Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Book Charmer charms the reader

The Book CharmerThe Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The Book Charmer" is a delightful read in the vein of Sarah Addison Allen's "Garden Spells" - sisters who have special--dare I say, magical--gifts they use to help others. Each character was a delight, the story was heartwarming without being saccharine, and I enjoyed the entire book. I would recommend this novel for those who enjoy magical realism, small towns, quirky but fun characters, and bittersweet moments that tug on heartstrings.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review: The Dinner List

The Dinner ListThe Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this novel last month. It sounded great, because who hasn't made a "five people I'd invite for dinner" list before? The only thing that made me hesitate at first was the "magical realism" in the description.

It took me quite a while to get into this novel, and with school starting, my reading time was limited to evenings. However, I pushed through to finish it this weekend because it really captured me about halfway through.

Magical realism aside, I think more of what is needed is "willful suspension of disbelief." Maybe it really is more “magical realism” as the description states, because how else can you have the narrator's deceased father and Audrey Hepburn there? There is a revelation about halfway through that was a turning point for me: Do I press on and continue, or do I quit? That is how much it upset me. However, I persisted, pushed through, and finished. I'm glad I did.

The author's alternating chapter style really works. And after the first several chapters, the continual dialogue around the dinner table doesn't feel as forced or as dialogue-y as before. She does an amazing job of delving deep into these characters' motivations and desires.

I liked how the book made me think of romantic relationships, what is socially expected, what others expect of us, and what we expect of the other person in the relationship. Very interesting and I'll be pondering it for a while.
Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for an ebook review copy.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book on NetGalley for review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, July 02, 2018

All We Ever Wanted: A Review

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All We Ever Wanted is worthy of the buzz it's receiving this summer. I had a hard time putting this one down, but I did on occasion to process the story. It is riveting and thought-provoking and so very current.

With alternating points of view (a favorite literary device of mine), we gradually learn the truth of what happened that night: the night when Tom's daughter and Nina's son are involved in a scandal that threatens their peace of mind, their sense of safety, and their very futures.

Teens, alcohol, and Snapchat are a dangerous triumvirate. As a high school teacher, I know how prevalent social media is in many teens' lives, Snapchat in particular (and yes, I've been on there without my permission, so there's that as well). And while I and other teachers have preached and taught the lessons about responsible digital citizenship and the permanence of online presence, I often sense an ignoring of those lessons and at the same time a sense of entitlement among my students. Until it happens to them, they don't really seem to care.

All We Ever Wanted shows us what can happen, and how justice is not always served in the way we believe it should be. It also shows us in this age of #metoo that we cannot judge based upon outward appearances (and dare I say, Facebook and Instagram photos), and that each of us is a walking library of stories and experiences.
FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book on NetGalley for review. All opinions are my own.

The Cast, a Review

The Cast: A NovelThe Cast: A Novel by Amy Blumenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Available August 14, 2018

I tend to gravitate toward books about groups of friends who have stuck it out through thick and thin, so naturally I requested to read The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld from NetGalley.

The basic plot is that Becca's friends made a video for her twenty-five years ago in the vein of SNL called "Becca Night Live," to cheer her up while she was in the hospital receiving cancer treatment. Fast forward a quarter-century and Becca's friend Jordana plans the ultimate reunion for The Cast. Everyone makes plans to attend; then, of course, as in real life, things begin to happen to thwart even Jordana's carefully planned reunion.

Thankfully, this novel has plenty of twists and turns among the alternating POV chapters, and not much at all was predicatable. Blumenfeld kept me guessing quite a bit, and that's no small feat.

One of my favorite parts was the incorporation of a character who had chosen a life in the Orthodox Jewish community. I am blessed to know an Orthodox family, so to see that lifestyle so respectfully represented was wonderful.

I recommend this novel for fans of friend-group reunion stories. You won't be disappointed.
FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book on NetGalley for review. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

This Could Change Everything: A Review

This Could Change EverythingThis Could Change Everything by Jill Mansell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read many Jill Mansell books over the years, and this newest novel does not disappoint. I enjoyed everything about it. For fans of Jill Mansell in the US, you might want to know that this is not a reboot of an earlier book, but an entirely new novel that was also published this year in the UK.

