Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have been very attracted to suspense/thriller novels lately.  Maybe it's the time of year.  This particular book has been compared to Hitchcock and GONE GIRL so I was especially excited to read it.

Rachel is an alcoholic.  She has never recovered from her divorce two years ago and the subsequent loss of her job due to her alcohol problem. Each day, she takes the train into London in order to appear to others as if nothing has changed.  As she rides the train, she finds herself looking at the window at her old house where she had lived so happily with her husband. Now, he is making a new life there with a new wife.  A few doors down, Rachel notices another happy couple.  She names them Jess and Jason and creates a fantasy life around them. One day, Rachel notices "Jess" kissing another man and her fantasy life falls apart.  She decides to get off the train in her old neighborhood and confront someone in her unhappiness. The next day, Rachel cannot remember anything that happened. But she sees in the newspaper that a woman named Megan ("Jess") has gone missing.  Rachel finds herself drawn into the drama of Megan's disappearance as she tries desperately to remember what happened that night.

I absolutely loved the setup of this novel.  It definitely has a "Rear Window" feel.  The fact that Rachel is an alcoholic who blacks out definitely adds something to the drama. Overall, however, this book did not work for me.  Every single character was completely unlikeable.  I could never emotionally connect with the story. It also appeared fairly obvious to me early on as to what was going to happen. Hawkins is a bit heavy-handed with her clues. I feel like Rachel got too directly involved in drama to make the suspense really work. I also found the ending dissatisfying.  I am baffled by the GONE GIRL comparisons. There was never an "AHA!" moment in GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I never really felt the dramatic twist worked since it was so obvious what was going to happen.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  This book had a lot of potential but it just didn't work for me. I was hoping for so much more!

Monday, January 05, 2015

Best of 2014

2014 was full of calamity for me.  Although I did a lot of reading, I had trouble keeping up my reviews. Mostly because I did so much reading from a sick bed.  Here are some of my favorite reads from 2014 (in no particular order):

1. US by David Nicholls--I think this book found me at the right time. I just loved it. Much much more than ONE DAY.

2. THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS by Keith Donohue--Think of M. Night Shyamalan in book form.

3. THE STORIED LIFE OF AJ FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin--Incredibly sweet book reminiscent of SILAS MARNER.

4. CHAPLIN AND COMPANY by Mave Fellowes--Full of quirky characters!

5. THE BOOK OF YOU by Claire Kendal--The scariest thing I have read in a long time!

6. THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness--A fun ending to a great trilogy.

7. DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal--Think Fannie Flagg crossed with THE HELP.

8. THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman--I have had a hard time convincing anyone to read this.  This is an old-school novel where you have to take your time.  It is worth it!

9.  CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS by Chris Bohjalian--Bohjalian does it again!

10. AND THE DARK SACRED NIGHT by Julia Glass--I am not usually a Glass fan but I really loved this one!

I tried to include only those books published in 2014 on this list.  I also read some great books that will be coming out this year.  So much to look forward to!  Happy Reading!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Stocking Stuffer Idea!

Quirk Book has released two new sets of novelty postcards that might just be the perfect stocking stuffer for someone on your gift list!

Each set of 30 postcards comes in a nicely packaged folder and retails for $9.95.



The collection opens up nicely with a foldout cover:

Here is an example of one of the postcards:

The second collection is called HUGS AND MISSES: 30 POSTCARDS OF AWKWARD ROMANCE:

You could even save this one for an anti-Valentine's gift!

 Although I found the humor of most of the postcards a bit silly and not to my taste, I could immediately think of someone who would appreciate them!  Everyone has a friend or family member would LOVE a silly little gift this these!  Another easy way to knock a gift off your list!  Click on the covers to purchase.

(I received copies of these item from the publisher for review)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Barefoot Books Sale!

I am an Ambassador for Barefoot Books and a strong believer in their missions of publishing books with a strong emphasis in storytelling and multiculturalism.

Now through Wednesday, Barefoot is having a sitewide sale.  Get 20% off your entire order by using the code TOGETHER20 and get free shipping on orders over $60. Click on any of the cover images to shop!

