Review of “The Swans of Fifth Avenue” by Melanie Benjamin


Thanks to Random House Publishing Group Ballantine via NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin gives us a delicious glimpse into the lives of the “original ” Housewives of NYC.  In the 1950’s, these ladies – Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, CZ Guest, Pamela Churchill – and the company they kept worked very hard to maintain the illusion that is consistent perfection. They were the beautiful, glamorous swans of Truman Capote.

Babe Paley was in a class by herself. Tall, elegant, a fashion icon, held in the highest social regard of her peers… But all of that, her many homes, and boatloads of money could not keep her husband’s attention or quell her insecurities. Perhaps that was one of the things that bonded her so tightly to Truman. He was, himself, a fabulous public persona with his own set of deeply rooted issues and insecurities. They seemed to love and understand one another on a wonderfully deep level and were each other’s constant confidant.

For years the group carried on with a terrific friendship and jet-setting lifestyle. Truman was on top of the world after the publication of In cold Blood and threw a magnificent party that remains one of the most famous in history. (There is an entire non-fiction book devoted to the party.

After he reached is professional pinnacle with the publication and accolades of In Cold Blood, however, Truman’s life devolved into a bit of a drinking, drugging mess. He was having difficulty writing and, sadly, betrayed his swans by publishing very intimate details of their lives in magazine articles that barely attempted to conceal their identity. And so that was end of the friendships. The end of an era, really. Truman became a social outcast.

I really loved that so much of this book is based in historical fact including the story of Ann Woodward. I was inspired to read more about all of them. The book is told in such a way that I felt sorry for almost everyone – including Truman. The author did such a fantastic job of conveying so many facets to and nuances of the character’s personalities it was impossible not to relate to each in some way.

My rating 4.5 stars






Review of “Summit Lake” by Charlie Donlea


Thanks to Kensington Books via NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The murder of law student Becca Eckersley is brutal. Clearly a crime of passion committed by someone who either loved or hated her very much. Beautiful and smart, she was not lacking for male attention. But finding out who is responsible will require some creative and boundary-pushing sleuthing. Enter reporter Kelsey Castle, herself the recent victim of a violent crime. She is deployed to Summit Lake in the Blue Ridge Mountain where Becca had been using her parent’s vacation home to study when her life was suddenly cut short. There she enlists the help of a local doctor and Commander Ferguson, a forty-three year veteran of the local police force. (I really liked his character as it reminded me a lot of Joe Kenda from the ID series Homicide Hunter. One of my guilty pleasures when I’m not reading.)

Though this book had all the requisite components of a great mystery including a brutal crime of passion, families of wealth and power, a victim who kept secrets, a potential police cover-up, and multiple suspects, I found that it didn’t really put me in the suspense I’d hoped for until I was about 80% through the book. Then the surprising twists were revealed and I was unable to put it down.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty good though the access Kelsey was given to case information from both Peter, the physician and Detective Ferguson seemed highly unlikely.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Review of “Lost Girls, DI Kim Stone #3)” by Angela Marsons


Thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Though I hadn’t read the first to novels in this series, I had great hopes for this book based on the description and the positive reviews. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations. While the basic plot was intriguing – plotting the parents of two kidnapped girls against each other in order to secure the highest ransom – it lacked any real psychological twist and sense of suspense that could have made it great. The characters were a bit flat and predictable. There was another story about a young man killed trying to escape a gang that also ran throughout the book. Aside from the character of an annoying reporter, I’m not sure that the two stories were relevant enough to benefit from one another. And I thought the ending of the secondary story was very disappointing.

Though this was a very fast read, and I appreciate the chance to read this book, I don’t think this series is one I will return to.

My review: 2 stars

Review of “The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks


Having never read Geraldine Brooks, and being rusty at best when it came to the story of David, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to really appreciate this book. Fortunately, the author did such a fantastic job of weaving in all of the relevant back stories and personal histories of the characters that I didn’t feel I had to use so much of my brain that the book became less than pleasurable. (I do like to learn and use my brain but if a migraine headache is avoidable, that is preferable.)

As for David, I hadn’t realized what a contradiction he was as a person and king. The author did well in relating his constant conflict between ruthlessness and benevolence, making us very aware that he was, in fact, a very flawed human being. Who know what his life would have been like without the good council of Natan, the profit or Avigail, his second wife… For such a powerful ruler, he certainly seemed unable to navigate the complex politics and relationships of the throne though he prevailed on the battlefield. I found myself frustrated and angry with his lack of discipline toward his sons. Also, and not uncommon for a book written about this period, I found myself disgusted by the treatment of women.

Natan, on the other hand, was the perfect prophet and voice of reason for David and his inner circle. I enjoyed the way he worked both his prophetic visions and human insight into advice and planning meant for the greater good of David as well as the kingdom.

I did find that changing some of the names to the more authentic Hebrew versions made for a bit more confusion at the beginning of the book. I would also caution that there are scenes of rape and violence that are, though not gratuitous, vividly depicted.

Overall, I thought The Secret Chord was a great book and I would happily read this author again in the future.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Review of “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout


Thanks to Random House for providing me with a free ARC of this book.

This is a beautiful, poignant novel about a woman from a highly dysfunctional family. Lucy Barton is in the hospital recovering from complications after an appendectomy. Her mother, who she has not seen in years, flies in to sit at her bedside day and night for five days. As they discuss the unfortunate relationships of some of their friends back in Amgash, Illinois, we learn a little more about Lucy’s upbringing and her relationship with her family.

I thought Lucy was a likable and interesting character though I couldn’t relate to her yearning for the love and approval of a mother who wasn’t the best parent to Lucy as a child and still can’t say the words “I Love you”. What I loved about this book, however, was the prosaic way Elizabeth Strout writes. Her ability to convey a lifetime very complicated emotions (emotional trauma in childhood, dealing with guilt in divorce, etc.) in less than two hundred pages amazed me.

Though I wasn’t a  fan of Olive Kitteridge, I loved this book and can now see why Elizabeth Strout has such a devout following. I do believe I am a convert.

My rating: 5 stars

Review of ”Carrying Albert Home” by Homer Hickam


Many thanks to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Who couldn’t love a book about a coal miner, his want-to-be-anything-other-than-a-coal-miner’s-wife wife, her pet alligator, and a gratuitous rooster? Whimsical beginning with the Table of Contents, Carrying Albert Home is the story of how Elsie and Homer’s marriage is likely saved by a journey that turned out to be, well, kismet. Traveling through four states to return Albert the alligator (given to Elsie as a wedding present by her famous former boyfriend, Buddy Ebsen) back home to Orlando, the group have some pretty amazing adventures. Some are, shall we say, a stretch, but that’s the point. I love that this book details the (well-embellished, I’m sure) tales told to the author by his parents about their 1935 road trip. While I found that a couple of chapters were a bit too long, I really liked this book and could certainly see it turned into some sort of theatrical or film production.

My rating: 4 stars

Review of “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson


What can I say? This book was amazing. I really wanted to read this when it was first released but somehow didn’t get around to it. I even wondered if it could live up to the hype. It did! I read the first several chapters wondering if things were going to come together and I would finally be able to understand what was going on. These numerous deaths did take a bit of getting used to. After that, it was impossible to put down. I loved the author’s very matter-of-fact sensibility in describing Ursula’s many adventures in life and death. There was no over-dramatization which made for a very easy and believable read. The characters and their relationships were perfectly intertwined. But what I really loved was the way the author told the story of the war from unique and different perspectives. This book really does make you consider how one little change of events can alter the history of a person. Or the world.

My rating: 5 stars