Thursday, May 29, 2014

Remember Me Like This

Bret Anthony Johnston

Four years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.

Then, one afternoon, the impossible happens. The police call to report that Justin has been found only miles away, in the neighboring town, and, most important, he appears to be fine. Though the reunion is a miracle, Justin’s homecoming exposes the deep rifts that have diminished his family, the wounds they all carry that may never fully heal. Trying to return to normal, his parents do their best to ease Justin back into his old life. But as thick summer heat takes hold, violent storms churn in the Gulf and in the Campbells’ hearts. When a reversal of fortune lays bare the family’s greatest fears—and offers perhaps the only hope for recovery—each of them must fight to keep the ties that bind them from permanently tearing apart.(from Goodreads)

My Thoughts
This book hit home because we had a very similar situation occur in our general area. A young boy goes missing, only to be “found” four years later. I still remember thinking - wow, I wonder what that whole experience was like for this young boy and his family.

Obviously, I can’t answer that on a personal basis. But I get the feeling that this author has probably come fairly close to hitting the nail on the head. He writes about the people who were left to deal with the sudden disappearance of Justin the Mom and Dad, a younger brother and a grandfather. How their grief is tearing their world apart. How they don’y know if they should give up or hold on to hope forever.

And then - Justin is found! Oh - the joy, the disbelief, the yes to be asked and answered questions.

The writing was compelling. This is a story that unfolds slowly and by the end, my stomach was in knots. It was wonderful!

My thanks to Random House, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Shadow Queen

Sandra Gulland

From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.
1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.(from Netgalley)

My Thoughts
Claudette was raised in a family of “players” - people who are in the theatre. As a young girl, she has a chance meeting with Athenais, another young girl who in later years ends up becoming a mistress to the king. Claudette becomes the only person Athenais can trust and ends up devoting most of her life in service to “The Shadow Queen.”

This was a thoroughly entertaining, well written historical fiction novel. The author paints a very interesting picture of 1600 France. The first half of the book is spent with Claudette and her family as they struggle to survive a life in the theatre. The second half of the books has to do with Claudette’s time within the French court, becoming the only person that Athenais trusts.

This book is another reason why I have become such a fan of historical fiction!
Thanks to Doubleday, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

American Statecraft

J. Robert Moskin

American Statecraft is a fascinating and comprehensive look at the unsung men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service whose dedication and sacrifices have been a crucial part of our history for over two centuries. Fifteen years in the making, veteran journalist and historian Moskin has traveled the globe conducting hundreds of interviews both in and out of the State Department to look behind the scenes at America’s “militiamen of diplomacy.”

As the nation’s eyes and ears, our envoys pledge a substantial part of their lives in foreign lands working for the benefit of their nation. Endeavoring to use dialogue and negotiation as their instruments of change, our diplomats tirelessly work to find markets for American business, rescue its citizens in trouble abroad, and act in general as “America’s first line of defense” in policy negotiations, keeping America out of war. But it took generations to polish these skills, and Moskin traces America’s full diplomatic history, back to its amateur years coming up against seasoned Europeans during the days of Ben Franklin, now considered the father of the U.S. Foreign Service, and up to the recent Benghazi attack. Along the way, its members included many devoted and courageous public servants, and also some political spoilsmen and outright rogues.

An important contribution to the political canon, American Statecraft recounts the history of the United States through the lens of foreign diplomacy. (from Netgalley)

My Thoughts

I have always been fascinated by the men and women who are willing to serve in the U. S. Foreign Service. Mr. Moskin has provided the reader a finely detailed and informative book on this very topic. I found this to be educational and sometimes humorous. To have made a book of this size come across as very readable was no small task, and yet the author handle it quite well.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, via Nethalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Gabrielle Zevin

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.(from Netgalley)

My Thoughts
When we first meet A.J. Fikry, he is quite the curmudgeon. His wife has unexpectedly died and he is slowly drowning his sorrows in alcohol. All of this changes when something is mysteriously left for him to take care of.

When this book had me laughing out loud by page two, I knew I was in for something good. And while the humor was present throughout the whole book, it offered so much more than that. It was thought provoking and on a few occasions sad. I just loved seeing the change in A.J.’s personality as he slowly opened his life back up to the possibilities of happiness.

