4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWhen I was just out of college and in my first year of teaching, my mentor and I shared a love of books and reading.  She loaned me Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg, which was her favorite book.  I had never read a book more simply and beautifully written.  It still stands out to me as one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

When I am in a reading slump, I can always count on Elizabeth Berg to get me out of it.  Her writing is simple and her characters complex.  The chapters are short enough that you can say, “one more” and before you know it, you are done with the book.  She is the only author whose books I have read in one sitting.

Night of Miracles starts out by reminding the reader of what the earth looks like from an airplane, quilt patches of farmland, neat divisions of road, perfect little boxes of houses.  Elizabeth Berg reminds us of the feeling we get when we see that: a feeling that the world can be organized and orderly.

And then she takes us into a small town, like we often imagine when we are flying over them.  She takes us into the lives of various people in town.  Lucille, a retired school teacher who teaches baking classes.  Tiny, an overweight taxi driver.  Monica, a heavy set waitress.  Iris, a new transplant from Boston.  Abby and Jason and their son, Lincoln, and the issues that arise for them.  Maddy, who has moved away but comes back to visit with her daughter.  Arthur, who died, but who is important in the lives of several characters.

This is a beautiful story about love and loss, forgiveness, sacrifice, friendship, neighbors, marriage.  I recommend it to anyone who loved The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom or Us Against You by Fredrik Backman.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House for my advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

From the Publisher:

The feel-good book of the year: a delightful novel of friendship, community, and the way small acts of kindness can change your life, by the bestselling author of The Story of Arthur Truluv

Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.

When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most.

“Elizabeth Berg’s characters jump right off the page and into your heart” said Fannie Flagg about The Story of Arthur Truluv. The same could be said about Night of Miracles, a heartwarming novel that reminds us that the people we come to love are often the ones we don’t expect.

 

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4.5 star reviews, activism, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

4.5/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

One of the most fearless writers of our time, Jodi Picoult tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

My Review:

Jodi Picoult is one of my go-to authors.  I love how she takes relevant, timely and often controversial issues and shows them from the perspectives of many people on different sides of the issue.

A Spark of Light is about abortion and a woman’s right to choose.

Both the gunman and the hostage negotiator are struggling with their teenage daughters growing up.  Both of their daughters have been to the clinic.  We don’t know Hugh, the hostage negotiator’s position on abortion, but we know that when his college girlfriend got pregnant, she had the baby and derailed his dreams of becoming an astronaut and we know he wants to save his daughter.

Jodi Picoult allows us to go inside the mind of an abortion activist who has gone undercover in the clinic on the day the hostages are taken to try to get some incriminating information about the clinic.  We also go inside the mind of a woman who was raised in foster care and is struggling to put herself through college when she gets pregnant.  And we get inside the head of the nurse, who is pregnant herself and was raised in poverty but now has a devoted boyfriend from a different background and she lacks the confidence to believe he could love her.  We get to see the pain that each of these women is in as they come to grips with their situation.

We also get to understand the position of the doctor, who is a Christian, but whose mother died having an illegal abortion.  I found his perspective to be the most interesting and the most different and things that I had never thought of before.  At the end of the book, he takes one of the pro-life activists out for breakfast and they have a talk and he explains his position.

I think this is an important book.  It’s easy to be on the side we are on, it’s more difficult to understand someone else’s perspective but we need to be able to do that.  So often I feel that our country is becoming more and more divided.  Twenty-four hour news and the de-personalization of social media and I find myself angry with people that I have been friends with for thirty years because they don’t understand my side of things or because they don’t agree with me.  Politics and religion were always two things we didn’t talk about in polite company, yet now we seem to feel free to put those things on social media and it is dividing us more and more.  I am guilty of it myself.  I feel strongly about things and I want my voice heard.  I think it’s ok to use social media as a political platform, as long as you are open to the perspectives of other people.  That is what I love about Jodi Picoult’s books, she makes it easy to understand the perspectives of other people.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House Ballantine for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

You Were Always Mine by Nicole Baart

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetMy Review:

Domestic thriller; perfectly paced; wonderfully developed characters

Jessica and Evan are recently separated.  They have two sons, their biological son, Max and their adopted son, Gabe.  The characters are very well developed and relatable.  I wanted to be friends with both Jessica and Evan and I would have liked to see them get back together.

