Review of “Free Days with George: Learning Life’s Little Lessons from One Very Big Dog” by Colin Campbell

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Full disclosure: I own a Newf. Therefore, there was little to no chance this book was getting less than five stars no matter what. But I’m happy to say those five stars are well-deserved! I read this book in less than a day. It’s a fast-feel good read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Colin Campbell was a man who’d hit a rough spot in life. His wife, the love of his life, left him suddenly and with no explanation. Truly devastated, he buried himself in work and picked up a few bad habits. He was still having a great deal of difficulty moving on when, months later, a coworker suggested he get a dog. Fortunately for all involved, this coworker was quite persistent (a role I myself have played many times), pointing him to Petfinder to find his doggie love match. And there he finds Kong (a name change was obviously in his future), a one hundred forty pound Landseer  Newfoundland who’d had his own share of bad luck. Everything was about to change for both of them.

Without giving too many details of the story, I’ll say it’s a beautiful one, told with humor and honesty. The classic who-saved-who story that happens so frequently in rescue mixed with some very George/Colin-specific  elements that are quite unique! I thought I knew what a “free day” was but I’ll never again hear the expression without thinking of how it is defined in this book, as told to the author by his beloved grandfather. I highly recommend this book, especially to dog lovers.

And for those of you who are not fortunate enough to own an oofa-newf, and who may think the author is exaggerating in his telling of George’s compulsion to “save” everyone in the water, here is a little video of my girl Belle. (She’s ashamed of her short haircut so please, if you see her, don’t mention it.) In it she is “saving” Jerry, the Labrador Retriever who DOES NOT NEED SAVING. Labs, as you may know, are very competent swimmers. It’s a little long so if you want to fast forward, the “BIG RESCUE” comes at about 20 seconds prior to the end.

5/5 stars

Many thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, via NetGalley, for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review of “Modern Girls” by Jennifer S. Brown

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Rarely, upon finishing a book, am I at such a loss for words. What I want to know is: Where is the rest of the book?  Modern Girls had the potential to be so much more…

Rose and Dottie, a Jewish mother and daughter living in 1930’s Manhattan, become pregnant at the same time. Neither is exactly thrilled to learn that they are in the family way. Rose is in her early 40’s and will soon regain some freedom as her youngest son begins his education. Dottie is unwed and running out of options.

There were some very interesting twists and turns of events. And a nice illustration of a pretty ideal mother-daughter relationship; not without some strife, of course, but with maximum love and loyalty. The relationship Dottie has with her brothers is also very touching. As I was nearing the end of the book, however, I became concerned that nothing seemed to be coming to any sort of conclusion. I thought perhaps there was going to be some sudden, drastic event that would wrap up all of the loose ends. Not so. If the end was intended to be a set-up for a sequel, it is still far too lacking. It needed a prologue at the very least. If I’d had to rate the book half way through, I would have given it 3.5/stars. Unfortunately, the ending was too disappointing to overlook.

2.25/5

I received a free copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review of “The A to Z of You and Me” by James Hannah

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This book filled me with a sense of bittersweet melancholy from start to finish. Ivo is a young man with diabetes who didn’t take very good care of himself and, as a result, his kidneys have failed and he’s in a hospice with (mostly) elderly people who are (mostly) dying of cancer. Throughout the book we learn the details of how he lost Mia, the love of his life. The story  of Mia and Ivo, which is slowly revealed, is certainly central but by no means all this book has going for it. It’s really a beautiful exploration of all types of relationships that complicate and make our lives whole. It’s also a more-than-gentle reminder that the choices we make today can have life-long effects on not just ourselves but those who love us.

My heart broke reading about Ivo’s mother and the way she cared for him. Having lost her husband to cancer when Ivo was just a boy, I found her love and sadness palpable. Though she is not mentioned frequently, I felt James Hannah did a fantastic job of bringing her character to life in a rich a meaningful way.

