Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Review)

12875260Title: Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Genre:  Fiction

Publisher: The Dial Press
Release Date: June 2012
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Purchase from Amazon
Pages: 360

Date Finished: May 26, 2015
4 Stars

Goodreads Description

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life – someone who will help her to heal and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

My Review

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a sad, poignant novel about loss.  It is incredibly depressing, but don’t let that keep you from reading it.  I’m not the type of person who likes to read sad books.  I don’t like to cry, as some people do.  (I actually despise it.)  But, this book was so much more than just dealing with loss and was worth the tears.

The entire story revolves around June’s loss of her uncle, Finn, to AIDS in the 1980s, but the majority of the novel is about June’s relationship with her sister, Greta, and her uncle’s partner, Toby.  It is about her struggle to keep Finn alive in her heart while growing up and moving on, a true coming of age story.

As a child who grew up in the 80s, I remember the fear, distrust, and hate that surrounded the AIDS outbreak.  It was a confusing time and so little was known about the virus.  Rumors and untruths ran rampant through society and the people who contracted HIV bore the brunt of that fear and hatred.  I thought Tell the Wolves addressed these issues beautifully.  It was a fitting tribute to those who have fought and are still fighting that battle.

Wrap-Up

This is a beautifully sad, heartfelt story.  The beginning is a little slow, but it picks up dramatically about 40% in.  The writing is really lyrical and helps carry you through the slow spots.  The synopsis of this book does not do it justice. I recommend giving it a try.  It is a perfect choice for book clubs and generates a lot of discussion.

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The Girl on the Train (Review)

22754100Title: The Girl on the Train
Author:  Paula Hawkins
Genre:  Fiction; Mystery; Thriller

Publisher: Riverhead
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Amazon Purchase
Pages: 336

Date Finished: March 21, 2015
3.5 Starts

Goodreads Description

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Review

Is anyone out there a “people watcher”?  Do you sit in a shopping area, pick out a person, make up a name for them, and imagine what their story is?  Well, Rachel, the main character of this book, takes her people watching to a whole different level.  Obsessive is the word that immediately springs to mind.  But, if you think this is going to be some creepy stalker story where Rachel terrorizes this couple from afar, you are completely wrong.  This story has so much more to it.

Let me be perfectly honest.  There was not a single likeable character in this book.  They were all horribly flawed and damaged.  Some were flat-out crazy.  But, like any good train wreck, I couldn’t turn away.  I wanted to know how it would all pan out.

Rachel, our main character, was a raging alcoholic.  This made for some very uncomfortable reading.  Her blackouts and constant justification of her drinking were infuriating.  It also made her a completely unreliable narrator.  Throughout the book, I was never sure if she was telling us the truth or her drunken version of the truth.  The worst part was that she wasn’t sure either.

The other characters were just as bad.  “Jess & Jason,” Rachel’s made up names for the people she watched, actually turned out to be Megan and Scott Hipwell.  Early on, Megan goes missing, but throughout the book, we get her back story in her own voice.  She turns out to be a horrible person.  Her husband is no peach either.  Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom, is a douche-bag and his new wife, Anna, is a whiny, paranoid woman with no spine.  So, now you see why I said none of these characters were likeable.  Honestly, I really didn’t want to be in any of their heads.

This book’s redeeming factors were that it was well written and it offered very interesting character studies.  I kept wondering if there are really people like this?  Maybe I’m too stoic, but I just can’t imagine being as out of control as these people were.

The Girl On the Train was compared to Gone Girl in several reviews I read.  Let me be clear…this is not Gone Girl.  There are no major plot twists.  The similarity lies in the character flaws.  Gone Girl didn’t have any likeable main characters either, but, like Gone Girl, I liked this book despite that fact.  Their atrocities are what furthered the plot and made the book what it was.

Wrap-Up

I was torn between 3 and 4 stars, so it got a solid 3 1/2.  This was not a super fast read.  It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  The different points of view were a bit disjointed in the beginning, but once their voices were established, I had no trouble.  The mystery aspect of the story was ok.  I did have it figured out before the big reveal, but it ended pretty well.  If you like dark mysteries like Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, this fits the genre.  It definitely had a gritty, uncomfortable feel to it.  So, if that’s your thing, I say go for it!