This Could Change Everything is a very good Jill Mansell novel. The characters, the location, the situations that range from ridiculous to very has it all. I would recommend this book to new readers of Jill Mansell, because it's a good example of her work. It also makes a terrific summer read that is fun and enjoyable.

From an aesthetic standpoint, this cover is much different from her other covers in the US, which were a certain style of very cute, but also distinctive. I don't know if it's rebranding, or has to do with the fact that often her books in the US are reissues of her earlier novels. Whatever the reason, I love the cover.

I recommend this book for fans of chick lit, lighthearted women's lit, fans of sassy older lady characters, and happily-ever-after endings.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Book of Essie: A Review

The Book of EssieThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I got this book as part of my first Book of the Month box. It was a riveting read, and I had a difficult time putting it down. I was both amazed at Essie's knowledge and manipulation of the system she grew up in, and saddened that people have had to learn to live this way in the public eye. I know from reading a few other reviews that some people felt the end was predictable--and perhaps in a way it was--but it was nice to have things tied together in a way that seemed right for these characters that had gone through so much pain in this story.

I really struggled with whether to give this book 4 or 5 stars, because I felt that some of Roarke's chapters sounded less like a teenage boy than I think is realistic. Even considering that he is very smart and obviously exceptional in many ways, I think his narration sounded more like the other characters' points of view than like his own. Also, there were some things I felt needed more clarity in the backstory that were just not there. Too many variables meant I had a tough time with some of the characterizations. (And yes, I know this observation is vague, but #spoilers.)

In terms of church culture, I think it's consistent within itself. I recognized a few allusions that might be missed by someone who did not grow up in a conservative or evangelical church, which were a bit like finding Easter eggs. This book examines a lot of things about church and yes, cults, that are important. At the end of the day, however, as a Christian I am not willing to throw out the capital-c Church. Do we need to think about our faith? Yes. Do we need to check our attitude about our own congregations, pastors, and beliefs? Yes. Do we need to treat everyone with care and kindness? Absolutely. Do we need to abandon the church altogether? I don't believe so. The ending of the book will not please everyone, but at the end of the day I come back to Jesus's words in Matthew 22, His version of the Jewish prayer Sh'ma:
"Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Overall, I think this book is a very good story with an overall message of hope.

#BookoftheMonth #TheBookofEssie

Monday, June 18, 2018

Paris Ever After: a review

Paris Ever AfterParis Ever After by K.S.R. Burns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

Synopsis: Amy didn’t realize how stale her life was until she jetted off to Paris without telling a soul—not even her husband—and had the adventure of a lifetime.

Then on Amy’s thirtieth birthday, two unexpected visitors leave her wondering if she will soon be saying au revoir to Paris and the new life she’s struggled to build. Her estranged husband, Will, shows up—but is he interested in reconciliation or separation? And a young woman who arrives on Amy’s doorstep unleashes chaos that could push Amy out into the street.

As Amy’s Parisian dream starts to fall apart, she must decide: return to the stability of Will and Phoenix (if that’s even still an option) or forge her way forward in Paris? Amid secrets and surprises, set in enchanting gardens, cozy cafés, and glittering Parisian streets, Amy must choose between two very different worlds. And each has a claim on her heart.

I will be honest and say I did not love this book. I liked it enough to finish, but not enough to recommend wholeheartedly. Granted, it is the second book in a series (the first one being The Paris Effect). I liked the characterization, and of course with a setting like Paris, it is très magnifique. However, like the main character, the plot seemed as if it wandered aimlessly around the streets of Paris for a long time before it wrapped up rather quickly at the end. And that is what I did not love about it.

If you are a fan of anything Parisian, or of expatriate stories in France, this will be a book that you enjoy (and probably the first one from this author as well).

The Book Charmer charms the reader

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins My rating: 5 of 5 stars "The Book Charmer" is a delightful read in the vein of Sarah Addison...