Another character that certainly deserves to be talked about is Sheila, Ivo’s nurse. I wonder if the author has spent time in a  hospital or perhaps has a nurse in his life as I’m a nurse by profession, and felt as though she could have been been a colleague at some point in my career. There’s a certain way to best take care of someone who is dying and it’s truly an art. Sometimes it’s best to leave someone to silence, sometimes it’s best to draw them out. There are times when distraction is a good tactic and times when the problem must be faced head on. Times when you are asked to muddle in business you really would prefer not to be involved in and times when you must gently and respectfully insert your nose in a place it may not belong under other circumstances. What I’m saying is that everyone should have a Sheila when the times comes…

As for Ivo’s  sister and circle of friends, I found them to be relatable. They provide influences that are times positive and, at times, not. They give good advice and bad. Probably not much different from friends we all have now and especially when we were young. It’s sometimes difficult, particularly in the case of Ivo’s friend Mal, (short of Malachy but interesting that mal means bad in French) to tell if they have malintentions or simply the selfishness and recklessness that are part and parcel of youth itself. In any event, suffice to say that friendships are tested.

Though there are lots of heavy topics and themes presented in this book, it’s beautifully written with wit and warm compassion. I look forward to seeing what James Hannah will come out with next.

4.5/5 stars

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

 

 

 

Review of “Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley

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Though I probably shouldn’t have started reading Before the Fall during a super-turbulent flight, I will say that it’s certainly a page-turner.

We know how the story ends (begins). The plane crashes. Nine people are dead. There are two survivors; Scott Burroughs, an artist who was offered a free ride to the city from a woman he’s met on the Vineyard, and her four year old son. Beyond that, we are left with nothing but questions. Many, many questions… What is Scott’s relationship with Maggie, the plane’s owner, and why is he really on the plane? Is Scott really the hero he seems to be? Or is there an explanation for his being one of only two survivors? Was it mechanical failure? Or was the pending indictment of one of the passengers (he was a finance guy, of course) a factor? Was there a lover’s quarrel in the cockpit? Did the bodyguard go rogue?

It must be difficult to develop characters for a book when said characters are almost all dead beyond the first few pages but I think Noah Hawley does a fair job here. There are some interesting dynamics in the bond that has formed between Scott and JJ, the little boy he rescued, and Eleanor, the boy’s aunt and legal guardian. These relationships help to give the book more depth and interest than is sometimes found in a more typical whodunnit.

I loved the way this book kept me guessing until the very end. The crashed could have been caused by any number of things and I vacillated back and forth unendingly in my own theories. I do admit to being a little disappointed, however, when the truth was revealed. I felt that there was a lack of creativity in the way it all wrapped up which surprised me as it was in sharp contrast with the rest of the book. Overall, though, I would say it’s a great read and I would definitely read this author’s next book.

4.25/5 stars

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

 

 

Review of “Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House” by Kathleen Grissom

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“I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.”

-Harriet Tubman

I absolutely loved The Kitchen House and was thrilled when I heard Kathleen Grissom was writing a sequel. Though Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House is a stand-alone novel, I highly recommend reading The Kitchen House if you haven’t already.

James Burton (formerly Jamie Pyke) is passing as a wealthy white Philadelphia silversmith who has denied his true identity for many years after fleeing Tall Oaks, the Virginia planation where he was raised. He has fallen in love with Caroline, a white woman from a wealthy family. She becomes pregnant and he intends to tell her his secret, fearing that it will become obvious to all when the child is born. But before he gets the opportunity, his beloved servant, Pan, is captured and brought to the South to be sold into slavery. James embarks on a dangerous journey to save Pan, the son a friend to whom he owed his very life.