The Sweetness of Forgetting (Review)

18898374Title: The Sweetness of Forgetting
Author:  Kristin Harmel
Genre:  Fiction

Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Amazon Purchase
Pages: 368

Date Finished: March 1, 2015
3.5 Starts

Goodreads Description

At thirty-six , Hope McKenna-Smith is no stranger to bad news. She lost her mother to cancer, her husband left her for a twenty-two year old, and her bank account is nearly depleted. Her own dreams of becoming a lawyer long gone, she’s running a failing family bakery on Cape Cod and raising a troubled preteen.

Now, Hope’s beloved French-born grandmother Mamie, who wowed the Cape with her fabulous pastries for more than fifty years, is drifting away into a haze of Alzheimer’s. But in a rare moment of clarity, Mamie realizes that unless she tells Hope about the past, the secrets she has held on to for so many years will soon be lost forever. Tantalizingly, she reveals mysterious snippets of a tragic history in Paris. And then, arming her with a scrawled list of names, she sends Hope to France to uncover a seventy-year-old mystery.

Hope’s emotional journey takes her through the bakeries of Paris and three religious traditions, all guided by Mamie’s fairy tales and the sweet tastes of home. As Hope pieces together her family’s history, she finds horrific Holocaust stories mixed with powerful testimonies of her family’s will to survive in a world gone mad. And to reunite two lovers torn apart by terror, all she’ll need is a dash of courage, and the belief that God exists everywhere, even in cake. . . .

My Review

This was our latest book club read.  There were some things I liked about this book and some things I didn’t.

The Good

  • The premise of the book was good.  A woman who escaped the Holocaust and hid her identity for years now has Alzheimer’s and in a moment of clarity reveals to her granddaughter that there is family she never told her about.
  • The Alzheimer’s bits were horrible, but necessary.  The idea of Alzheimer’s scares the living daylights out of me and really try not to think about it, but this pretty much put it in my face.  Some people would put that in the “bad” category, but I think it’s good to face your fears.
  • The Holocaust parts were also horrible.  They are hard to read, but the history is there regardless of how it makes us feel.
  • The overall history of the book was good.  I enjoyed learning about Muslims who helped hide and smuggle Jews out of France during WWII.  It was a piece of history I’d never read anything about.
  • The recipes were pretty cool.

The Bad

  • Everything fell into place WAY too easy.  I realize the search for Jacob and Mamie’s family in France had to fit in one book, but that is what time hops are for.  Hope tracks everyone down in like 3 weeks and most of it happens by mere happenstance.  It was just ridiculous how easily Hope got all her information.
  • Hope drove me crazy and her daughter, Annie, needed a knot jerked in her tail!  Annie was the most obnoxious pre-teen ever!
  • The title was stupid.  There was nothing sweet about forgetting.  Mamie knew she was forgetting things and it tore her up.  The only memories she was left with were horrible ones.

Wrap-up

So, the good outweighed the bad, which is why this book got 3 1/2 stars.  I don’t think I’d recommend this book for book clubs.  There was not enough meat to chew on for discussion.  If you like Hallmark Channel movies, you’ll love this book.

The Thirteenth Tale (Review)

5868297Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 2006
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Amazon Purchase
Pages: 416

Date Finished: October 20, 2014
3 Stars

Goodreads Description

All children mythologize their birth… So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself—all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

My Review

Ok, I’m going to just jump right in…this book didn’t do it for me.  There were parts of it that were extremely compelling, but overall, it was rather blah.

The Good…
I loved parts of this tale.  The beautiful and willful Isabelle, as well as the twisted and obsessive Charlie, grabbed my attention.  I wanted more of their story.  I wanted to know more than the incestuous rumors and mental illness.  I understand this was not really their story, but they were fascinating.  Adeline and Emmeline, the twins, were also interesting.  The historical part of the book really kept me going.  If it had not been for the back story of these characters, I would not have made it through this book.

