Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Winter Sisters - Book Review

Signs of spring are in the air and the people of Albany, New York are caught completely by surprise when a blizzard descends on the East Coast. Four feet of snow fell in Albany and nearly 400 people along the North East Coast were killed by the storm, including Bonnie and David O'Donnell. Three days later when the snow stopped falling, the teachers at the local school sent the hungry and nearly poisoned children home. Emma and Claire O'Donnell, ten and seven years old, struggle in the snow to find their way home and are lost.

Dr. Mary Sutter Stipps thinks of Bonnie O'Donnell as a sister and is devastated by her death. She and her family are determined to find the missing girls though she will have to wade through the ugly underbelly of her town. The perverse truth slowly unfolds through the pages of the compelling novel.

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira begins with the excitement and terror of the big storm. It gets bogged down for a bit as it reintroduces the reader to characters from Oliveira's novel My Name is Mary Sutter. It is, however, not necessary to read the earlier novel in order to enjoy Winter Sisters (I didn't read the first). Eventually, the novel settles into a steady pace as it focuses on the missing girls and the Stipps family's search to find them.

Winter Sisters is a thriller and a mystery but set in 1879, it takes a less frenetic pace than many contemporary thrillers. There is time to be more thoughtful and considerate; time to examine aspects of the culture that are still pervasive today. It took me a little while to really feel the novel and connect with the characters, but once I did, I was spellbound by the mystery and Mary's desire and mission to not only solve it but to save the girls--physically and mentally.

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira is published by Viking and released February 27, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The French Girl - Book Review

Kate is working hard to land a big client that will give her new business the boost it needs to remain solvent and attract more business, when she gets a call from Tom that sends her back ten years. Ten years earlier, Kate and her friend Lara accompanied her boyfriend Seb and three of his friends on a lazy, idyllic vacation to a French Farmhouse.

"They found her. Her body." Tom says when he calls. Severine. The French girl who lived next door to the farmhouse. Who spent the week hanging out with them around the pool. Who disappeared at the end of the weekend. But she had been seen getting on the bus to Paris. The police had questioned the six vacationers back then. They knew nothing. Now, her bones have been found in the well at the farmhouse. Severine never left. And they are the suspects.

As the friends regroup and are being questioned, Kate doesn't know who to believe. Does she really know any of her friends from that summer? As suspicion mounts against her, it could destroy her business and her future.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott is a fun, suspenseful psychological thriller. I was thoroughly engaged and intrigued by Kate's plight as her memories shift and her relationships with her friends are questioned. Are they telling her the truth? Do they have her best interests in mind or are they setting her up? Kate is a great character. She's sympathetic but also untrustworthy as her memories are fluid. It's basically the perfect combination for a psychological thriller. There are a few times when Kate seems to repeat herself unnecessarily but overall the pace is good for a thriller.

The French Girl is a debut novel from Lexie Elliott. This is a solid, good novel with plenty of twists to keep the reader as on edge as Kate. I look forward to more thrillers from Elliott.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott is published by Berkley and released February 20, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of The French Girl from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Winter Reading - Book Reviews

I'm a little late to the Louise Penny party. Still Life is the first time I've read one of the mysteries from the prolific and beloved writer. Chief Inspector Gamache and his team make their debut in Still Life when they are assigned to investigate the suspicious death of an older woman in a quiet hamlet of Three Pines. It at first appears to be a hunting accident, but Gamache isn't so sure and soon it becomes clear that Jane Neal has been murdered.

Though this isn't my regular fare, I enjoyed Still Life. It's a lot slower paced than most of the mysteries and psychological thrillers that I usually read when I want a mystery. However, it was thoughtful and overall I liked it. I even marked a few things to talk about at our next book club meeting.

Still Life by Louise Penny was published by Minotaur Books in 2008. 

I started reading A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton months ago and only got a few chapters in before other reading projects jumped in front. I was anxious to reduce the stack of books on my nightstand before it toppled over, so I picked it back up last week. Once I resumed reading it, I couldn't put it down.

A Kind of Freedom is short for a novel focusing on three generations of the same family, but I found it emotionally moving and impressive. There's a quiet anger that simmers just below the surface but actually has significant impact. Telling the story of three generations of African Americans in New Orleans, A Kind of Freedom is beautiful and powerful and heartbreaking. I really liked this book and couldn't stop telling Rand about it. It's an important story that speaks to a devastating truth that must be realized and changed.

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is published by Counterpoint and released in August 2017.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

I had trouble with Good Neighbors by J.D. Serling right away. There was something distracting about the writing style. Perhaps it was all the exclamation points! I almost didn't finish reading it because I didn't like the characters or the writing. But it seemed an interesting premise so I persevered.

Nicole and her family moved to their house when their children were very small and quickly became friends with the other three families on the street who also had small children. They spend weekends together. Their children play to together. They have barbecues and holidays. They're supposed to be a close as family. But when Paige and Glenn adopt a little girl from Russia their friendships are tested. Paige withdraws and her interactions with the little girl are suspect. The neighbors don't know what to do. Can they sit by while their neighbor and friend appears to abuse a child?

I recently moved from a neighborhood where we became very close with our neighbors. Much of Good Neighbors rings true. When you live close together, it's easy to observe situations and jump to conclusions without knowing the whole truth. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that this situation is not very unlike a situation that happened in my own neighborhood. However, I hope we were better friends than the characters in this book.

Though haphazard and awkward, Good Neighbors addresses an important topic. The ending is too abrupt and it missed an opportunity to really educate. These neighbors meant well but they are really terrible friends.

Good Neighbors by J.D. Serling is published by Twelve and released on February 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the novel. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

I listened to the audio version of Island of The Lost : Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. I love true adventure narratives and this one was absolutely riveting and amazing. I kept my family constantly updated as Captain Thomas Musgrave and the men on his crew struggled for survival after being shipwrecked on the desolate Aukland Island, south of New Zealand. Their story of bravery, ingenuity, and determination to survive was incredible. I recommended it to my brother and I'll recommend it to anyone else who likes a great man vs. nature story.

Island of the Lost : Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett is published by Algonquin books and released in 2007.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Back Talk - Book Review

I often find myself watching people--in the doctor's office waiting room, at the grocery store, as I drive around town. Now and then, I can't help wondering about their lives and what brought them to that particular moment. In that kindly voyeuristic way, Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is a collection of short stories that feature women and girls. Marriage, friendship, motherhood and other family relationships are explored in thoughtful and compelling prose.

I enjoyed reading Back Talk but as I go through the stories again to write my review, I find that I'm struggling to find the right words to explain how I feel about it. I mentioned it to a friend who suggested that the book might just be that--an enjoyable read and nothing more. But I don't think so. It's desperately trying to be more.

Most of the women in the stories feel like they are just barely hanging on. They date. They care for their children. They visit their parents. No one is angry or vindictive or mean. They're all just quietly resigned to lost friendships and marriages breaking up and not finding the right partner. And it's very sad and lonely. A quiet resignation. And while I didn't exactly find myself within any of the stories, I recognized the emotion.

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that I did and do like Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin. It's a meaningful collection of stories that remind us that we're all struggling. We're all trying to find love and understanding and a place to fit in this world. Perhaps if we remember that, we can all be a little more kind and thoughtful to those around us.

Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is published by Penguin and released February 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**