Saturday, May 6, 2017

My take on: The Mothers

I have seen nothing but great reviews for The Mothers by Brit Bennett. When my co-workers picked it for our book club, I thought it was a great choice. After reading it, I feel a bit indifferent about the book. There were some parts of it that were really good, but the rest......

The premise, the lives of three young people, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey, as seen through the eyes of a group of mothers. The mothers are a group of women who worship at the same church. At times they take great pride in Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey. But in my opinion all the mothers are a bunch of gossiping, judgmental woman. Which I'm sure is par for the course at a lot of churches. In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia is the bad one. Luke is the pastor's son, and can do no wrong. Aubrey is the sweet, virginal one and must stay away from bad influences like Nadia. All three play right into those roles, but the decisions they make as teenagers will impact them forever.

In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia never had a chance. After her mother committed suicide, Nadia "lacked" the proper maternal guidance. Her father, Robert, is physically in her life, but emotionally he's long gone. Instead of turning all of his attention and love to his daughter, he focuses on helping the church. Helping the church is what feels normal to him. Her father just let her run "wild." She ran right into the arms of Luke, getting pregnant just months before she starts college. Her decision to have an abortion is the turning point in everyone's life. Would life have turned out differently if she had the baby? Perhaps. But she didn't. After the abortion, Luke treats Nadia like she doesn't exist. He doesn't want to acknowledge her feelings because he's too busy wallowing in his own misery. Without Luke in her life, Nadia seeks friendship elsewhere. She finds it in Aubrey.

In the eyes of the mothers, Aubrey is everything Nadia isn't. Aubrey volunteers at the church. She's respectful and kind to everyone. Aubrey's mother is alive, but isn't an active participant in her life. Shouldn't that make the mothers question the type of person Aubrey is? But they don't. She has an air of purity that Nadia doesn't. That's why it's worrisome when Nadia and Aubrey become best friends. So close, they almost seem like sisters. But that all changes when Nadia finally leaves for college in Michigan. She still speaks to Aubrey regularly, but Nadia avoids coming home at all costs. Aubrey finds friendship and love in the most unlikely person, Luke.

It seems soooo wrong that Luke and Aubrey end up together. Aubrey is everything that Nadia wasn't, attentive, caring, and loving. In the years in between his relationship with Nadia and his relationship with Aubrey, Luke's life fell apart. He went from college football prospect to a reject. He had setback after setback. His life was aimless until he met Aubrey. But I found this relationship so cliche. He can only have a relationship with a good girl? Nadia is the one who really ruined his life by having an abortion? Why was it so easy for him to love Aubrey and not Nadia?

Telling Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey's stories through the eyes of a group of mothers was an interesting premise, but ultimately a total letdown. The chapters open with the mothers narrating, but for only a few paragraphs and then we don't hear from them again until the next chapter. Early on, I found this to be confusing because it took me a couple chapters to understand who the narrators were. Also problematic for me was the portrayal of abortion. Without going into too much detail, Nadia's abortion impacts not just Luke but the entire church. If you have one, well darn your life is going to suck afterward. Was this book supposed to be a cautionary tale on abortion? What kind of message is that? This book had potential, but by the end it was unfulfilled potential.

Rating: Meh

Thursday, April 20, 2017

My take on: In Farleigh Field

The dangers of World War II hit close to home at Farleigh Place, when the dead body of soldier is discovered on the stately grounds. His death the result of a failed parachute. But the bigger mystery? Who was he? He had no I.D., and even the soldiers stationed at Fairleigh Place don't know who he is. His only possession? A photograph. Perhaps he was a spy? A German spy? Who he was, who he intended to meet, and why is at the heart of In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen.

