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!

Pines (Wayward Pines #1) (Review)

15034320Title: Pines (Wayward Pines #1)
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Fiction; Mystery; Thriller, Sci-fi

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: August 2012
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Netgalley ARC
Pages: 309

Date Finished: May 15, 2015
3 Stars

Goodreads Description

Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact? He may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

My Review

In anticipation of the new show, Wayward Pines, Netgalley opened up requests for Pines, the first book in the Wayward Pines series.  I had seen the previews for the show and thought I should read the book before it started.  Well, as usual, life got in the way and I didn’t get the book read before the show started, but I decided to go ahead and watch the first episode.  I was not impressed.  Matt Dillon is not one of my favorite actors.  That goes all the way back to my 1980s teenage years.  In addition to that, the show seemed purposefully confusing.  I hate books and shows that confuse the crap out of you just so they can spring a big, dramatic ending on you.  Anyway, after watching that one episode of the show, I was really torn about whether to read the book, but decided to give it a try.

The book did the exact same thing as the show!  The storyline misled and misdirected and then BAM! big, dramatic ending that brought it all together in the last two or three chapters.  I will begrudgingly admit I liked the ending.  That is the whole reason the book got 3 stars.  But for the most part, I kept thinking, “What the heck is going on?”  The reason I think this book irritated me so much is because I love a good mystery.  I love it when the author has fed you all the clues and you still couldn’t figure it out.  I hate it when the author withholds all the pertinent information and then hits you with a resolution out of left field.  And boy was this one out of left field!

Wrap-Up

3/4 of this book irritated the heck out of me.  The last 1/4 was really good.  If you like to read books that mislead and misdirect in order to surprise you with an ending that you never saw coming, then this is the book for you.  One good thing about the book is even though it’s a series, it really could stand alone.  I was happy where it ended and didn’t feel the need to continue on with the series.  Happy reading!

Special Thanks…

I’d like to give a shout out to Netgalley, Thomas & Mercer, and Blake Crouch for giving me the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

The Witch of Napoli (Review)

23710526Title: The Witch of Napoli
Author: Michael Schmicker
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Palladino Books
Release Date: January 2, 2015
Format: E-book
Acquired: Netgalley ARC
Pages: 294

Date Finished: March 27, 2015
4 Stars

Goodreads Description

Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome.

Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe.

Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter,19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife.

My Review

I was impressed with this book much more than I thought I would be.  I have read a couple of books about this same subject matter set in the same time period.  One of them was really good and the other was horrible!  So, I knew this one could go either way.  Much like the mediums of that time period, I was afraid the book would be a farce.  To my pleasant surprise, it was not.

The Witch of Napoli read like a biography even though it was fiction.  I’m assuming that’s because it is based on the story of Eusapia Palladino, a famous Italian medium of that time.  I’m not sure how much was pulled from her story, but it was highly entertaining.  It reflected well the serious battle that was raging between scientists and mystics at the end of the 19th century.  The Vatican was mentioned in the synopsis, but there was very little mention of it in the book.

I really enjoyed Alessandra Poverelli.  She was a true force to be reckoned with.  She sucked every bit of the life she could out of every experience.  I admired her tenacity and resiliency and found myself rooting for her success.

Wrap-Up

If you like historical studies on science vs. mysticism,  you’ll love this book.  It was really interesting, and I was sucked in from the beginning.  The synopsis made me think this would be a slow read, but it was actually quite the page turner.  I hope you’ll give it a shot.

Special Thanks…

I’d like to give a shout out to Netgalley, Palladino Books, and Michael Schmicker for giving me the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

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.

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.

Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant…Really?

I read the entire Divergent trilogy and have been sitting on it for months because I really did not want to write this review.  I have mixed opinions about every single book, so I knew this would not be easy to write.  I have finally decided to dive in and knock them all out in one big review.  So, here goes…

9717320Title: Divergent
Author:  Veronica Roth
Genre:  Fantasy, YA, Dystopian
Publisher:  Katherine Tegan Books
Release Date:  April 25, 2011
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Kindle Purchase
Pages:  487

Date Finished:  May 2, 2014

Goodreads Description

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Review

In my opinion this was the best book in the series.  It was interesting and I really connected with Tris.  She had been raised in Abnegation, but she was kind of a bad-ass, so she switched to Dauntless.  She definitely had a lot of learning to do.  She was not the strongest or fastest in the newbie Dauntless group, but she fought hard and wouldn’t take no for an answer (often to her own detriment).  The relationship between Tris and Four was believable, and I was really pulling for them.

On the flip side, the plot had massive holes in it.  There was no information about how this society came about.  Plus, there is no way a society would split into five factions to create unity.  Ridiculous!  Now, I know this is all addressed in the other books, but if you only read this book, you would be left wondering, “What the heck?!”  I pressed on hoping I would get some answers.

11735983Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Dystopian
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Format: E-book
Acquired: Kindle Purchase
Pages: 525

Date Finished: May 12, 2014

Goodreads Description

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

My Review

Ok, I can sum up this entire book in two words…teenage angst.  Oh my word!  I about rolled my eyes out of their sockets on this one.  I literally wanted to punch Tris in the freaking nose!  She was all bad-ass in Divergent and then she went to pieces in Insurgent.  I did enjoy Tris and Four’s arguments only because they seemed so realistic.  Neither of them could stay focused on what the heck they were arguing about.  It would start off with what had actually made them mad and then they were pulling up every stupid thing that had hurt their feelings since the beginning of time.  Anyone who’s married will totally relate to these types of arguments.  The argument scenes (and there were plenty) made me laugh out loud.

I have to admit there was some decent action in book 2, but Divergent was still better.

I really had hoped I would get more info about how this society came into being in book 2.  Finally, at the very end, they dropped a bomb letting me know it would all be revealed in Allegiant.  So, I headed off to book 3.

17406183Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Dystopian
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Format: E-book
Acquired: Kindle Purchase
Pages: 526

Date Finished: May 18, 2014

Goodreads Description

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

My Review

Really?!?!?  This was the big reveal I had been waiting for?  The reasoning behind the society was such a let down.  The book, as a whole, was a let down.  It really was one of those instances where I wish I had not wasted my time.  That is basically all I have to say about book 3.  It was just disappointing.  There were a lot of people who ranted about the ending.  I actually thought the ending fit the storyline, so that didn’t ruin it for me.  I just really wanted there to be a good reason for the creation of this society and there wasn’t.

Wrap-up

So, as you can tell, I didn’t care that much for the series as a whole.  When I was reading them and even after just finishing them, I thought they were decent.  As I have gotten a few months out, my opinion has gone down hill.  I would describe them as mediocre.  In addition, this was not a dystopian series.  Dystopian lit makes some type of social statement, a warning to today’s society.  This series did none of that.  I feel they labeled it Dystopian to draw readers, but if you want to be specific, this is not dystopian lit.

As I said before, Divergent was the best of the three in my opinion.  I would give it 4 Stars.  Insurgent and Allegiant would get 3 Stars.  If I could go back in time and start all over, I would watch the movie and skip the books.  (By the way, you won’t hear me say that very often.)

Ok, all you Divergent die-hards…tell me why you loved it so much.