Saturday, November 30, 2013

My take on: Lies You Wanted to Hear

Sometimes it helps to hear a lie instead of the truth. It hurts to hear the truth. Sometimes it makes you feel better to be in denial. Eventually you start to believe the lies told to you. You start telling your own lies, and you begin to believe those too. What happens when those lies catch up to you? Will your world totally collapse? Will you have the strength to pick up the pieces?

All of that and more is going on in Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitefield Thomson.

Matt was a man who lived by rules and reason. He stays inside the lines. But after a blind date with the free-spirited Lucy, Matt is immediately smitten. Lucy is wild. Lucy is outspoken. Lucy doesn't take life too seriously. Lucy is the opposite of Matt. Reading the book, I thought he should just run from her. Lucy is still pining away for her on-again off-again boyfriend Griffin. Matt is more of a distraction for Lucy than actual boyfriend material. Matt is the man you take home to meet your parents. Griffin is the man you sneak around with in the backseats of cars and seedy motel rooms. But Lucy doesn't want to hurt Matt. She can't find reasons to end their relationship. She keeps telling herself that one day the sparks will fly. One day Lucy will wonder what her life was like without Matt -- that is until Griffin comes back.

Griffin has a psychological and emotional hold over Lucy. There is a place inside her heart that Matt can never reach. But life has a funny way of working out. A surprise pregnancy forces Lucy to make a choice. A choice between a safe and secure life with Matt or a drug-fueled and unstable one with Griffin. For the sake of her unborn child, Lucy chooses Matt. But was it the right choice? Lucy tries to convince herself that the life of a suburban housewife was the right choice. She loves her children, Sarah and Nathan, but still feels disconnected from them and from Matt. Why can't she be like other mothers? A bout of depression nearly ruins her marriage. She resents Matt and his cheerful disposition. She hates him for always being the responsible one in the marriage. It's like she's looking for a reason to leave him. She's looking for a reason to leave her safe and secure life.

Of course Griffin comes back to stir the pot. Their affair offers Lucy a way out of the marriage. But at what cost? Divorce and custody proceedings bring Matt to his breaking point. He makes a very desperate choice.

***SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT***


If you're still reading, don't say I didn't warn you. Some reviews I've seen tell of this next plot point. To me it's a bit of a spoiler, so I decided to put in a little warning.

Matt decides to kidnap the kids and change their identities. He's telling himself that it's for the sake of the kids. But is that the truth? In his mind he's protecting the kids. He's taking them away from an irresponsible parent. He's taking them away from her dangerous boyfriend. He's not punishing Lucy. This is what Lucy deserves. He had the right to do this.

The book is told from Lucy and Matt's perspective. Each person believes they are the wronged party. Sometimes they fail to see the part they played in the demise of their relationship. Lucy was certainly an absent-minded parent, but does that mean she deserves the ultimate punishment of having her children taken away? I went back-and-forth with this book. One moment I'm on Matt's side and the next I'm on Lucy's. Who is right here? Neither one of them. They could only see what was being done to them. Sometimes this felt like the TV movie of the week, but it was an emotional and engaging read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Sourcebooks) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My take on: Once We Were Brothers

Imagine looking at the face of the person you once trusted with your life. Then imagine looking at that person and not recognizing who they are. The person you once loved like family betrays you in the worst possible way. Years later you find the strength to go on, but that betrayal still cuts you to the bone. One day you want to see that person pay for their crimes not just against you and your family, but against humanity. But bringing that person to justice could be the hardest fight of your life.

In Ronald H. Balson's thoroughly engrossing novel Once We Were Brothers, Ben Solomon makes it his life's mission to bring Elliot Rosenzweig to justice for his crimes as a Nazi officer.

Now living in Chicago, 83-year-old Ben should be enjoying his retirement. His beloved wife, Hannah, is gone physically, but he still holds onto to the memories of her. He even speaks to her. It might seem strange to some, but Ben often finds strength and inspiration in these conversations. That's how Ben knows the journey he is about to embark on is the right one.

Growing up in the small town of Zamosc, Poland, family was important. Ben has never forgotten Otto Piatek, the man he once considered a brother. The man Ben's father raised as his own after being abandoned by his parents. The man he once shared a room with. The man he once played with. But with the threat of war, that man slowly changed and ultimately became known as "The Butcher of Zamosc." Ben's own father convinced Otto to join Hitler's army, believing that the man he considered to be family could find a way to protect them. Initially he did, but slowly Otto changed. His help waned. A once kind and sympathetic person turned into a cold, ruthless, and brutal killer. Ben could never forget his actions and he could never forget his face.