Ben Cresswell, an MI5 operative, is tasked with finding out who the dead soldier was. Ben's special relationship with Farleigh allows him to carry out his mission covertly. Farleigh Place is home to Lord Westerham, his wife, Lady Esme, and their five daughters Pamela, Margot, Diana, Dido, and Phoebe. Ben is a longtime family friend. This assignment offers Ben the chance to get closer to Pamela, whom he has been in love with for years. But Pamela is smitten with Jeremy Prescott, a pilot who has recently escaped from a Nazi prison camp. However, Pamela is more than just a lovesick young woman, she's doing her part to help Britain defeat Germany. Pamela is a code breaker, which her family doesn't know. She isn't the only one in the family keeping secrets. Margot is in Paris under the guise of an apprenticeship with a famous fashion designer, but she's actually part of the resistance.

The investigation into the mysterious soldier leads to more questions than answers. Ben can't fathom that anyone at Farleigh or in town is involved. The traitor can't be someone he knows. Maybe that's denial on Ben's part. Or maybe it's a stranger? The only tangible clue is the photograph, which Ben is convinced is a coded message. The photo maybe part of a larger conspiracy, and Ben needs to figure it out before it's too late.

Historical fiction is right in my wheelhouse. I loved the premise and there definitely was mystery and intrigue throughout. But sometimes I felt like there was a little too much going on. The story is told from the perspective of several characters, which I didn't think was totally necessary. Each character could have had their own book, but all of the storylines were together in this one story which made for uneven pacing. I was pulled in by the dead soldier. What was his motive? What was his mission? Did he intend to land at Farleigh? I wanted the book to stick to that story and Ben and Pamela's relationship. But there is still a lot to like about this book. My favorite aspect is that the women in this book are very driven and determined not to be damsels in distress. They want to be part of the action just like the men. Overall, this a worthy read and I would gladly read another book by this author.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My take on: The Hate U Give

It usually takes months sometimes years before I jump on the hot book of the moment. I've only read one Harry Potter book. I'm still struggling through Game of Thrones and The Book Thief. One day I will finish The Lunar Chronicles. But I made an exception for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Hate U Give has been praised by multiple authors, readers, bloggers, and media outlets. I wanted to see if this book was worth the hype. I'll be honest, I wasn't totally wowed by the writing style but I was wowed by the subject matter and the message. The author was inspired by the music of Tupac Shakur and the Black Lives Matter movement, and it shows in this book.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is the sole witness to the shooting death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who dies at the hands of a white police officer. Like many real-life police shootings, Khalil's case becomes a national headline and a fight for justice -- resulting in riots, violence, and vandalism. Lost in all the madness? Starr. The night Khalil died, is also the night Starr lost her voice and her identity. Can she find herself again and get justice for Khalil?

"...people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right." -- Pg. 59

For the past several years, Starr has lived in two worlds -- her poor black neighborhood of Garden Heights and her middle-class prep school Williamson. She doesn't speak, act, and think the same way in both of those worlds. At school, she's Williamson Starr. At home, she's Garden Heights Starr. In Garden Heights, Starr can let her guard down. But at Williamson, her guard is always up, even with her friends, Maya and Hailey, and her boyfriend, Chris. She spends a lot of energy keeping the two worlds separate. Her Williamson friends don't visit Garden Heights and vice versa. But after Khalil's death, it's getting harder and harder to keep the two separate. Students at Williamson want to protest Khalil's shooting, but they're not doing it for the right reasons. She wants to express her anger and grief over Khalil's death, but then Garden Heights Starr might come out. The people at Williamson, especially Hailey, wouldn't know what to do with Garden Heights Starr -- the one who is angry about racial digs Hailey has thrown her way.

Garden Heights itself is in turmoil. Maverick "Big Mav" Carter, Starr's dad, tries to keep the peace in the neighborhood and in his home. Mav is an ex-con and ex-gang member, his words of wisdom carry a lot of weight except with King, the neighborhood gang leader. As the riots and violence increase in the neighborhood, so does the tension in the Carter household. Lisa, Starr's mom, wants their family out of the neighborhood, but that's a concept Mav struggles with. How can he bring about change if he leaves Garden Heights? Is he a sellout if he leaves? Clearly, Starr isn't the only one in the household with identity struggles.

