changes the rules.

Agnes Murphy Nash is the perfect Hollywood wife – she has the right friends, the right clothes, and even a side career of her own as a writer. Her husband Trevor is a bigshot producer, and from the outside it looks like they’re living a picture-perfect celebrity life, complete with tennis tournaments and lavish parties.

But the job description of a Hollywood wife doesn’t cover divorce, which is the way Agnes’ life is headed after she comes home one day to find her credit cards cancelled and the security passwords to get into her enormous LA home changed. Oh, and there’s a guy there whose job it is to tase her if she tries to enter…which she does. Needless to say, Agnes’ husband is dead set on making sure she loses big time, but Agnes isn’t the type to just lie down and take it. In a world of fremenies and hot nannies, personal psychics and “skinny” jello shots, Agnes may be losing her husband, but could that mean getting her own life back?

Been There, Married That is a drop-dead hilarious battle of wills that will make you laugh out loud, cringe, and keep turning the pages to see what crazy disaster will happen to Agnes next…and how she’ll rise from the ashes

The book was hilarious at times.  Agnes and her friends and their lifestyles in general were so over-the-top and insane that it’s not something a normal, not insanely rich person could ever relate to.  Every already ridiculous outing whether it be lunch, book club, party, or divorce court, is already crazy, and Levangie adds an extra layer of “oh my god that can’t be real” on top of everything.  That led me to believe that the entire book is a satire, which essentially makes fun of a people or a lifestyle.  Agnes goes through a messy divorce with a super organized man, who goes crazy if his notepad is moved two inches to the right on the counter.  He draws battle lines in the house and has Agnes tased on the front lawn! It was just funny!

Levangie mentions (and makes of) a lot of Hollywood trends that are leaking into regular society as well.  Some that I noticed are excessive use of therapists and personal assistants,  weird Instagram and social media themes, dieting trends, rehab stints, food frenzies, and this great bit about having a baby’s gender reveal party when they are 40!  Hello people this is actually happening in “normal people” society as well!  Pop culture is crazy and I think it’s a little important to be aware of what messages are being sent down.  General extravagance, life coaches, and even pyramid scheme jewelry sales are a few other topics that are less serious and had me laughing throughout the pages.

The custody battle almost made me feel bad for their daughter, but Trevor Nash really didn’t need to have anything to do with a child, he just wanted to WIN the divorce.  Ok, I guess I felt bad for the kid even though she had everything she could possibly want, eventually she realized that she needed her mom. Then the courtroom custody portion was sad, it seemed to be the one reminder in the book that the main character was….. a human.   Agnes’ sister was a trip as well and so were the trio of South American workers in the house, it was hard to believe that any work actually got done. One other great character is Agnes’ dad,  he is clueless but loves her endlessly, and makes a few funny cameos.

One thing that I didn’t like was how Levangie used a lot of abbreviations and different slang terms used for places, things, and ideas, and there is no way that the average reader is going to know what any of it means.  It doesn’t affect the story at all but I feel like the language could have been less ‘insider-y’ at times.  The narrative was all over the place too at times, which kind of makes sense  for the way the main character’s brain worked.  The story did streamline more in the second half of the book but it was a bit hard to read at first.

Overall this is really a pretty good read. It is a hard one at times but I recommend viewing it as a satire, a joke, and reading the underlying themes however you will.  Was it insider? Did it happen or was it just Levangie having a good laugh at pop culture? The book released in early February so check it out if it sounds like something you’d enjoy! Thank you again to St Martin’s Press for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Categories
Fiction General Fiction

The Peacock Feast by Lisa Gornick

Title: The Peacock Feast

Author: Lisa Gornick

Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Sarah Crichton Books)

Rating: 3/5 ***

Release Date: February 5th, 2019

A big thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for the eARC in exchange for an honest review

The Goodreads summary reads as follows:

The Peacock Feast opens on a June day in 1916 when Louis C. Tiffany, the eccentric glass genius, dynamites the breakwater at Laurelton Hall—his fantastical Oyster Bay mansion, with columns capped by brilliant ceramic blossoms and a smokestack hidden in a blue-banded minaret—so as to foil the town from reclaiming the beach for public use. The explosion shakes both the apple crate where Prudence, the daughter of Tiffany’s prized gardener, is sleeping and the rocks where Randall, her seven-year-old brother, is playing.