The Bad…
I could not have cared less about Margaret Lea, the main character of the novel.  She was ridiculous.  Margaret discovered at a fairly early age that she was a conjoined twin and when they were separated, her twin died.  This became an overarching theme throughout the book.  Because Margaret pretty much lived her life around her father and her books, she obsessed about this lost twin.  I really just wanted to tell her to go get a freaking life!!  Maybe if she had a life, she wouldn’t sit around feeling sorry about a twin she didn’t even realize existed until she saw the death certificate.  Ugh!  I think Margaret was supposed to be a Jane Eyre type…staunch, no-nonsense, etc.  But, Jane Eyre was passionate.  You could tell her staunch exterior was there strictly to protect that passionate, loving girl inside.  Margaret just came off as cold and pedantic.

Wrap-Up

The Thirteenth Tale was touted as a book for book lovers, and I will concede there were some lovely turns of phrase in this book.  Diane Setterfield knows how to write.  Some of Margaret’s musings about books really hit home with me.  And, Vida Winter’s insight into people and their emotions was brilliant.  The twisty little ending was underwhelming, but it wasn’t horrible.

I think my biggest problem was that I kept comparing it to Jane Eyre.  I’m pretty sure that’s because this was Setterfield’s homage to gothic lit., but let me be clear…if you are expecting a Jane Eyre look-alike, you will be disappointed.  It had a lot of the classic gothic elements, but it fell short of the ultimate goal.

I gave it 3 stars.  Despite having a lot of good elements, it just didn’t pull together into a great book.

Sharp Objects (Review)

6460221Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: September, 2006
Format:  E-book
Acquired: Amazon Purchase
Pages: 321

Date Finished: September 22, 2014
4 Stars

Goodreads Description

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

My Review

Let me start by saying…this book disturbed the crap out of me!  There were so many aspects of it that got under my skin.  It has been over a month since I finished the book and I still think about it occasionally.  I won’t rehash the synopsis, but there are dead kids with their teeth pulled out, a psycho mom, our lead character is a cutter, the little sister is a “mean girl” in every horrible sense of the word, and on and on and on.  Gillian Flynn took as many uncomfortable, taboo subjects she could think of and crammed them into Sharp Objects.  Don’t get me wrong!  From my description, you may think I didn’t like this book, and you’d be wrong.  I really liked the book.  Weird, huh?

As screwed up as these characters were, I enjoyed the writing immensely.  Flynn has a way of sucking you in, even when all the characters are horribly damaged and psychologically unhinged.  She did the same thing in Gone Girl.  I hated all of those characters as well, and I still somehow liked the book.  I’m not sure how she does it.  I think it’s because Flynn’s character development style is so manipulative; you can’t pin her characters down.  They are like ghosts who are ever-changing, much like real people.  That’s it!!  Her characters are so REAL!  That’s what makes Flynn’s books so good and horrifying and gripping and disturbing.

The plot was decent.  Unlike Gone Girl, there were no major “WHAT THE…?” moments.  You can tell it is an earlier book in Flynn’s career.  She hasn’t quite hit her stride in this one.  There were some lulls and bits that seemed unnecessary.  It is a mystery, but the best parts in the book were the character interactions.  It was more about the town and people, and less about the mystery.

Wrap-Up

Warning…This book is not for the faint of heart.  It’s not scary, but it has a way of creeping under your skin and staying there.  If you really liked Gone Girl, you’re probably not going to like Sharp Objects as much.  As I said before, it doesn’t have the same heft, nevertheless it’s pretty good.  I can’t say it was an enjoyable read because of all the gritty subject matter, but it was an interesting read.  I gave it 4 stars and would recommend it to those without sensitive dispositions.

Gone Girl

Gone GirlTitle: Gone Girl
Author:  Gillian Flynn
Genre:  Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher:  Broadway Books
Release Date:  June, 2012
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Kindle Purchase
Pages:  422

Date Finished:  July 26, 2014
4.5 Stars

Goodreads Description

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

My Review

I’ll admit I was late to the party on this one.  My crazy rebellious streak rears its ugly head at the strangest things sometimes.  As Gone Girl was receiving tremendous buzz last year, I flirted with the idea of reading it, but ended up refusing just because everyone else was reading it.  I know, I’m weird like that.  I finally relented because this was last month’s pick for our book club.  I have to say…I was impressed.

