Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper

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Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Buy on Amazon

Summary

Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when they were kids. As adults, they’ve been estranged for years, until circumstances force them to come together to protect Rose’s daughter. Ten-year-old Antoinette has a severe form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness: she can heal things with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor’s tremors disappear, changes the normal course of nature on the Kentucky flower farm where she and her mother live.

Antoinette’s gift, though, puts her own life in danger, as each healing comes with an increasingly deadly price. As Rose—the center of her daughter’s life—struggles with her own failing health, and Lily confronts her anguished past, they, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe.

Written with great heart and a deep understanding of what it feels like to be “different,” The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a novel about what it means to be family, and about the lengths to which people will go to protect the ones they love.

~* My Review *~

5 Stars

As I sit down to write this review, I’m a little shocked to learn thatThe Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is Stephanie Knipper’s debut novel. Aside from the pacing, which dragged a little especially in the first half, I can think of nothing but good things to say. Most of the story takes place on a commercial flower farm in Kentucky and Knipper immerses the reader with vivid imagery, allowing us to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste everything about that beautiful place. Add to that exquisite writing, complex characters, heartrending conflict, and a dash of magical realism, and I’m happy as a clam. I can’t wait for Knipper’s next book.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

 

Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Breathe Again by Sydney Logan

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Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Enchanted Publications
Publication Date: July 22, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Paperback

Carrie Malone has seen enough heartbreak to last a lifetime. Her family’s demons gave Carrie the courage to move away from home and leave her past behind. Now a college senior, she stays busy with her classes and her job at the diner. It may sound boring to some, but to Carrie, the very best thing about her new life is that every day is calm and blissfully uneventful. That all changes the night Josh Bennett walks into her diner. 

With his dirty designer suit and mud-caked shoes, Carrie’s not sure what to think about the broken man sitting at her counter. She’s even more confused when he doesn’t touch his coffee…and leaves his Rolex watch as a tip.

Josh Bennett has nothing to live for. Starved for affection and deep in despair, he’s looking for a tender touch. A kind word. A giving heart. A shattered and broken Josh finds himself standing on a city bridge, looking down into the freezing river that will undoubtedly bring an end to his pain. 

He’s prepared to jump. He’s prepared to die. He’s not prepared for the pretty waitress who finds him there by the river’s edge.

When two lost souls find each other in the dark of night, can they give each other a reason to breathe again?

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚

 

Sydney Logan’s readers often compare her to Nicholas Sparks, with the caveat that she doesn’t kill off major characters. After reading Breathe Again, I find that this description, while accurate, doesn’t do Ms. Logan’s writing justice. Breathe Again is everything I love in a contemporary romance–sweet, heart-wrenching, and uplifting with just the right amount of passion. I don’t like steamy romances, preferring authors to leave most of the action to the imagination, so I did appreciate this relatively clean romance. Josh and Carrie are both flawed, loveable, and interesting characters, which I appreciated since those aren’t always present in a romance. If you’re looking for a quick read that will warm your heart and bring a smile to your face, I recommend Breathe Again wholeheartedly. I can’t wait to read more from Sydney Logan!

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Imperial Wife by Irina Reyn

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Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: July 19, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, Audible

Two women’s lives collide when a priceless Russian artifact comes to light. 

Tanya Kagan, a rising specialist in Russian art at a top New York auction house, is trying to entice Russia’s wealthy oligarchs to bid on the biggest sale of her career, The Order of Saint Catherine, while making sense of the sudden and unexplained departure of her husband. 

As questions arise over the provenance of the Order and auction fever kicks in, Reyn takes us into the world of Catherine the Great, the infamous 18th-century empress who may have owned the priceless artifact, and who it turns out faced many of the same issues Tanya wrestles with in her own life. 

Suspenseful and beautifully written, The Imperial Wife asks whether we view female ambition any differently today than we did in the past. Can a contemporary marriage withstand an “Imperial Wife”? 

MY RATING: 📚📚📚📚

 

True Rating: 3.5 Stars

Classic Russian literature is one of my newfound loves, but other than the bits of Napoleonic trivia I gleaned from War and Peace and the period surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution, I know shockingly little about Russian history. I’ve heard of Catherine the Great, of course, but the details of her life and the reason she was considered great was an unanswered question. I was excited to pick this book, hoping it would at least temporarily sate my ever-growing curiosity about the magical mystery that is Russia.

Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the current day story of Tanya much more than the historical aspect. Perhaps this stems from Sophie/Catherine’s sections being written in third-person compared to the first-person of Tanya’s story. The high-end nature of Tanya’s career juxtaposed with her own humdrum living situation and the unexplained tension between her and her husband Carl provided a much more intriguing mixture of conflict than the politics of 18th-century royal matchmaking. I also appreciated the post-Soviet attitudes and ideas that inundated Tanya’s story.
The writing is overall beautiful, although the frequent use of sentence fragments made the editor inside me twitch at times. Reyn is clearly a skilled writer and painted a delicate, detailed picture of both intersecting plotlines.

