Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

The Restaurant Critic's WifeSummary:

Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here.

In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back.

My take: 4 looks

I expected something totally different from this book. I am not sure why. It was a preconceived notion on my part. A completely incorrect preconceived notion. I expected to read a light, fluffy book about the ins and outs of being married to a restaurant critic, long and laborious descriptions of food and locales, and maybe some recipes.

No way. Instead, I read a wonderfully evolving character study of a woman, wife, mother, friend, daughter.

Lila is instantly likable and completely relatable. Which of us moms, at some point in our mothering, have felt that we are the only mom on the planet who does not have her proverbial act together? Who, as a wife, has not been hurt by the feeling that the husband's career is more important than yours, at least in his mind?

I could go on, but the point here is that Lila is everyone of us. To read her journey from career woman to married woman to mother of one, then mother of two ... it is a journey that unfolds as naturally as a rose in June. LaBan hit the mark with me on this one, and it was a delight to read. I was truly sorry it was over, and will read more by her.

Highly recommended.

This book was offered to me by in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Winter at the Door by Sarah Graves

Winter at the Door (Lizzie Snow, #1)

Moving from Boston to remote Bearkill, Maine, isn’t homicide cop Lizzie Snow’s idea of a step up. But breaking away from tragedy and personal betrayal is at least a step in the right direction. Her dead sister’s fate still torments her, as does her long-missing niece’s disappearance. Lizzie hopes to find the mysteriously vanished child here, amid the coming ice and snow. But in the Great North Woods, something darker and more dangerous than punishing winter is also bound for Bearkill.

My take: 2.5 looks

The first in a series, Winter at the Door is an easy book to read. However, I am giving 2.5 because it reads a little sophomoric to me, much like a first novel. It's a combination of teenage feelings given to the adult protagonist, predictable events and outcomes, and some stereotyping, especially of young adults. While the story was simple and easy to follow, the resolution left me a bit flat and wanting more to have happened. Perhaps in the second book these characters are more developed, but I won't be reading another. Not recommended.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleSummary:

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

My take: 4 looks

This is historical fiction at its best. Here is a story of bravery, family, adversity, struggle, and at the heart of it all, a father and two sisters. The backdrop is World War II Paris, but WWII by no means takes center stage here.

In a publishing world where WWII and Holocaust books are prevalent, The Nightingale shows the raw humanity and evil on both sides. There are decisions as tough as Sophie's Choice, and brutality as real as Schindler's List. Hannah traverses these roads deftly as the reader is taken into the villages, hillsides, waiting in rationing lines, and seeing everything you've ever loved and worked for pillaged at the hands of the enemy. At the same time, there is hope, there is family, there is love, and there is a driven desire to do what is right.

I wept at the end of this book. I loved every moment of this wonderfully beautiful story. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 12, 2016

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

2 A.M. at The Cat's PajamasSummary:

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.
My take: 4 looks

Okay, it was a cute story, and I liked how the characters merged and criss-crossed as the story developed. However, this 4 looks comes primarily from the writing, which is clever, sharp, and precise. The characters are on-point and brilliantly drawn and developed. I was firmly rooting for Madeleine, Sarina, and Lorca; and even Principal Randles became a little soft to me at the end. When the novel was over, I wanted more of Ben and Louisa, and was keen to know what happened to Alex. That is the sign of a great novel: to leave the reader wanting more.

I will definitely read more by this author, and will promote this jewel to everyone I know.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of SpeculationSummary:

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon's grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.

My take: 3 looks

Not at all what I expected. It was a blend of mystical realism - dysfunctional family - coming of age rolled into one. It was an easy read, and entertaining, but it didn't quite meet my expectations in the writing.

For example, I was confused by the first-person vs. third-person narration in the book. It may have had rhyme and reason, but it seemed to come and go, not really paving a path that made sense to me. Also, there were characters who I think Swyler intended to evoke compassion, but I found annoying instead. I think the house should have played a more major role, even to the point of becoming one of the characters. Instead it was sent to the side, as a wallflower.

The back and forth in time was a nice touch, and how the past meets the present is interesting, but I lacked too much here to give more than three looks. However, it is recommended.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant


Richard Grant and his girlfriend were living in a shoebox apartment in New York City when they decided on a whim to buy an old plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. Dispatches from Pluto is their journey of discovery into this strange and wonderful American place.

My take: 4 looks

Laugh-out-loud funny! I am sure my husband was just as glad as I was when I finished this one because I kept interrupting him so I could read him passages aloud.

Unlike other travel books I have read, like Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence, Grant's Dispatches dripped, reeked, and sung of honesty. There was no romanticizing the characters, location, flora, or fauna. No pandering to the "natives" or silently looking down on other because of the vast differences in two worlds. The author's respect was as deep as the Delta swamp, and gave this journal a hint of what it's like to be in the deep south at any time of year.

Highly recommended.