Overall, I wish there was a book like this when I was younger. I don't remember reading about characters that looked like me. I'm in my thirties and I truly appreciate books like this. My one knock on this book, the writing style. The writing takes some getting used to, and I wasn't in love with the numerous references to 1990s culture and entertainment. The references felt like overkill. But put that aside, and this is still a very good book -- one I wish a lot of people in power would read. If politicians and law enforcement could truly understand the other side, understand people not like them, today's climate would be so much better. The ending isn't sunshine and roses, it plays out very true to real life!

Rating: Superb

Monday, March 20, 2017

My take on: The Hike

The Hike by Drew Magary is an odyssey through an Alison in Wonderland-like world on acid. Trust me, this is a compliment! I know this might not be popular opinion, but this is one of the best, funniest, and weirdest books I've read in a long time.

Yes, The Library at Mount Char was weird, but that took me a long time to like and understand. I think The Hike succeeded where the latter didn't. The Hike could almost pass for a children's story, if only for that pesky cursing, drinking, and mild sex!

Ben is an ordinary dude, with an ordinary life. He has a wife, Teresa, and three children. Everything is normal....until he heads to the Poconos for a business trip. After settling into his hotel, Ben decides to go for a hike in the woods. What could go wrong? Everything!

At first, it seems like Ben is lost. Did he see that tree before? Did he pass that rock before? But things take an odd turn. He sees two men with Rottweiler faces burying a body. Yes, men with dog faces. Men with dog faces who are out to kill Ben. Somehow he gets away from them, finding a tent, drinks, and a backpack filled with food. How is it that supplies just happen to magical find their way to Ben? Nobody is that lucky, but he's not about to squander his good fortune. Partaking in beer and hot dogs, Ben takes the first of several trips down memory lane. He dreams of a former girlfriend, but it feels so real that Ben believes he's cheating on Teresa. Is it all just a really bad dream? He'll wake up soon from this nightmare won't he?

There is no waking up from this nightmare, at least not any time soon. In the morning, Ben seems to be caught in some medieval world. He encounters Mrs. Blackwell who doesn't seem to understand anything Ben is talking about. Like how does one charge their phone, when this lady doesn't even know what one is? But she's there to set Ben on his path and offer some very wise advice. Ben has to find the producer and to do so he has to stay on the path. If he leaves the path, he's not only risking his life but his sanity.

Along his travels, Ben meets some very funny, dangerous, and weird characters. A crab named Crab becomes Ben's sidekick. Yes, don't call Crab anything other than "Crab" or he'll snap your fingers off with his claws. As insane as it sounds for a grown man to speak with a talking crab, it's funny and it all makes sense. Ben and Crab appear to be a real-life Odd Couple, but they become friends and save each other at every turn. When they meet Fermona, a human-eating wise-cracking giant, Ben and Crab work together to outsmart her.

Days turn to weeks. Weeks turn to months. Months turn to years. Yes, Ben is stuck in this wackadoo alternate universe for years. The friends and enemies he makes on this journey come and go. The only constant is Ben. Slowly, he's losing his physical and emotional strength. How will he ever get out of this cycle? Does he want out? If he does get out will he be the same? Will his family be the same? Will they even remember him? Sometimes it felt like Ben's journey was a way of atoning for his past sins. He gets to re-live many prominent moments in his past. The memories are so vivid, it's hard to know what's real and what isn't. But each morning it's clear that Ben is far removed from reality.

This was my office book club pick, and I really didn't have high hopes. Fantasy just isn't my thing, but I'm trying to read outside of my comfort zone. I'm glad I did. From start to finish, I was hooked. It's heavy on the fantasy/magical realism, but it's also about discovering the depths of one's own humanity. It becomes clear that the answer to Ben's problems is not within this wacky world but himself. Whenever he realizes that he just might be saved. Overall, this was a fun, heartwarming, fascination, and WACKY read!