The reason for the 1.5 star deduction–The pacing was slow, especially in the beginning, and I did not feel connected or sympathetic to either of the main characters. I can understand why Catherine acted as she did, given her own situation and the time, but Tanya’s actions revealed at the end–SPOILER rewriting her husband’s entire manuscript without his permission and then presenting it to him as a present END SPOILER–are unthinkably selfish. It was an intriguing story, but I wished there was some positive emotional connection made with at least one of the main characters.

If you enjoy historical and women’s fiction, intersecting plotlines, and Russian influences, I recommend that you pick up a copy of this book. Despite the issues I had with it, it’s a beautifully written story and definitely on my list of top 10 reads of 2016.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 3 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

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Genre: Satire, Literary Fiction
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, Audible

Hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life, Jonas Karlsson’s new novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of a hero you won’t soon forget. A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and a movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country. 

What is the price of a cherished memory? How much would you pay for a beautiful summer day? How will our carefree idealist, who is content with so little and has no chance of paying it back, find a way out of this mess? All these questions pull you through The Invoice and prove once again that Jonas Karlsson is simply a master of entertaining, intelligent, and life-affirming work.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚

First off, I think calling this a novel is a stretch. It’s just over 150 pages, and it took me less than 3 hours to finish it. The premise was interesting and the writing solid, but something was missing. I finished the book not really understanding why this single middle-aged guy with a dead-end part-time job was somehow the happiest guy in Sweden. His “few precious friends,” as the synopsis describes them, are really just immature losers who pop in and out of his life. Before the invoice arrives, our unnamed hero is a boring gray blob of a person–the only interesting aspect of this story are his repeated conversations with Maud, the phone representative for the agency who sent him the astronomical invoice.

Additionally, I would have liked more details about what W.R.D. really is. Are they a government agency? A corporation? Some kind of bureaucratized karmic institution? I have no idea. Our hero doesn’t seem to be able to pay attention to any of the information given him, so the readers are left just as confused at the end as they are at the beginning. I would have been fine with the level of information we received were this a short story, but when you read something of this length you expect more answers than what Karlsson was willing to give.

That leads to my biggest problem with The Invoice–I feel like the author beats us over the head with his satirical point, without actually telling us what the point is. Are we supposed to feel critical of the government? Businesses? Society? Materialism? Consumerism? Responsibility? Attachment? The symbolism, and at times the story itself, is so vague that I walked away not quite sure that I’d “gotten” whatever it was Karlsson desperately wanted me to get.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy this book. There was a scene toward the end between the protagonist and Maud that was especially touching. I think this would be a good film, actually, if the idea of W.R.D. was fleshed out a little more. If you’re not usually bothered by the issues I mention above and you enjoy literary satire, I would definitely recommend it.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Baggage Check (The Marriage Pact #3) by M.J. Pullen

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Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover
Baggage Check is the third in a charming series about a group of thirty-somethings in Atlanta making surprising discoveries about friendship, love, and happily-ever-after. 

At 35, Rebecca Williamson is surrounded by happy endings. Her friends Suzanne and Marci are living out their own personal fairy tales in Atlanta. But despite Rebecca’s best efforts four years ago, her adorable college friend Jake Stillwell has officially slipped through her fingers and broken her heart. When Rebecca gets a frantic phone call from her mother back in Alabama, Rebecca is pulled back to the tiny town she worked so hard to leave behind and forced to face the hard truths about her family and past. A past that includes Deputy Alex Chen, who thinks of Rebecca as more than just an old friend’s kid sister. Can Rebecca navigate the chaos and get her life back to normal? Will Alex prove himself to be the friend she’s always needed? Or will she discover that the door to Jake is not as tightly closed as she thought?
M.J. Pullen returns in this final installment to the same captivating group of lovelorn friends, this time following the girl group’s frenemy, Rebecca, as she’s forced to confront her past. Raising the stakes, Pullen delivers an absorbing, romantic novel that poses the question, what if everything you were looking for was right where you started?

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚

After enjoying Regrets Only earlier this year I was excited to read Baggage Check, even though I wasn’t thrilled to learn that Rebecca was the main character. I haven’t read The Marriage Pact yet, but I know enough of its events that I already had a strong dislike for Rebecca. But Ms. Pullen’s characters are deep, complicated, and complex, and I found that the change in perspective allowed me to see a side of Rebecca that I never thought existed.

One of Ms. Pullen’s real strengths is her ability to engage readers with serious subject matter–mental health, infidelity, divorce, death of a child, marital problems–without overwhelming them with darkness. Despite the heavy topics broached, I would still classify this as a fairly light and uplifting read. As with Regrets Only, I appreciated that the romantic element was strong and sweet, but played second fiddle to Rebecca’s personal transformation.

As a side note, it was nice to see a realistic depiction of the south. I’m a native and current resident of Alabama, and it was refreshing to read a story set in the Birmingham area that didn’t depict everyone as backwoods morons. The drive times and road names were also correct, which is surprisingly something many authors don’t bother to research.

