Friday, January 30, 2015

Golden State by Stephanie Kegan

I received an advanced ebook through Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

Golden State is the story of a wife and mother, Natalie Askedahl. She is living a run-of-the-mill middle-to-upper-class American life. And then suddenly, her life is turned upside down by tragedy. Living through this tragedy changes every single one of Natalie's relationships within her family - from her elderly mother, her hippie sister, her long-lost brother, her lawyer husband, and her daughters. More than anything, this is a novel about a person's closest relationships and the secrets kept within them. And as Natalie works to uncover the truth about her family, her past, and herself, she has to uncover a lot of secrets.

This novel was an interesting and emotional read. I felt that the characters were well developed, and I particularly connected with Natalie, although I was also driven a little crazy by some of her decisions. She seemed like a real person, confused and led by her emotions rather than her reason at times.

This is a novel that will make you think about your own relationships and your own motivations for your decisions. I would recommend it to most adult readers.

(As with most adult novels, there is a fair amount of adult language and a small amount of sexual content.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

This novel tells the story of 82-year old Etta, who has never seen the ocean, as she sets off on a walking quest across Canada. She leaves a note for her husband, Otto, who understands her need to make this journey before it's too late. Their best friend, Russell, doesn't understand as well as Otto does, and sets off to find her, but really sets off to find himself. On her journey, Etta makes an unlikely friend in James, a coyote who joins her on her walk.

The story follows each of these characters during the time that Etta is away and alternates between the past and present, telling how these people ended up together. Etta seems to be falling into the grips of dementia, telling Otto that she "will try to remember to come back." She carries a note with her to remind herself who she is and who she left behind. Otto, the one left behind, goes on as best as he can, eventually discovering a way to find the companionship he is missing. Russell, for the first time in his life, does something irresponsible as he sets off on his own journey. And James provides the companionship and comfort that Etta needs as she travels.

This is a story about family, friendship, love, losing (and finding) oneself. It is beautifully written and a touching account of the dreams and hopes of the young, which are strong even toward the end of life. I highly recommend it.

Please note: As adult fiction, there is some adult language in this novel, but not much. There is also a bit of sexual content.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson is the author of the Dandy Gilver mystery series, which I have enjoyed reading. Those books are set in the 1920's and have a somewhat innocent vibe about them. The Day She Died is a stand-alone contemporary novel. Reading this book was much different from reading Dandy Gilver, but I still felt McPherson did an admiral job here.

This book tells the story of Jessie and how she meets and becomes involved with a man named Gus King. When Jessie meets Gus, he is in the midst of a tragedy in his life and reaches out to her for help. Though she has just met him, she finds herself caring for his young children while he sorts through the aftermath of this tragedy. Soon, she is deeply involved in the family's life.

Gus seems to be straightforward - a good father, an artist, a fairly normal man with a bit of a temper. Some of his dialogue is also a little confusing as he tends to talk in circles at times. Jessie has a mysterious past that has led to some emotional issues as an adult. As Jessie falls in love with Gus and his children, she opens up and reveals her past traumas. At the same time, she finds herself working to solve the mystery surrounding some of the other residents by the seaside. These stories get intertwined with Jessie right in the middle of all of them.

Eventually, the truth is revealed and Jessie realizes that nothing is what it seems. It was an interesting and quick read, and I enjoyed it. I would recommend it with reservations. There is adult language and sexual content throughout. The mystery is intriguing, but somewhat predictable before I got to the climax of the story.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Audiobook Review: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

I've read and enjoyed another of Edith Wharton's books, The House of Mirth, so when I was searching for a new audiobook to listen to at work, I happened upon this one. I was surprised at how short it is, and I listened to the entire audiobook during one 4-hour shift.

Ethan Frome is the story of a man in a terrible situation. We first meet Ethan as an old, seemingly anti-social man, then we're told the story of his past. Ethan was married to a sickly woman who was always inventing new ailments for herself. She spent all her time and her husband's money on doctors and medicines. Her young cousin, Mattie Silver, comes to live with the Fromes to help care for Zeena. Her youth, beauty, and liveliness entice Ethan to fall in love with her -- eventually leading to disastrous results.

This was a wonderfully woven tale of love and loss. The audiobook, narrated by C.M. Hebert, was well done. I would definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant

I received this advanced reading copy through Shelf Awareness. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- if you're looking to get free copies of books and ebooks, this is a great resource!

The Jaguar's Children is John Vaillant's first work of fiction and is set for release on January 27. In a nutshell - this book was incredible.

This is the story of Hector and it is told through his eyes in a series of audio recordings he made during his journey. The story shifts back and forth between past and present. Hector and his friend Cesar are in the midst of an attempt to illegally enter the U.S. from Mexico, inside a water truck. Hector's audio recordings are made as he sits in the truck, but in order to divert himself from his dire situation, he tells about his past life, his family, and how he and Cesar ended up where they are.

The truck stops moving, the driver leaves to get help, and the immigrants within can do nothing but wait for deliverance as they ration their clean water and try to make contact with anyone who can help them.

This is a story of coming of age, of the need to maintain a cultural identity in the midst of breaking away from it, of hope for the future, and of resilience in impossible circumstances. And it is the story of the Jaguar -- a legendary animal that reappears throughout Hector's story.

This story is unforgettable. I highly recommend it.

Note: There is some adult content in this book - mostly language.

If you're interested in reading more about this book from the author, check out this great interview with John Vaillant on Shelf Awareness.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Audiobook Review - Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

I have two kids - a 6-year old boy and an almost 4-year old girl. My son has always been the more challenging child to parent, and reflecting on my relationship with him led me to listen to this audiobook.