"...we must remain diligent and relentlessly pursue men like Piatek. Evil is contagious. Much like a pathogen, it must be snuffed out at the source." -- Pg. 139

It's easy to say that the war has ended, but for some the memory will never end.

The war is long over but the memories of the past are never far from Ben's consciousness. When he spots a man who looks exactly like Otto Piatek on television, Ben is determined to bring him to justice. The man he once knew is now known as Elliot Rosenzweig, an influential and wealthy Chicago businessman. Ben wants the world to know the kind of man Elliot really is. But how? His initial attempts to bring attention to his cause are met with resistance and Ben just looks like a crazy old man. A crazy old man that attorney Catherine Lockhart can't ignore. Catherine is rebuilding her career and getting bogged down with a dog of a lawsuit isn't what she needs right now. But there is something about Ben. She wants to believe him. Believing in him gives Catherine more confidence within.

This is a thoroughly engrossing story. I'm such a sucker for World War II fiction. When Ben tells his story, Catherine is transported back to wartime Poland right along with him -- and so was I. There is just the right mix of suspense and heart-breaking emotion. As a character, Ben is the strongest. No matter the obstacle he refused to give up. Living under Nazi rule, he always found a way to protect his family. In the face of brutal torture in a prison camp, he found a way to survive. Faced with endless legal battles and actual physical danger at the hands of Otto/Elliot, Ben still wouldn't give up. He could not be bought. Unlike Otto, there was no price that could be paid for Ben's soul. He has to keep going, until "The Butcher of Zamosc" is brought to justice. Catherine draws her strength from Ben and her friend Liam, a private investigator. Every time Catherine doubts herself and her abilities as a lawyer, Ben and Liam are there to reassure her.

At times this was hard to read. I wanted to look away, but I kept going because I was totally captivated by this moving and emotional story.

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Note: I received a copy of the book from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My take on: Friday's Harbor

Nearly 20 years ago, I went on one of many family trips to Orlando, Florida. I went to Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World. For some dumb reason I thought it would be a good idea to sit in the first row at Sea World. I thought it would be cool to be splashed by Shamu (or maybe it was one of his descendants). My 11-year-old brain didn't think about the consequences. STUPID!!! I walked around for the rest of the day wet, with stringy hairy, and dry skin due to the saltwater. Why am I bringing any of this up? Reading Friday's Harbor by Diane Hammond brought back the memory!

Recently, I watched the documentary Blackfish, which is about Tilikum -- a whale in captivity at Sea World. The documentary and this book left me with such a deep respect for killer whales. The documentary certainly painted the dark side of killer whales. Friday's Harbor did the same thing, for me, but in a softer and more playful manner.

In this book, Viernes a.k.a Friday is slowly dying in his small pool in Bogota, Colombia. He's a big creature, but utterly alone. The dolphins attack him. His dorsal fin has folded over. His skin is full of lesions. The rich, eccentric, but kind-hearted Ivy Levy makes it her mission to help Friday. Her nephew Truman, is the new director of a zoo in a small town in Washington state. With significant financial help from Aunt Ivy, Truman gives Friday a new home and a chance at a prolonged life. Gabriel Jump leads a team of trainers, including Truman's girlfriend Neva, to nurse Friday back to health. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the whale's arrival. Excitement leads to more people waiting to buy tickets and of course more ticket sales mean more revenue. It should be a win-win for the zoo and the town, but nothing is ever easy.

A rather odd woman named Libertine Adagio feels a connection to Friday. In fact, she feels a connection to all animals. I know a whale isn't an animal, but for these purposes indulge me! Some people see Libertine as an animal psychic, but she sees herself as an animal communicator. She can tell if the animal is happy or sad. She goes where she is called to. Friday is calling her. To start, Truman, Gabriel, and Neva think Libertine is a little bit wackadoo!! I thought the same thing. She has a sweet demeanor. Despite her strong convictions, she is also rather shy. Ivy is immediately drawn to Libertine. Perhaps one oddball can attract another! It is Ivy who convinces Truman and Gabriel to let Libertine volunteer at the zoo. It's then that I began to wonder if that was Libertine's plan all along. As nice as she seems, Libertine also associates with some more extreme animal rights activists. Is taking the volunteer job part of a larger scheme to sabotage the zoo? It's hard to come to that conclusion. Libertine hates seeing animals in captivity, but she comes to see that is what's best for Friday. He's not in danger; Friday is in fact thriving.