One night Evan is supposed to pick the boys up, but he doesn’t show.  Jess is annoyed until she finds out that he died on a hunting trip–when he was never the outdoorsy type.  Jess and her boys are devastated by Evan’s death and Jess finds herself not accepting it, something doesn’t feel right and she starts to investigate.  She discovers that Evan was in contact with Gabe’s biological mother.  Jess continues to investigate and I could not put this book down!  Domestic thrillers where kids are involved just make me want to make sure that the kids are safe and I can’t stop reading!

I loved this book.  I loved the characters and I wanted to be friends with them.  I could really relate to Jess, she seemed so real to me.  The story kept my interest and was the perfect blend of women’s fiction and thriller written beautifully and paced perfectly.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars because the characters were so well developed and the pacing was so right on and also because I appreciated the statistics regarding open and closed adoptions, biological parents who want to be found and those who don’t and why.  I found it very interesting as I have several friends who were adopted and some have looked for their biological parents and others have not.  I never really understood not wanting to find your biological parent or child, but after reading this I have a better understanding.

From the Publisher:

Jessica Chamberlain, newly separated and living with her two sons in a small Iowa town, can’t believe that a tragedy in another state could have anything to do with her. But when her phone rings one quiet morning, her world is shattered. As she tries to pick up the pieces and make sense of what went wrong, Jess begins to realize that a tragic death is just the beginning. Soon she is caught in a web of lies and half-truths—and she’s horrified to learn that everything leads back to her seven-year-old adopted son, Gabriel.

Years ago, Gabe’s birth mother requested a closed adoption and Jessica was more than happy to comply. But when her house is broken into and she discovers a clue that suggests her estranged husband was in close contact with Gabe’s biological mother, she vows to uncover the truth at any cost. A harrowing story of tenacious love and heartbreaking betrayal, You Were Always Mine is about the wars we wage to keep the ones we love close, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Atria books for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

4/5 stars

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This book opens with Zach hiding in a closet with his first grade class, their teacher trying to keep the kids quiet as a gunman rages through the school.  The kids hear the pops from the gun.  Finally, the police come and escort the teacher and students to a nearby church, but not before they see the blood sprayed over the halls and students laying dead on the ground.  Without giving too much away, this book takes you through the aftermath as one family heals from this terrible tragedy.

I thought this book was excellent and very well done.  I think it showed parents whose grief consumed them in a realistic way and who didn’t have anything left to give their child.  I think it was very real, with very flawed characters.  I am sure it is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This book was narrated by 6 year old Zach.  In some ways, I found his innocence made it easier to tackle difficult topics, because although the reader understood what was going on, Zach did not seem to.  I also found that I love reading children’s views and perspectives of family life.  A book narrated by an adult would never have mentioned some of the mundane details this book mentioned, but those details added so much to the story and gave an accurate picture of the family and what they were like as individuals and together.

****

School shootings were not the issue they are now when I was growing up in the 1980s.  I am always asking myself why?  What changed in our society?

I do not subscribe to the philosophy that it is additives in our food.  Or

We are more stressed as a society.  The population has doubled since I graduated from high school in 1990, I think more people fighting for space can definitely bring us closer to the end of our ropes.  We have also become more scheduled, we do more and we have our kids do more activities and that adds strain to our days.  The special effects for movies and videogames lend themselves to more spectacular violence, so there is that.  There used to be homes for mentally ill people and that was not positive, but the alternative does not seem to be either; I think we need to find some common ground where there is government sponsored help for the mentally ill (government sponsored because once the mentally ill individual becomes an adult, they would no longer be on their parents insurance and the parents may not be able to afford the care).

I am not a proponent of taking away guns.  I think any regulation in this area will lead to people getting guns through the black market.  I am not a fan of the NRA because I feel that their stance on things is pro-gun manufacturers more than pro-gun owners and quite frankly, I think the NRA gives gun owners a bad name with their statements supporting guns that look like cell phones or plans to build guns being readily available.

I think one of the biggest issues and I know this is going to be unpopular, but one of the biggest issues is parent involvement.  I think a lot of parents have a lot going on and they are just not involved with their kids and don’t know what is going on.  It could be a mental health issue or a case of bullying pushing a kid too far or a case of a kid who feel ostracized or wants attention.  I don’t believe you have to be mentally ill to want to harm other people, I think there are times when a mentally stable person can be pushed to that.  I think if parents made more time to talk to their kids and heck, spy on their kids, that could make a difference.  Not that I am blaming parents for this, but I think it’s part of the equation.

I think we need to ask ourselves what has changed in our society in the last 25 years that could have lead to school shootings being such a prevalent issue and take measures as a society to change those things.

 

 

4 star reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, thriller

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia

4.5/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

My Review:

4/5 stars

I loved this book and read it in one day–I don’t remember the last time I did that!

This book was like The Great Alone meets Magic Hour (both by Kristin Hannah) with a little Child Finder by Rene Denfeld.

Lucas and Josiah Blackthorne disappeared from society ten years ago and were assumed dead.  Then Lucas is caught robbing a store.  He is violent and nonverbal, so he is sent to a psychiatric facility where he meets Maya who is a speech therapist, wrestling with her own demons.

 

Beautiful setting of the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, a strong female lead character, a thrilling escape, a captivating mysteray and a little romance…this book has everything.  This book also explores issues of mental health in our society and how one action can have a snowball effect and affect people for decades.  I also felt that the author made a statement about power and people who think differently or want different things than the norm.  I thought these issues were well thought out and presented and encouraged deeper thought for the reader.

4 star reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

4/5 stars

I was very fortunate to get an eArc of this from Netgalley and Park Row Publishers.

I LOVE Mary Kubica’s books.  I have read them all and I loved them all.  Pretty Baby was her most unique book, different than anything I had read, but When the Lights Go Out might be a close second, if not the most unique book I have read of hers to date.

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Jessie Sloane’s mother is dying of cancer.  It was just her and her mom.  No dad, no real friends, no extended family.  So it all falls on twenty year old Jessie when her mom dies.  The stress of it all is too much for her.  She has no support and things begin to spiral out of control.

This book is a two-part narrative, with Jessie telling the contemporary story of her mother’s death, but there is another story at play: a woman’s journal entries from the late 1990s.  The journal entries tell a beautiful love story.

This is a book that can go in a lot of different directions.  There is a lot here to think about.

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  I would have liked it to have gone into more detail on certain things – but hopefully, it will give someone else the idea to flesh those parts of the story out more.  Without giving too much away, I would say that this is a story about life and family, love and struggle, what we do for love and how we identify ourselves through our relationships.

It is a very powerful novel and one that would be GREAT for book club discussions.

 

 

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hildebrand

4/5 stars

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I don’t remember what year I discovered Elin Hildebrand, but I know the book was Barefoot and my girls were still in school, we still had a Swim Club membership and I sat beside the pool that summer and read every single one of the books she had published up until that point, while my girls splashed and played with their friends.  Since then, I have looked forward to her summer book.

I saved this one until we were in LBI for a few days.  I wanted to read it on the beach.  Which I did.  And I enjoyed every single second of it.

Celeste is from a lower middle class hard working, close-knit, very moral family and Benji is from a very privileged upper class family that originally came from England, but now lives in the US.  Her mom works at the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA and his mom is a well-loved novelist.  Her dad sells men’s clothing at Neiman Marcus and his dad is some sort of hedge fund manager or something financial like that.  But Celeste and Benji meet and date and decide to get married.

On the morning of their wedding, her maid of honor is found floating in the marina outside Benji’s family’s Nantucket compound.  An investigation ensues to determine if this was foul play or an accident or even suicide.

The mystery is playful.  It didn’t feel dark or sinister, yet it was very intriguing.  I kept thinking that I had figured it out, and then was wrong.  Over and over.  Which was fun and kept me reading.