Each chapter is prefaced with a brief note from A.J. on a book recommendation to someone special in his life and why he is suggesting the person read them. I ended up adding several of these to my TBR list!

Thank you Ms. Zevin for this absolutely delightful and uplifting novel.

And thanks to Algonquin Books, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for and unbiased review.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Catching Air

Sarah Pekkanen

A chance to run a B&B in snowy, remote Vermont—it’s an offer Kira Danner can’t resist after six soul-crushing years of working as a lawyer in Florida. As Kira and her husband, Peter, step into a brand new life, she quells her fears about living with the B&B’s co-owners: Peter’s sexy, irresponsible brother Rand, and Rand’s wife, Alyssa…who is essentially a stranger.

For her part, Alyssa sees taking over the B&B as the latest in a string of adventures. Plus, a quiet place might help her recover from the news that she can’t bear children. But the idyllic town proves to be anything but serene: Within weeks, the sisters-in-law are scrambling to prepare for their first big booking—a winter wedding—and soon a shy, mysterious woman comes to work for them. Dawn Zukoski is hiding something; that much is clear. But what the sisters-in-law don't realize is that Dawn is also hiding from someone…

Relatable and dynamic, Catching Air delves deeply into the vital relationships that give shape to women’s lives.(from Netgalley)

My Thoughts

This was a very well written story. The author did a great job on developing the characters. Five adults, each struggling with past and current issues, end up together trying to run a B&B. The plot moved along nicely and held my interest. I thought the story was pretty realistic.

I’ve read one other book by Ms. Pekkanen that I also enjoyed. I find her writing to be well structured and quick paced. I look forward to reading more by this talented author.

Thanks to Atria, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.


Monday, May 12, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work(from Edelweiss)

My Thoughts

I’m not sure I can do justice to this book by trying to write a review, but here goes.

This story is breathtakingly beautiful. There are so many different layers and Mr. Doerr did an outstanding job of pulling it all together. The most minute detail is of significance. Told in very short chapters that alternate between Marie-Laure and Werner, we watch these two grow from young children to mid-teens. The story begins in the early stages of Nazi Germany’s rise to power and their occupation of France. The loss of childhood innocence, the love of family, the horrors of war, the determination of humanity are all intricately woven throughout this novel.

The way Mr. Doerr writes is magical. This is easily the best book I have read all year.

My thanks to Scribner, via Edelweiss, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ruin Falls

Jenny Milchman

Liz Daniels has every reason to be happy about setting off on a rare family vacation, leaving her remote home in the Adirondack Mountains behind for a while. Instead, she feels uneasy. Her children, eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally, have met their paternal grandparents only a handful of times. But Liz’s husband, Paul, has decided that, despite a strained relationship with his mother and father, they should visit the farm in western New York where he spent his childhood.

On their way to the farm, the family stops at a hotel for the night. In the morning, when Liz checks on her sleeping children, all of her anxiety from the day before comes roaring back to life: Ally and Reid are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice-cold terror as the hours tick by without anyone finding a trace of her kids. Soon, Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, and detectives are called in.

Frantic worry and helplessness threaten to overtake Liz’s mind—but in a sudden, gut-wrenching instant she realizes that it was no stranger who slipped into the hotel room that night. Someone she trusted completely has betrayed her. Liz knows that Ally and Reid are safe, but she will stop at nothing to find them and get them back. From her guarded in-laws’ unwelcoming farmhouse to the deep woods of her own hometown, Liz follows the threads of a terrible secret to uncover a hidden world created from dreams and haunted by nightmares.(from Netgalley)

My Thoughts

Liz is heading of on vacation with her husband Paul and two children. They make a last minute decision to spend the night at a hotel. When Liz gets up in the morning, her children are gone. Who took them and where are they?

This is one of those stories where the suspense start almost immediately. I thought the author did a great job of developing the Liz character. We get to see Liz face the reality of how she lived her life before her children disappeared. She has to change how she looks at things and learn to depend on herself to be able to find them. This is the second book I’ve read by Ms. Milchman and I thoroughly enjoyed both. I look forward to reading more.

Thanks to Random House Publishing - Ballantine, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.