I'm pretty sure this is my first foray into animal fiction, and I definitely want to take another trip. Friday's Harbor is actually the sequel to Hannah's Dream, but I don't think you need to know too much about the first book to read this one. Although this is a work of fiction, the author never fails to remind readers that one can never underestimate a killer whale. A once sullen Friday, slowly becomes more playful and rebellious. Diane Hammond shows how one must respect this beautiful creature, but in a humorous and heartwarming way.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

My take on: The Girl You Left Behind

Sometimes I'm a bad, bad blogger. I should have finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes sooner!!

At the height of World War I, a small French town is under the tight control of German soldiers. There is little food to go around. There is little information about the war. One woman, Sophie Lefevre, is determined to go on. She and her sister, Helene, run a small hotel and restaurant. They do the best they can to shield their children from the horrors of the war. Sophie's husband Edouard is off fighting in the war for France. Sophie knows she will see him again. All she has to hold onto is the portrait Edouard painted of her. Everyday she stares at the painting, wondering if she will ever be that girl again. The girl in that picture didn't have to fear German soldiers. The girl in that picture didn't have to worry where her next meal was coming from. The girl in that picture was happier and prettier. The girl in that picture is gone.

A German soldier also admires Sophie and the painting. He admires the girl she used to be. He forces Sophie and Helene to cook for his men, in exchange the family gets the uneaten scraps. His admiration leads to late-night talks with Sophie. She comes to see a softer side of a man that is supposedly evil. Maybe he can help her see Edouard again. Maybe Sophie is naive to believe this man can help her. But in times like this what is left but hope? In my opinion, this is where the mystery comes in. I wanted to be hopeful for Sophie, but I was also waiting for the other shoe to drop. When and how is her hope going to be shattered? Will she go to a prison camp like so many others in the town? Sophie's storyline alone is so engrossing and sad.

Before there is any resolution to Sophie's story, the present-day angle takes over. Liv Halston has an equally sad story to tell. Her husband David died suddenly four years ago. She spends her days holed up in the glass house he built. Occasionally copy-writing jobs and some charity work breakup the monotony of Liv's life. When she's alone in her bedroom, she stares up at the one thing she could never part with -- a painting. Yes that painting! Sophie's painting has changed hands multiple times and is now known as The Girl You Left Behind. In a twist of fate, Liv takes a chance on a renewed friendship and a chance on love. Mo, a rather eccentric waitress, comes back into Liv's life at just the right time. Mo is funny and messy -- just what Liv needs. Mo also becomes an accidentally roommate, one who isn't afraid confront Liv.

The handsome Paul McCafferty is immediately smitten by Liv. It's finally Ok for Liv to be happy again. But fate will intervene. Paul just happens to work for a company that hunts down stolen artwork. Want to take a guess on what his latest assignment is? I found that part to be just a little too convenient. He didn't intentionally fall in love with Liv. He didn't intentionally cozy up to her in order to get the painting back. But the author certainly intended for this to happen, which I found to be a little weird. Other than that plot point, I didn't have any problems with this book.

Ultimately, Liv feels betrayed by Paul. How can someone take away a painting that Liv has owned for years? A legal battle ensues over the painting. It's hard to understand an attachment to a thing, but Liv certainly has one. She seems attached to Sophie. She sees something in Sophie that no else does. She doesn't know everything about Sophie, but Liv feels a deep connection to the girl in the painting. Both women were left behind. Both women are clinging to the lives they used to lead. No matter the obstacles, both women are determined to find some peace.

I connected more with Sophie's character. Sophie did more with less. She didn't let the opinions of others bring her down. I found Liv to be just a bit annoying and I thought she whined just a little bit too much. Jojo Moyes did a great job of blending a historical narrative with a present-day narrative. It also has just the right blend of romance and mystery. Overall, this was well-written and at times heart-breaking. After reading this, I have to read Jojo Moyes' last book Me Before You !!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin). The Girl You Left Behind is also the October book club selection for She Reads.
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