I have read a lot of parenting books, as well as a fair number of books about mental and emotional health. This book resonated with me on several levels:

  1. "Peaceful Parent" is not how I would describe myself. When my daughter was an infant, I was diagnosed with Post-partum Depression, and since then, I feel that I have been more reactionary than I used to be.
  2. "Happy Kid" is not necessarily how I would describe my son. It's not that he's unhappy, it is more that "happiness" is not one of his predominant traits. He is emotional and keenly aware of perceived injustice. He is easily upset and not easily cheered up.
  3. I have been thinking for some time that some of the interactions between me and my son while I was struggling with PPD have shaped his emotional landscape -- and not in a positive way. So I am looking for ways to improve our relationship and his resilience.
This book was interesting and inspirational. At times, this book made me feel supremely guilty because I have done many of the things that Dr. Markham explicitly says not to do. But the overall message is to love and respect your kids. I can't really argue with that.

I feel that this book would be better suited to reading than listening. The audiobook was well done, but some portions felt disjointed. At times I found it difficult to understand that a portion was an anecdote from a parent rather than a portion of the narrative.

That said, I felt that this book contains some great advice on how to stop yelling at your kids, how to show your kids greater respect, and how to help your children learn to process their emotions. I felt that it was insightful and plan to get a paper copy so that I can re-read it more closely. I highly recommend it for all parents.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This book included on the New York Times Review's 10 Best Books of 2014, which is why I decided to read it. Beyond that, I knew nothing about it before I started reading.

This novel is constructed very deliberately to correspond with what is happening in the story. It is the story of a woman and her husband. At the beginning of the novel, we see the events unfold from the perspective of the woman (who remains nameless throughout). Partway through, the perspective shifts so that the reader is looking in from the outside at "the wife" and "the husband." Still later, it shifts back to the perspective of the woman.

This is the story of a marriage and the woman's experience with motherhood. I found it difficult to sympathize much with the woman except during portions of her description of early motherhood. She seems so cold, so disconnected from the people around her, that she doesn't seem quite human. The story progresses, and eventually the marriage begins to fall apart, which is when the perspective shifts and allows us to look in from the outside. I expected the wife to leave during this portion, to set out on her own and go back to what she was before the husband and the daughter came along. But that is not how it ends. I was surprised. And I felt that the ending gave the entire book more depth and emotion where I felt it was lacking earlier.

Overall, I thought this book was an interesting read, but not something that I particularly enjoyed. Even though I did not enjoy it, I can still appreciate the skill that went in to writing such a well-constructed piece that seems like it is not well-constructed at first. There was also a fair amount of adult language and a little bit of sexual content, which might scare away some readers.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Sirena Quest by Michael A. Kahn

I received an advanced reading copy of this novel from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, through Shelf Awareness.

This novel is set for publication next week -- January 13! 

The Sirena Quest was a fun book to read. It tells the story of four college friends, reunited on a quest to find their school's missing statue and claim the substantial reward. The protagonist of the book is Lou Solomon, a St. Louis attorney, widower, and father of two. He is joined by his former roommates, Ray, Gordie, and Bronco Billy. Together, they investigate the disappearance of Barrett College's famed statue, Sirena. They are pitted against other alumni who are on the same quest. As Lou reconnects with his old friends and visits places from his past, memories of his late wife resurface, and as Lou gets closer to discovering the truth about Sirena, the reader also gets closer to discovering the truth about Lou's wife Andi.

Ultimately, this is a book about love, family, and friendship. It was well-written and entertaining throughout.

My only complaints are regarding the amount of "adult language" and some sexual content, which might not make this book for everyone.

Overall, I would recommend it as a fast and fun read.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Quick Audiobook Reviews

I've listened to several audiobooks over the last month, but haven't found the time to write up full review posts on each one. So instead, I'm combining several into one post! Here are a few quick reviews:

Mere Christianity 
by C.S. Lewis

I haven't read much of C.S. Lewis' writing and what I have read, I didn't have much patience for. I'm not sure why. But I thought I'd give it another shot in audiobook form. Apparently listening to Mere Christianity is a good idea, as it was adapted from a radio broadcast. It was designed to be conversational. I quite enjoyed listening to this book, though I feel like I know need to go back and give it a closer reading to wrap my brain around the deeper points. I enjoyed hearing Lewis' perspective on Christianity. This is a wonderful book for all interested in Christianity or religious philosophy.

Before Green Gables
by Budge Wilson

I love Anne of Green Gables. It is a comfort book for me that I always love re-reading when nothing else appeals to me. So I decided to give this "prequel" a try. This book is not written by L.M. Montgomery, but attempts to mimic the style of the original books. The book tells the story of Anne's parents' marriage, Anne's birth, her parents' deaths, and the aftermath. It concludes with Anne arriving in Bright River -- just where Anne of Green Gables begins. The book itself was okay -- nothing spectacular. A prequel feels somewhat unnecessary given that Anne tells Marilla her history upon arriving at Green Gables. I found the audiobook reading to be slightly irritating. The female narrator managed to make all the male characters sounds like imbeciles in her attempt to do a male voice. Overall, I didn't really care for this book, though I think my opinion would've been slightly better if I had read it instead of listening.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Being a fan of the Sherlock TV series, I was interested in reading some of the original stories for comparison's sake. This audiobook did not disappoint. In fact, listening to this book frequently made me wonder at how perfectly cast the TV series was. And it made me hungry for more Sherlock! This book does not include all the Sherlock stories, but is a selection of them. I am looking forward to reading some of the others in the future.

Moll Flanders
by Daniel Defoe

Here is another classic I had never read. I should've been forewarned by that addition to the title: "The Scandalous Life and Amorous Adventures." Moll Flanders really did have a scandalous life full of amorous adventures. This book was interesting in the view it gives the reader of English society in the early 1700's -- the seedy underbelly that you only catch glimpses of in Victorian literature.