I really liked this book but I’m not sure I loved quite as much as The Kitchen House. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. I loved Pan’s character and wanted to jump into the story to protect him myself. In fact, all of the characters were crafted with the same depth and complexity as those I grew to love in The Kitchen House. Perhaps I simply had a difficult time reconciling certain aspects of James’s character. For example, while I could understand his reasons for wanting to maintain his identity as a white man, I took offense at his disdain toward slaves. That’s all I’ll say about that. There are other examples but I don’t want to include any spoilers. On the other hand, there are characters I absolutely adored. For example, the young but formidable Adelaide Spencer. She is the teen daughter of the man who owns the property adjacent to where Pan is being held. She’s a young woman of conviction; someone I would like to believe I would have been like had I lived in those times.

Kathleen Grissom has told us another beautiful story. Even when the story is full of unimaginable pain and hardship, she has a unique way of weaving in enough snippets of the good in humanity, and the awesome strength of good people working together, to prevent us from losing all hope.

4.25/5 stars

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

 

Review of “The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and Californian” by David Dyer

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The Midnight Watch provides us with a beautifully written, compelling, and moving account of the failure of the Californian, a fellow White Star Line ship, to respond to the distress signals of the Titanic in those fateful early morning hours of April 15, 1912. Eight individual white rockets indicating distress were fired from the deck of Titanic. Second Officer Herbert Stone, of the Californian, reported this to Captain Stanley Lord and Lord chose to stay in bed, doing absolutely nothing about it! To make matters worse, he lied about and continued to deny any responsibility for his lack of action for his entire life.

David Dyer has certainly done the research here in terms of the gathering of historical information. But this book is so much more than that. He gives us the hardworking, hard-drinking, tenacious Boston reporter Steadman. Steadman is determined to expose the truth, give voice to the victims, and uncover why the Californian, the only real hope at minimizing or even preventing loss of life, failed to give aid for hours while only a few miles away. Steadman is a complex, well-developed character. Though not perfect, he gave me someone to root for, someone willing to risk his job and his skin in the name of justice. (If only Herbert Stone had been that strong…) The author does a fabulous job in bringing the crew members of Californian to life and weaving the historical facts in seamlessly with portions of the story that are partially or completely fictionalized. The Story of the Sage family, mother, father, and nine children, all of whom perished in the Titanic, brought me to tears and reminded me of those heart-wrenching scenes of the 1997 film Titanic.

I hadn’t been aware of this failure of epic proportions and I’m amazed at how little attention history has given to this aspect of the history of the Titanic tragedy. I was both saddened and infuriated with the characters and events responsible in this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves great historical fiction but it is a must-read for those of us who, like the author, have been Titanic obsessed since, like, forever.

4.5/5 stars

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review of “Dodgers” by Bill Beverly

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Dodgers is not what I would call a mystery/thriller or even a crime novel in the strictest sense. It’s definitely more of a coming-of-age story. East is a young L.A. gang member who has recently failed to protect a house he was in charge of from a police raid. His Uncle, the leader, sends him to Wisconsin along with 3 other gang members, including his younger half brother, to execute a judge who is to be a key witness. He gives them new identities, a nondescript van, some money, and a number to call for further instructions (ask for Abraham Lincoln) and sends them on their way.

Along the journey they take some incredibly stupid risks which I found to be a little unlikely. Those risks lead to a series of events which divide the group and force East to make choices about the kind of person he wants to be and what lengths he is willing to go to become that person.

The characters were, for the most part, quite complex. I was somewhat surprised at their ages. So young… Especially in East’s case. I think he was very young to have the relative maturity he was shown to have. And his brother at only 13… It’s a terrible reality how very, very young many people are who become involved in drugs and gangs.

My main criticism of this book is that the first 75% moved very slowly for me. There were times when I found myself bored and contemplated giving up. I’m glad I didn’t as I really loved the last 25% of the book and its ending.

3/5 stars

Thanks to Crown Publishing via NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review of “Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye

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Jane Steele  is a well-written, fun, and quirky read. I haven’t read Jane Eyre and wondered if it would make a difference in my ability to follow the book. It didn’t. Each chapter begins with a passage from Jane Eyre but this book is its own story and you won’t be impeded in any way if you haven’t read it. (Though I wonder at how I, calling myself a reader, could have made it this many years without having read one of the great classics.)

Jane’s story begins in childhood at Highgate House where she and her mother are effectively shunned by her Aunt Patience, forced to live in a guest cottage on the property. Before her untimely death, her mother tells Jane that Highgate House will be hers by inheritance some day but she leaves out several important details. Jane is promptly sent off to boarding school after her mother’s death where a series of events unfold and, let’s just say, the story really gains momentum.

Unfortunately, during the second half of the book, some of the momentum was lost for me. Not all. But some. The second half simply lacked the pace and sense of adventure that had me loving the first half of the book. Jane returns to Highgate house as a governess hired by the new master of Highgate House, the beguiling Charles Thornfield. I did enjoy this part of the story, as there are many twists, turns, and revelations but feel it could have been told with a few less words. Overall, though, I would say I enjoyed the story very much and would read this author again.

3.5 /5 stars

Thanks to Penguin Group Putnam via NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review of “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff

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Oh, how I wanted to like this book. Sadly, I finished it only because 1) it was for a book club, 2) several people I really respect gave this book glowing reviews, and 3) by the time I figured out that it was not going to get better for me, I was too far in.

The plot itself had some potential perhaps. But the amount of incomplete sentences drove me to distraction. I get it, it’s a writing style, but I found it to be overdone. Everything about this book just seemed to be trying too hard; too many superfluous big words, every sentence trying to be a line of poetry. And the amount of boring, unnecessary references to Greek mythology. I. Can’t. Even.

I know I sound like a real    imgres   but I just can’t help it!

My rating 1.5 stars

 

Review of “The Summer Before the War” by Helen Simonson

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Helen Simonson has proven she’s no one-trick pony. The author of the NYT bestselling debut, Major Pettigrew’s Last Standhas left no doubt that she is here to stay.

The Summer Before the War transports us to the beautiful seaside town of Rye, East Sussex. My mind’s eye has conjured a bit of a Pleasantville feel to this innocent pre-war town where everything is just as it should be at the beginning of the book. Beatrice Nash is the new Latin teacher at the local school. She can thank Agatha Grange, who is a member of the school’s Board of Governors, for her having been offered the position as many in the town are aghast at the prospect of a woman teaching Latin. Agatha has really stuck her neck out with her fellow Board members in getting Beatrice this teaching appointment and she takes her under her wing in her determination to see Beatrice become a success. She did, however, count upon Beatrice being a little more spinsterly than the attractive, intelligent woman who showed up at her door. (She plainly states that though she is progressive, she would not have considered hiring an attractive teacher.)

Agatha and her husband are very close to their nephews Daniel and Hugh. The boys grew up summering with Aunt Agatha and Uncle John, who, having no children of their own, provide much parental love and guidance to the young men. Daniel is a talented aspiring poet. Hugh has just finished his training to become a surgeon with a renowned mentor.

Life changes dramatically, of course, once the war begins. It all starts with the arrival of the Belgian refugees; the beautiful Celeste and her father. Celeste is staying with Beatrice while her father, the professor, stays nearby with the famous poet, Mr. Tillingham. Soon many of our characters are drawn to serve in the war efforts.They serve in all capacities ranging from the men on the front lines to the ladies who are doing their part on the homefront.

The characters in this book are all remarkably well-developed and complex. This goes for minor (I’m thinking of the surly ambulance drivers) characters as well which is something I think of as difficult to pull off when we only get to know a character on a page or two.

What really makes this book special however, is the way it made me feel. There were smiles and tears and I think it’s been a while since a book has moved me in that way. I’m finding that the more I read, the more difficult it can be to access those emotions. The author does a beautiful job reminding us of the very real and terrible consequences of war while tempering all of the tragedy and sadness with the light that good people with good intentions can bring to a difficult situation.

My rating: 4.5 stars

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