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Take on: The Possessions

Somewhere in the distant future, there exists a society that reconnects people with dead loved ones. Eurydice a.k.a. Edie works as a "body" at the Elysian Society. The bodies surround themselves with clothing, pictures, and other sentimental items of the deceased, immersing themselves in the lives of those who have passed. Then with the swallowing of a pill called a lotus, the bodies cease to exist and the dead take over. It's all done in a controlled environment and has worked to great success. But that only works as long as everyone follows the rules. Edie is tempted to break those rules but it comes at a cost in this thrilling debut, The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy.

In her five years at the Elysian Society, Edie has always played by the rules. She doesn't get attached to her clients. She goes to work and then she does home. She doesn't socialize a lot. Edie's co-workers don't know much about her. She's the goody-two shoes in the office. But the cracks in Edie's armor start to show once she takes on Patrick Braddock as a client.

Patrick's wife, Sylvia, drowned more than a year ago and is still grieving. He comes to the Elysian Society for help. With Edie's help, he gets to feel, touch, and talk to Sylvia again. When the first session is over, Edie would normally go back to her life. The lotus pills don't allow bodies to retain memories of their sessions. But there's something different about Patrick and Sylvia. He gives Edie some of Sylvia's sentimental items to keep, including a beloved book and her favorite shade of lipstick. She feels connected to the Braddocks more than any other clients. But that connection has a price. Edie is also having very vivid dreams, which could possibly be Sylvia's memories. Sylvia died under mysterious circumstances. Did she really drown accidentally or was something more sinister at work? The answers to those questions become Edie's obsession. She starts meeting Patrick outside the confines of the Elysian Society. The professional boundaries start to blur. Is Patrick just a client? Or does Sylvia want more? A real relationship? But what if Patrick isn't the grieving husband? Is risking her career worth it?

I'm not sure what I was expecting with this book. The premise sounded very unique. I went into this thinking it would lean toward science fiction. What I got was a thrilling, romantic suspense book. This a strange and weird city. Who would want to subject themselves to such a process over and over again? Connecting with a loved one sounds like a good idea, but what do you do when you have to go back to your regular life? This was a different take on a dystopian society, making for an addicting read.

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My take on: The River at Night

Four friends head off for a little fun and a little adventure. Sounds like a good idea right? But what if that weekend getaway turned into a nightmare? Stripped of all your worldly possessions, food, and water, what would you do to survive? Is it every man, woman, and child for themselves? Or would you find some way to rely on each other?

That's the scenario Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel, are facing in The River at Night by Erica Ferencik.

In the past, Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel went for the typical girls getaway: beaches, sun, sand, and alcohol. Thanks to Pia's adventurous spirit, the tropics have been replaced with a camping and rafting trip. In the midst of a divorce, Wini is reluctant to rough it out in the woods. And Pia's plan, isn't exactly well thought out. Which I found a bit odd for modern women. But of course they all go, otherwise there would be no point to this book.

The trip starts out fine. They trek from their big-city lives to a small town in Maine, where some of the locals aren't so welcoming. But their young river guide, Rory, makes up for that. He and Pia clearly have a lot of mutual affection, much to the chagrin of Wini, Sandra, and Rachel. Sometimes the lovebirds don't seem to realize not everyone wants to see and hear their lust for each other, leading to a lot of tension in the group. But all of that has to be put aside once they venture out on the river. Rory makes it clear that all of the bickering has to stop once they're in the water. The surging rapids are in charge and everyone will have to listen and work together.

What should be a unique experience for Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel becomes a fight for survival. A freak accident leaves the four women alone with nothing but their helmets and the clothes on their backs to survive. It's at this point where the book comes alive for me. It was a little slow for me and I was waiting for the hook. For the suspense. The closest comparisons I can think of to this book are the movies Deliverance and The River Wild. In both movies, everything starts out sunshine and roses and then everything turns to %&*^ (insert your four-letter word of choice)!!

There are moments when I thought these women would turn on each other. Who do they trust? Themselves? The woods? Or two mysterious strangers who might have ulterior motives? I won't go into detail on that one, I think that would be giving away too much. Anyway you slice it, these women will never be the same after this trip. If they do survive, how can they go back to normal life after such a traumatic experience?