All in all, I loved this book and the series! I do still need to read The Marriage Pact, but it’s ready and waiting on my Kindle. M.J. Pullen is definitely on my list of favorite women’s fiction authors now, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

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Genre: YA, Contemporary
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, PaperbackAudible

Andie has a plan. And she always sticks to her plan.

Future? A top-tier medical school.
Dad? Avoid him as much as possible (which isn’t that hard considering he’s a Congressman and he’s never around).
Friends? Palmer, Bri, and Toby—pretty much the most awesome people on the planet, who needs anyone else?
Relationships? No one’s worth more than three weeks.

So it’s no surprise that Andie’s got her summer all planned out too.

Until a political scandal costs Andie her summer pre-med internship, and lands both she and Dad back in the same house together for the first time in years. Suddenly she’s doing things that aren’t Andie at all—working as a dog walker, doing an epic scavenger hunt with her dad, and maybe, just maybe, letting the super cute Clark get closer than she expected. Palmer, Bri, and Toby tell her to embrace all the chaos, but can she really let go of her control?

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚

This was my first trip into Morgan Matson territory, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I heard her favorably compared to Sarah Dessen, who has been my YA contemporary goddess since I was fifteen. I feel almost guilty saying this, but I think I may actually like Matson better!

When I realized how long The Unexpected Everything was–over 500 pages–I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous. I’m not a reader easily deterred by length–as I’ve mentioned before, War & Peace is one of my all-time favorites–but I just couldn’t imagine a YA contemporary standalone needed that much time to tell a story. But the good news is that the font is on the larger side, and while the first 100 pages or so move rather slowly, the pacing picks up from there. I actually read the last 400 pages in one sitting, which is a rare occurance for me these days.

Ms. Matson was able to pull off several story elements I don’t usually like, one being the quintessential large group of best friends. Normally I find it difficult to keep track of the characters, and even when I can manage to remember their names, I always come away from it feeling a little unconvinced. No one has friendships that perfect, right? But Andie’s friend group is well-developed, with even the most minor of characters having a backstory and a personality. I grew attached to and cared for them all, rather than just worrying about Andie, and I found that very refreshing.

Another YA trope I can’t stand is the aloof, distant parent who doesn’t really change over the course of the story. Ms. Matson takes that trope and turns it on its head with Andie’s father. He starts out being the stereotypical clueless parent, but over time turns into a flawed, loveable character just like the rest.

The romance element . . . sigh. I won’t spill details for fear of spoiling the story for those of who you haven’t yet read this, but suffice it to say that I had heartwarming goosebumps long before I reached the last page. I’m hoping these characters crop up again in subsequent Matson novels, because I’m dying to see what they’re up to.

If you’re looking for a novel that will remind you of summer as a teenager, this is the one to grab.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I then promptly lost said digital copy, was unable to download it again, and decided to check it out from the library. So…do with this information what you will.

Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

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Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, Audible

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Maybe not kill-all-the-dinosaurs bad, but at least kill-everyone-in-California-and-wipe-out-Japan-with-a-tsunami bad. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been recruited to aid NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. 

The good news is Yuri knows how to stop the asteroid–his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But the trouble is, even though NASA asked for his help, no one there will listen to him. He’s seventeen, and they’ve been studying physics longer than he’s been alive. 

Then he meets (pretty, wild, unpredictable) Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and live a life worth saving. 

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with the questions of the universe. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚

(True Rating: Infinite Stars, and an Asteroid Too)

Even though we have five months and some change left to go before we bid 2016 adieu, I’m fairly certain that this will be my favorite NetGalley read of the year.

I’ve had a lot of disappointing and mediocre reading experiences this year, so I wasn’t expecting much from Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America. Sure, the blurb sounded fantastic, but when you read as much as I do, you quickly learn not to place much hope on that back-cover text.

The writing is excellent. The story is excellent. The characters are–brace yourself–excellent. This book is endlessly quotable. I tried to choose just one snipped to include in this review, but that simply can’t be done, so prepare yourself for a beautiful literary onslaught:

Dovie exerted a giant gravitational force. She was the closest thing to Jupiter of anyone he’d ever met, but you probably couldn’t say that to a girl.

“I’m late because I’m raging against the machine, Mrs. Lee.”

He hit “send,” and wondered how good NASA’s bullshit detector was. Their other detectors were pretty good.

“So I have to give you advice without any idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yes.”

“In that situation, I always turn to Immanuel Kant.”

“You’re very grave.”

“I’m always grave about gravity.”

But it had only taken him a cell phone and fifty seconds to hack in–not because he was a genius, but because he was a teenager.

If you follow my reviews, you know I normally go into a little more detail as to why I like or dislike a particular title, but here, words are insufficient. Learning to Swear in America is so many things: a young adult novel, a coming-of-age tale. It’s a story of first love and near apocalypse and what it means to be human–not Russian, not American, just human. If I were a betting woman, I would bet a fortune and a half that this book will be considered a classic in fifty years.

Read it. Read it now.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.