There are two beautiful love stories.  I loved Shooter’s storyline and Karen’s storyline.  I think Karen and Bruce (aka Betty and Mac) ARE the Perfect Couple.

The author encouraged the reader to contemplate how class and privilege weigh in to people’s decision making.  Were the Winburys more morally corrupt because they had been given everything and just thought they could/should have whatever they wanted?  Did the Winburys make poor choices because their choices never involved survival, homes, cars, foods would never be an issue for them.  Did Mac and Betty make better choices because they had to work hard for everything they had and the threat of it being taken away was always there?  Did Mac and Betty have higher morals because they couldn’t afford not to?

I thought the author did a great job with keeping a murder mystery not too heavy or dark (who wants heavy and dark on the beach?), but still raising questions about class and privilege and still telling a fabulous story!

I would like to thank Netgalley and Little Brown for my copy.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, Women's Fiction

All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover

4/5 stars

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My Review:

Beautiful book, well-paced, inside view into someone else’s relationship and marriage.

This book goes between 7 years ago and present.  Seven years ago, Graham and Quinn met, started dating, fell in love and got married.  Present day is seven years later and they are having fertility issues that is driving them apart.  I love books that give you an inside look into someone else’s relationship or marriage because I do think we all have a story to tell and I also think it’s interesting to see what makes other people’s marriages tick.  I felt myself getting caught up in their relationship and hoping they would work things out.  I actually got tears in my eyes when they wrote letters to each other…I don’t want to say anymore because I don’t want to give too much away!

I recommend this book to fans of romance, women’s fiction and domestic dramas.  If someone is struggling with fertility issues, I think this book may be a good fit to see how another couple deals with things.

From the Publisher:

Quinn and Graham’s perfect love is threatened by their imperfect marriage. The memories, mistakes, and secrets that they have built up over the years are now tearing them apart. The one thing that could save them might also be the very thing that pushes their marriage beyond the point of repair.

All Your Perfects is a profound novel about a damaged couple whose potential future hinges on promises made in the past. This is a heartbreaking page-turner that asks: Can a resounding love with a perfect beginning survive a lifetime between two imperfect people?

 

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller

Believe Me by JP Delaney

4/5 stars

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Happy Pub Day!!

My Review:

Riveting, Intense, Edge of Your Seat Read

This book was twisted and creepy and had me staying up really late several nights because quite frankly, I was too caught up in the book to realize the time and I may or may not have been too scared to sleep.  Even when I turned off the light and all the next day, I found myself thinking about the book and counting down the minutes until I could read it again and find out what the heck happened!

I thought the eye on the cover looked like Nicole Kidman’s eye, so I kept picturing her as Claire.  I think she would make a good Claire.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House-Ballantine for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

From Publisher:

 

 

4 star reviews, activism, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction, YA

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

4/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.

Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

My Review:

Essie and her siblings have been raised in the public eye on their parents’ reality television show.  Their dad is a famous televangelist and their mother is a very calculating, cunning woman who is raising her family as a “brand”.  Nothing imperfect allowed.  But Essie has a plan…will she be able to pull it off?

I absolutely loved this book.  The storyline was unique and made a strong statement about the hypocrisy of religious extremists and how [white] men and boys are viewed by our society and especially by our judicial system.  I loved so many of the characters and my heart broke for Essie.  I also despised some characters, Celia is a character you love to hate and want to see her get what is coming to her.

I am currently OBSESSED with the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.  There were some themes in this novel that reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale, in terms of a very conservative religious organization.  Toward the end of the novel, Meghan MacLean Weir quotes lines for Margaret Atwood’s Variation on the Word Sleep, which is one of my favorite poems and a beautiful poem about true love.  It was so perfect to quote Margaret Atwood that I got chills and tears in my eyes.  I think Meghan MacLean Weir did a wonderful job with this topic in this novel. 

I recommend this novel to anyone who likes Handmaid’s Tale or to anyone who is interested in really looking at some of the issues with religious extremism in America.  This book explores two different types of religious extremism: a cult that follows a man who predicts that the Messiah will rise again in a cave and an evangelical minister and his family who have their own reality TV series and espouse racism and homophobia, among other things.