Gillian Flynn has quite a way of sucking you into her twisted, macabre rendering of reality.  I say her rendering of reality because I can’t imagine anyone really being as sick and twisted as these characters.  There may be people out there like this, but thank goodness, I’ve never met any of them.  Manipulation is taken to a whole new level.

The beginning was a little slow.  As you become acquainted with Nick and his missing wife, there was some definite drag.  Most mysteries start this way, though.  The story has to build; You have to learn the characters and the back story.  Flynn does give you a few twisty tidbits as you go, but it’s mostly a building exercise.  The most interesting part of it?  The entire opening section is meant to manipulate the reader.  Our minds automatically start trying to figure out the mystery.  Flynn relies on our human nature to totally mess with our heads.  Trust me, don’t try to figure it out because Flynn is going to rip the rug right out from under you at the half-way point.  Just believe me, the characters are manipulating each other and the author is manipulating the reader.  I hate spoilers in reviews, so I will leave it that.

The ending aggravated the crap out of me because there was no finality.  But, that’s life isn’t it?  Most things don’t get wrapped up in a nice, neat package for us.

Typically, I need a character I connect with to really like a book, but I hated all these characters and it didn’t really bother me.  None of them were likeable in the slightest.  Well, I liked Nick’s sister, Go, but she was not a main character.  These characters were deeply flawed, manipulative, and conniving.  Basically, they were just icky.  Of course, I don’t think Flynn really meant for the reader to like them.  The plot doesn’t really lend itself to likeable characters.

Wrap-Up

My book club thoroughly enjoyed this book.  We actually liked it so much, we decided to read Sharp Objects this month.  Our plans are to go see Gone Girl (the movie) opening night and have our Sharp Objects book discussion afterwards.  I’m not really convinced Ben Affleck is a good choice for Nick, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt.  I have heard rumors the movie rearranged the ending a bit.  Usually it makes me mad when a script writer takes creative liberties, but I actually hope they do on this one.  I want some satisfaction!!

If you are on the fence about reading Gone Girl, I say give it a shot.

The Bride Wore Size 12 (Heather Wells #5)

17349002Title: The Bride Wore Size 12 (Heather Wells #5)
Author:  Meg Cabot
Genre:  Fiction, Chick Lit, Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date:  September, 2013
Format:  Paperback
Acquired:  Won through
TLC Book Tours’ Book Club of the Month Contest
Pages:  392

Dates Finished:  June 19, 2014
3 Stars

Goodreads Description

Heather Wells is used to having her cake and eating it too, but this time her cake just might be cooked. Her wedding cake, that is.

With her upcoming nuptials to PI Cooper Cartwright only weeks away, Heather’s already stressed. And when a pretty junior turns up dead, Heather’s sure things can’t get worse—until every student in the dorm where she works is a possible suspect, and Heather’s long-lost mother shows up.

Heather has no time for a tearful mother and bride reunion. She has a wedding to pull off and a murder to solve. Instead of wedding bells, she might be hearing wedding bullets, but she’s determined to bring the bad guys to justice if it’s the last thing she does . . . and this time, it just might be.

My Review

Let me start by saying I’m not a big fan of Chick Lit.  It tends to be a bit boring and predictable and, for lack of a better word, girly.  I am NOT a girly girl.  I’m logical, technical, not very emotional, babies don’t do a thing for me, etc., etc.  Not to say women don’t have some of these traits, but I seem to think a lot more like a man than a woman.  So why I entered to win this book from TLC Book Tours’ Book Club of the Month Contest, I will never know.  The book description makes it very clear this is chick lit, so what was I thinking?  I think I thought the mystery aspect would save it, and it did to a certain extent.  That’s why it got 3 stars instead of 2.

This book is the 5th in the Heather Wells series.  I didn’t know that when I requested it, but it really didn’t present much of a problem while reading.  Apparently, each story is pretty self-contained.

The book was far from exciting.  There was one big “OMG” moment, but other than that, it was pretty ho-hum.  Even the “steamy fiancé” was not really that steamy.

I did like Heather’s internal monologue.  She was funny and spunky in a few spots.

Wrap-Up

If you like chick lit, go for it.  If you like cozy mysteries, go for it.  If you need some substance or any depth to your books, skip this one.