Here are some of my favorite Barefoot titles:

1. My son received his first Barefoot Book at age 3. It is a singalong called ANIMAL BOOGIE. It has a fun catchy tune that encourages children to get up and move around like animals.  The book comes with a music CD that you can put into your computer to see animation.


2. I absolutely love the new release OUT OF THE BLUE. This wordless book encourages children to narrate their own story.  The illustrations are beautifully detailed and I love the message of compassion.


3.HERB THE VEGETARIAN DRAGON is a charming story about a dragon who just wants to be himself.  A great message about compassion and acceptance.


There are so many more that I can't list them all! We have fantastic singalongs, adorable board books, terrific early chapter books (especially with some non-traditional princesses) and much more!  Hurry now to shop before the sale ends!

Go here to shop: 

Sale ends on December 3!

LOST AND FOUND by Brooke Davis

Review coming soon!


Although I have been doing a lot of reading, I am behind in posting. I was recently in a car accident that totaled my car and left me with injuries I am still recovering from.  The whole episode has created quite the mess in my life that I am struggling to get in order. I am so grateful that the accident wasn't worse and that my son was no in the car.

As I have been recovering, I have been doing a lot of reading.  I have a few reviews to post but I am starting to move on to Spring titles and those reviews will come out close to publication date.  Read HAUSFRAU by Jill Alexander Essbaum last week.  Wow.  Definitely watch for this one in March!

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 31, 2014

US by David Nicholls

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have to admit that I was a bit lukewarm on ONE DAY.  I just didn't connect with it.  I think Nicholls' caught me at just the right moment with US.  Doug Petersen has a pretty decent life.  He has a good job, a wife he adores, a comfortable home, and an almost-grown son.  Through his 17-year-old son Albie is bit moody and unpleasant, he is about to leave for school and Doug has planned one last family trip of a Grand Tour around Europe.  Right before the trip, Doug's wife Connie wakes him up and tells him she doesn't want to be married to him anymore.  The pronouncement shakes Doug's world and he decides that the Grand Tour will now be a trip to reconnect with and save his family.

Although I still have awhile to go before I am Doug's age, something about his story really connected with me. Since I also have an only child who is a son, the story made me wonder what the future holds for my child and my relationships. As we follow Doug and his family on their disastrous trip, the story manages to be both humorous and heartbreaking.  Doug must confront facts about his family and who they really are and must take ownership of his own failings as a husband and father. Even so, you can't help rooting for this family to weather the storm and survive.  There were moments when I laughed out loud and others that nearly brought me to tears. Told in both the present tense and in flashbacks, the reader gets a clear idea of who these people are and the stresses of family life that led Doug, Connie and Albie to this point. I found it incredibly moving and well done.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. This may end up being one of my favorite books this year.  A wonderful story about a family in distress against the backdrop of European travels.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

UNBECOMING by Rebecca Scherm

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Grace is a chameleon. She is a master at fitting in and becoming the person that others want her to be. In her current incarnation, she is hiding out in Paris working in a business that repairs antiques.  She is hiding from the two most important men in her life who have just been released from prison. Grace grew up in small-town Garland, Tennessee where she was the girlfriend of the town golden boy, Riley.  Grace secretly marries Riley when they are in college in a move to maintain her position in his family. Soon after the marriage, she finds herself attracted to his friend Alls. In a desperate attempt to escape from Garland, the group of friends decides to rob a local historic home.  Alls, Riley, and their friend Greg are caught. Grace escapes to Europe with a valuable painting.  Now, her husband and lover have finally been released from prison and Grace is afraid that they will track her down and force her to confront not only her past but also who she has become.