Nearly a century later, Prudence receives an unexpected visit at her New York apartment from Grace, a hospice nurse and the granddaughter of Randall, who Prudence never saw again after hcre left at age fourteen for California. The mementos Grace carries from her grandfather’s house stir Prudence’s long-repressed memories and bring her to a new understanding of the choices she made in work and love, and what she faces now in her final days.

The plot/characters:

Prudence is able to perform a life review and find validation through Grace. We hear the stories about Tiffany and the satellite characters in his life; quite an unflattering portrayal but he was such a bizarre character! We learn about Randall’s side of the family from Grace: the adventures of his dysfunctional son, the also slightly dysfunctional grandchildren, and all of those family members. Honestly there were too many characters, I had to draw a family tree and make a separate list of who was who. It was hard to keep track of Tiffany’s friends, cohorts, and employees the most. I also don’t feel like bringing the Freud’s in did much for the story. There is no grand overarching plot that I can discern but the themes carry the book across generations.

The Themes:

The grand theme throughout the book could be adapting to and accepting grief, death, and reconciliation with your life choices. These themes appeared across and united all of the story lines. Grace, the great-niece and hospice nurse, was the shining star of this book for me due to her breathtakingly accurate descriptions of her career. Even as an ICU nurse I can appreciate her ongoing assessment of everyone’s health. I would almost think Gornick is or was a nurse! Outside of Grace, the book had solid but generally unimpressive writing and descriptions.

Other Random Bits and Wrap up:

It was very cool that Anais Nin got a mention. My dad reviewed a few of her books and had ongoing correspondence with her. She was a lovely and under-hyped writer. I thought Anna Freud was going to uncover Prudence’s memory but she really had no main role. Overall the book did have some interesting parts, but other times it was hard to stick with, depending on what story lines one enjoyed most.

I gave it 3/5 stars and would recommend to fans of general fiction, any design gurus, quite a few nurses would enjoy it as well! Thank you again to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy!

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Suspense

What We Did by Christobel Kent

Title: What We Did

Author: Christobel Kent

Release date: Feb 5th, 2019

(Note: a prior edition is currently available on Amazon)

Rating: 3 stars

First off, a big thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, for the eARC in exchange for an honest review!

The summary appears as follows:

Bridget has a secret—one she keeps from everyone, even her husband. One that threatens to explode when her childhood music teacher, Carmichael, walks into her dress shop. With him is a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, fresh-faced and pretty. She reminds Bridget of herself at that age, naïve and vulnerable.

Bridget wants him away—away from her, away from that girl. But Carmichael won’t leave her alone, won’t stop stalking her. And Bridget’s not a little girl anymore. When he pushes her too far, she snaps. But what she thought was a decisive act only unravels more insidious threats—more than she could have ever imagined—and from which no one is safe, not even her family.

The bestselling British author Christobel Kent has written yet another thrilling page-turner with a twisted, riveting conclusion. What We Did is a nightmarish, impossible-to-put-down tale of the secrets we keep from our families, of chilling childhood abuse, and of long-awaited retribution.

Let’s start with the plot! A team of pedophiles is back in Bridget’s life from her childhood, threatening her family and at least one other young girl in the community. Her husband works at the local college with one of the men and becomes unwittingly involved as a journalist nudges him into her search for proof. The book started off predictably with the main pedophile accidentally murdered, but turned into a tangle as the plot wound and unwound with repercussions and events throughout the novel. It kept me interested but also disappointed at times as I felt like more could have happened.

A good example is outside of Carmichael’s house when a man was behind Bridget all of a sudden. It ended up being a benign event but the author makes us wait through another point of view chapter before revealing what had happened, and here I was thinking that she was going to get either abducted or rescued from another pedophile! This happened more than once. The transitions between past and present were confusing at times too, I understand that was how Bridget’s mind flashed back and forth but sometimes I didn’t know what was happening and had to read the page again. Overall though it kept me engaged through the novel.

That covers the writing style as well. As far as the characters: I ended up liking Gill a lot more than I thought I would, although I found myself skimming her point of view chapters. Her life didn’t interest me at all and she just seemed to add length to the book. Finn and Laura are the innocent characters that drive home the point that abuse can appear in all forms, to anyone. The characters were pretty neutral to me but I ended up feeling bad for most of them. Matt was my favorite, just a guy trying to do the right thing.

Overall I am sticking with 3 stars. I ended up loving how she tied everything together at the end, even if it took a while to get there. It looked like the characters were going to be able to move on and rebuild their lives in a healthier manner. The book was a decent suspense/thriller, and I would recommend to anyone who likes that kind of suspenseful fiction.