The wilderness and the river are like extra characters, every time the women venture into both it threatens to consume them literally and figuratively. There are moments when all of them feel like giving up. Just let the elements take them. But just when you think they're at their lowest points they come back. At its core, this is about friendship and learning who you are when everything has been taken away. It's a suspenseful and enjoyable read.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Excerpt: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik



Read on for a little snippet from The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
1

Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.
A slapping spring wind ushered me through the heavy doors of the YMCA lobby as the minute hand of the yellowing 1950s-era clock over the check-in desk snapped to 7:09. Head down and on task to be in my preferred lane by precisely 7:15, I rushed along the glass corridor next to the pool. The chemical stink leaked from the ancient windows, as did the muffled shrieks of children and the lifeguard’s whistle. I felt cosseted by the shabby walls, by my self-righteous routine, by the fact that I’d ousted
myself from my warm bed to face another tedious day head-on. Small victories.
I’d just squeezed myself into my old-lady swimsuit when the phone in my bag began to bleat. I dug it out. The screen pulsed
with the image of Pia Zanderlee ski-racing down a double black
diamond slope somewhere in Banff.
My choices? Answer it now or play phone tag for another week.
Pia was that friend you love with a twinge of resentment. The
sparkly one who never has time for you unless it’s on her schedule,
but you like her too much to flush her down the friendship toilet.
“Wow, a phone call—from you!” I said as I mercilessly assessed
my middle-aged pudge in the greasy mirror. “To what do I owe the
honor?”
Of course I knew the reason. Five unanswered texts.
Pia laughed. “Hey, Win, listen. We need to make our reservations.
Like, by tomorrow.”
I fished around in my swim bag for my goggles. “Yeah, I
haven’t—”
“I get it. Nature’s not your thing, but you’re going to love it
once you’re out there. Rachel and Sandra are chomping at the bit
to go, but they have to make their travel plans. We all do.”
With a shudder, I recalled my frantic Google search the night
before for Winnegosset River Rafting, Maine.
No results.
“Just wondering why this place doesn’t have some kind of
website. I mean, is it legit?” I asked, my voice coming out all high
and tinny. Already I was ashamed of my wussiness. “I’d hate to
get all the way up there and find out this is some sort of shady
operation—”
I could feel her roll her eyes. “Wini, just because some place
or something or someone doesn’t have a website doesn’t mean
they don’t exist.” She sounded windblown, breathless. I pictured
her power walking through her Cambridge neighborhood, wrist
weights flashing neon. “It’s a big old world out there. One of the
reasons this place is so awesome is because no one knows about it
yet, so it’s not booked solid before the snow’s even melted. That’s
why there’s space for the weekend we all want, get it? This year,
it’s the world’s best-kept secret—next year, forget it!”
“I don’t know, Pia . . .” I glanced at the time: 7:14.
She laughed, softening to me now. “Look, the guy who runs the white-water tours is a good friend of my dad—he’s my dad’s friend’s son, I mean, so it’s cool.”
          “Can’t believe Rachel would want to—”
“Are you crazy? She’s dying to go. And Sandra? Please. She’d get on a plane right now if she could.”
With a wave of affection I pictured my last Skype with Sandra: kids running around screaming in the background, papers to correct stacked next to her. When I brought up the trip, she’d groaned, Hell, yes, I’m game for anything—just get me out of Dodge!
“Wini, listen up: Next year—I promise, we’ll go to a beach somewhere. Canc├║n, Key West, you choose. Do nothing and just bake.
“Look, Pia, I’m at the pool and I’m going to lose my lane—”
“Okay. Swim. Then call me.”
I tucked my flyaway dirty-blond bob—the compromise cut for
all hopelessly shitty hair—under my bathing cap, then hustled my
stuff into a locker and slammed it shut. Do nothing and just bake.
Did she really think that was all I was interested in? Who was the
one who rented the bike the last time we went to the Cape? Just
me, as I recalled, while all of them sat around the rental pouring
more and more tequila into the blender each day. And my God—
we were all pushing forty—shouldn’t awesome and cool be in the
rearview mirror by now?


I crossed the slimy tiles of the dressing room and pushed open
the swinging doors to the pool. The air hit me, muggy and warm,
dense with chlorine that barely masked an underwhiff of urine
and sweat. Children laughed and punched at the blue water in the
shallow end as I padded over to my favorite lane, which was . . .
occupied.
It was 7:16 and frog man had beat me to it. Fuck.
For close to a year, this nonagenarian ear, nose, and throat doctor
and I had been locked in a mostly silent daily battle over the
best lane—far left-hand side, under the skylights—from 7:15 to
8:00 each weekday morning. Usually I was the victor, something
about which I’d felt ridiculous glee. We’d only ever exchanged
the briefest of greetings; both of us getting to the Y a notch earlier
each day. I imagined we both craved this mindless exercise,
thoughts freed by the calming boredom of swimming and near weightlessness.
      But today I’d lost the battle. I plopped down on a hard plastic seat, pouting inside but feigning serenity as I watched him slap through his slow-motion crawl. He appeared to lose steam near the end of a lap, then climbed the ladder out of the pool as only a ninety-year-old can: with careful deliberation in every step. As I watched the water drip off his flat ass and down his pencil legs, I realized that he was making his way to me, or rather to a stack of
towels next to me, and in a few seconds I’d pretty much have to talk to him. He uncorked his goggles with a soft sucking sound. I noticed his eyes seemed a bit wearier than usual, even for a man his age who had just worked his daily laps.
“How are you?” I shifted in my seat, conscious of my bathing
cap squeezing my head and distorting my face as I stole the odd
glance at the deliciously empty lane.
“I’m well, thank you. Though very sad today.”
I studied him more closely now, caught off guard by his
intimate tone. “Why?”
Though his expression was grim, I wasn’t prepared for what he
said.
“I just lost my daughter to cancer.”
“I’m sorry,” I choked out. I felt socked in the soft fleshy parts;
smacked off the rails of my deeply grooved routine and whipped
around to face something I didn’t want to see.
He took a towel and poked at his ears with it. A gold cross hung
from a glimmering chain around his thin neck, the skin white and
rubbery looking. “It was a long struggle. Part of me is glad it’s over.”
He squinted at me as if seeing me for the first time. “She was
about your age,” he added, turning to walk away before I could
utter a word of comfort. I watched him travel in his flap step the
length of the pool to the men’s lockers, his head held down so low
I could barely see the top of it.
My hands trembled as I gripped the steel ladder and made my
way down into the antiseptic blue. I pushed off. Eyes shut tight
and heart pumping, I watched the words
She was about your age
hover in my brain until the letters dissolved into nothingness. The
horror of his offhand observation numbed me as I turned and
floated on my back, breathing heavily in the oppressive air. As I
slogged joylessly through my laps, I thought of my own father
rolling his eyes when I said I was afraid of sleepaway camp, of third
grade, of walking on grass barefoot “because of worms.” As cold as
he could be to my brother and me, not a thing on earth seemed to
frighten him.
I had barely toweled myself off when my phone lit up with
a text from Pia. A question mark, that was it. Followed by three
more. Methodically I removed my work clothes from my locker,
arranging them neatly on the bench behind me. I pulled off my
bathing cap, sat down, and picked up the phone.
         My thumbs hovered over the keys as I shivered in the over-
heated locker room. I took a deep breath—shampoo, rubber, mold,
a sting of disinfectant—and slowly let it out, a sharp pain lodging in my gut. I couldn’t tell which was worse, the fear of being left behind by my friends as they dashed away on some ├╝berbonding, unforgettable adventure, or the inevitable self-loathing if I stayed behind like some gutless wimp—safe, always safe—half-fucking-dead with safety. Why couldn’t I just say yes to a camping trip with three of my best friends? What was I so afraid of?
Pool water dripped from my hair, beading on the phone as I commanded myself to text something.
Anything.
I watched my fingers as they typed, Okay, I’m in, and pressed send.
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