I have seen this book compared to everything from GONE GIRL to Tartt's GOLDFINCH to Highsmith's TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. I did not think of any of those novels when reading UNBECOMING. The only real connection to GOLDFINCH is that of a stolen painting.  It is probably closest to TALENTED MR. RIPLEY simply because of Grace's attempt to play roles and become whoever she needs to be at any given moment. I really loved the idea of the book and the backstory. Grace is an interesting character and I loved reading about how she came to be in Paris.  The disappointment came with the ending.  It did not make any sense to me. The build-up was so good but the ending fell flat and didn't seem believable. There are hints about who Grace is at her core and this might be the closest connection I can make to GONE GIRL.  Grace's lack of a true core and sense of self is a little reminiscent of a certain character in GONE GIRL.  The reasoning behind this lack of self doesn't really work for me.  And I did not buy the transformation of Alls' character AT ALL.  It was a very nice, well-paced read until the ending and then it completely fell flat.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. Interesting characters and a good concept but the author failed to follow through with a plausible ending.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I love a good scary story.  Especially at this time of year.  But I am very particular about my scary stories.  I like suspense and chills but I do NOT like explicit violence.  When the buzz started up among my library colleagues about this book, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. It sounded like the perfect Autumn read.

Ever since he almost drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter has been afraid to leave his home in a small coastal Maine town. It is implied that Jack Peter may have something akin to Asperger's which further isolates him and his family.  Jack Peter's only friend is Nick. Nick was there the day the two boys almost drowned and they share a special bond even though Nick is beginning to want to distance himself from Jack Peter. Jack Peter begins to draw monsters and it seems like those monsters are taking on a life of their own. Strange appearances begin to happen in the small town and Jack Peter's mother, Holly, begins to hear strange noises.  She turns to a local priest for help.  His housekeeper tells her about local shipwrecks and ghosts and convinces Holly that her family may be experiencing a haunting. Jack Peter's father, Tim, tries to find a rational explanation for the strange appearances but cannot find an explanation. While Holly, Tim, and Nick try to make sense of what is happening, only Jack Peter knows the truth.

This is such a hard book to describe!  Especially without giving away spoilers!  The story is very atmostpheric.  It takes place in the winter when all of the Summer people have fled for the season. This makes the town feel isolated and remote. The descriptions of the apparitions are chilling and the reader is forced to try and make sense of what is happening.  Are these truly the ghosts of shipwrecked souls?  Why are they plaguing this one family?  The majority of the book gives the reader a feeling of unease and uncertainty.  What exactly is going on here?  There is less overt horror and more the suggestion of frightening things.  It isn't until the very end of the book that Donohue turns everything on its head.  When I read the last page, I yelled, "GET OUT!"  I did not see the ending coming. 

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  I think Gaiman fans will find a lot to like here.  The book is spooky without being grotesque and violent.  The M. Night Shyamalan-style ending will delight readers and make them want to start the whole book over again.  The perfect read for cold evenings by the fire.

Friday, September 26, 2014

DINOSAUR FARM by Frann Preston-Gannon

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Dinosaurs and farms! What a winning combination!  This book just made me smile the first time I saw it. Before sitting down to read it with my 6-yr-old, I read through it first on my own. It gave me an idea. I told my son that I had a new book for us to read together but he had to promise to keep his eyes closed. I told him to imagine the pictures in his mind.  I was curious to see what conclusions he would draw. Here's the fun little trick about this book. The text says NOTHING about dinosaurs! 

"First things first.
Your animals will be hungry, so you
must serve them breakfast."

My son pictured a farmer feeding chickens and cows.  This is the actual illustration:

After we read through the book with my son's eyes closed, I told him to open his eyes and we would read it again. He was so surprised to see all the dinosaurs!  The book takes you through an average farmer's day with the twist that dinosaurs live on the farm. The farmer cares for the animals and plants and even has to deal with messes like dinosaur poop left by the Triceratops!


The farmer also has an adorable pet dinosaur in place of a dog that appears on most pages. My son loved looking for him and seeing what he was doing. We also enjoyed trying to identify the dinosaurs on each of the pages. The illustrations were so adorable!

This book was a big hit in our little family.  We really enjoyed the combination of a traditional farmer's day with a very nontraditional farm. The illustrations were full of humor and fun and we loved the little details in each one.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended! An adorable book that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike!