Review of “Britt-Marie Was Here” by Fredrik Backman

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Britt-Marie was an intensely unlikable woman in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s SorryPerhaps that’s because she was so unhappy herself. I’m so glad I was able to get to know her better in Britt-Marie Was HereIt should be mentioned that, although I highly recommend reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and you will be even more impressed by Britt-Marie in this book if you do, you won’t have any trouble at all reading this as a stand-alone.

Sixty-three year old Britt-Marie has finally left her philandering husband and is trying to move on with her life. But there are more than a few obstacles in her way. To begin with, it’s more than a little difficult for a woman her age, who has not been gainfully employed in forty-some years to find a job in the middle of a financial crisis. But Britt-Marie is very resourceful. And by this, I mean that she pesters the poor young woman at the unemployment office, wearing her down until she finds her a position in the somewhat disadvantaged town of Borg. Thus begins Britt-Marie’s journey toward independence, friendships, and self-actualization(!). No small accomplishments for this very quirky, somewhat neurotic, maker-of-lists, and keeper of order who loathes soccer, has never had children of her own, and has somehow become the children’s soccer coach in Borg.

This is one of those books that is not terribly long, and is written very simply, but packs a huge punch in terms of conveying an astounding amount of emotional ranges and the understanding of human relationships.(And, at times, those with dogs and rats.) From desperation and sadness to hopefulness and redemption, it’s impossible not to laugh and cry, at times simultaneously. It is a beautiful thing, how Britt-Marie became such a vital part of the community. And even more so how the community became such a vital part of her.

Every character is so carefully revealed and so richly developed it would be quite easy to convince me I actually knew them. There are too many to mention but individually but I will say that I wouldn’t mind having a beer with Bank and Somebody. But as much as each character stands out individually, it’s the collective character of the town that is most unique and endearing.They are mostly good people, doing the best they can. And while they may not agree on every little thing, when the you-know-what hits the fan, they stand together. Many of us have lived in Borg, if not geographically, then metaphorically, at one time or another. And if not, then we should wish that we had.

 

5/5 stars

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

Review of “The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper” by Phaedra Patrick

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Arthur Pepper misses his wife. It has been a year since she passed away. Miriam and Arthur were married for forty happy, peaceful, uneventful years. It’s not until Arthur steels himself to the task of sorting her things that he discovers a charm bracelet he’d never seen before. A telephone call to a number on one of the charms prompts Arthur to begin a journey in search of the truth of his wife’s past prior to their meeting. Along the way he meets some interesting characters, forges some unlikely friendships, and slowly discovers that it is possible to be happy, or at the very least, content again.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper has a lot going for it. Arthur is a very likable guy. If fact, most of the characters are of an equally likable, upbeat sort. The story is pretty relatable in its essence. We’ve probably all learned things about a spouse or lover at one time or another that made us question how well we really knew that person. Arthur’s adventures help him to reconcile three versions of his wife; the wife he thought he knew, the (post-finding-the-bracelet-wife) he then questioned if he ever  knew at all, and finally, the “true” Miriam.

Unfortunately, there was something I found lacking that I’ve not been able to put my finger on after having reflected for a few days. I can only describe it as an inability to be excited or completely engaged. Perhaps it was a bit too predictable. Maybe it was the implausibility of some of Arthur’s adventures. While I appreciate why so many readers are giving such glowing reviews, I find myself unable to do likewise. There was nothing overtly wrong with the book. It just left me feeling a little flat.

3/5 stars

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

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.