Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Perfect Fraud by Ellen Lacorte

This was a novel I received from HarperCollins last month and it took me awhile to dig into it. A sleepless night was the key to flipping the switch and really diving into the story. Then of course, I wanted to stay home and finish it the next day but darn it all I had to work! I finished it at lunch. 

I've read a lot of domestic thrillers in the past few years, ever since Gone Girl and Girl on the Train jump-started the genre. I have to confess it's not my favorite type of read. And heck, it makes you look around at the people in your life and wonder if there's a story there just waiting to get out. I had a hard time getting into this story; I kept putting it down and moving onto other books. 

Part of the reason was because one of the main characters-Rena-is so unlikeable I didn't want to read her story. If you think she's unlikeable in the beginning, just hold onto your shorts, because she doesn't grow on you at all!

Short plot: Rena is a mother who has a daughter, Stephanie, aged four. Ever since she was a baby, Stephanie has suffered from painful stomach ailments. Rena has spent all her time taking Stephanie to doctor after doctor, demanding test after test and no one can figure out what is wrong with Stephanie. A few times she's been so ill--her sodium levels have skyrocketed and put her in severe health crises. Rena is fed up with the doctor who is treat Stephanie, so she decides to fly to Arizona to see a specialist. Rena also runs a blog that not only discusses her daughter's illness, but talks about Rena's search for healthy food and alternative ways to heal her daughter. 

The other main character is Claire. She lives in Arizona, and works in Sedona as a psychic--who gives fake readings. She doesn't care, actually. Mostly because her mother is a psychic, and pushed Claire to develop her natural talents in that area. But Claire resents her mother, and shut it all off (she actually doesn't think she's got any psychic abilities anyway). Claire is a bit prickly; her boyfriend wants to marry her, but she keeps him at arm's length. Her father's health suddenly nosedives, and she has to fly back home.

On the flight back to Arizona, Claire sits next to Rena and Stephanie. This is where to two paths finally cross. And where the story gets interesting. 

It's pretty easy to figure out what's going on with Rena and Stephanie. Rena is so completely unlikeable that she leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and a fair bit of rage in your heart. Claire grows on you, for sure. She has some big revelations that shake her up, and in doing so, opens up her psychic talents BIG time. You will get to a certain point in the action where you won't be able to put the book down, and you'll feel your heart rate increase a bit! 

It's a fast read, and even though I struggled a bit at the beginning, it turned out to be a pretty good story. Certainly a different one--not at all what I expected when I picked it up. Definitely a vacation read you'll pass onto your friends. 

A big thanks to HarperCollins for a preview copy. It's a book I probably wouldn't have read otherwise, so I'm always grateful for a chance to step outside my reading comfort zone and try something different. 

Rating: 4/6 for a domestic thriller that takes a few twists and turns and ends with a bit of a zip. A quick read that will grip you as you race towards the end. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I Finally Read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My top ten reads list for 2019 is filling up fast and I've still got 5 months to go. This book is definitely on the list. It's a novel I've had my eye on since it first came out in hardcover; but as you know, other books crowd in and it's soon pushed waaaay back on the list. So far back that even buying the paperback earlier this year still didn't push it to the top of my TBR list. 

However, on Instagram I follow Penguin Random House, and they've been showing a new book bag that features Eleanor Oliphant. I really would like that bag! But their Instagram did what it was supposed to do, and it had me looking through my bookcases at home to find my copy. There were a few moments of "I'm pretty sure I bought a copy...I'm pretty sure...I think..." and yes, I was right. I did have a copy tucked away. I spent Sunday afternoon diving into Eleanor's world, and I was immediately captivated. 

Eleanor is the voice inside your head that says everything you wish you could say out loud. And not because she's mean-she's just very honest and observant. She's also very lonely. In a world where everyone has some kind of contact or relationship with at least someone, Eleanor has none. Her weekly phone call to Mummy is filled with angst and dread, because Mummy is "away", and Mummy is a horribly mean person. Abusive, in fact. 

Eleanor meets Raymond, an IT fix it guy at work when her computer freezes and he comes to her desk to fix it. He's just an everyday Joe, and Eleanor slowly  begins a friendship with Raymond. And by slow, I mean bit by bit. As you read Eleanor's story, you quickly realize she's got a lot of issues, and she has quite the journey to overcoming those issues. But that journey is the best part of this novel. 

Eleanor is one of those characters that captures your heart right away, even as you hurt for her and sympathize with her. You understand why she is who she is-what made her a 30 year old lonely, timid woman. Her understanding that her life is not okay, and she's not completely fine, are key to her slow steps towards healing. She's weird, she's funny--oh so funny; you just want to give her a big hug. If she would let you. 

Read it, if you haven't already. It's a book that I will wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. Gail Honeyman really created one unforgettable heroine--and yes, she is a heroine. Read the book and you'll understand why. 

Rating:  6/6! Yes! For a book that will have you laughing, tearing up, cheering, and thinking about those who are quietly suffering. It's a book about acceptance, friendship, and simple gestures that can mean the world to someone. 

Available in paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audio. It's been optioned by Reese Witherspoon for a movie...I hope the movie does the book justice.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

I was pretty excited to read the latest novel from Erica Bauermeister. Her first novel: The School of Essential Ingredients was a top read for me, so I was all ready to dive into her latest project. While her first few novels concentrated on food, this novel explores the world of scent. And I'm happy to say, it's just as magical as I expected. 

At first I was a little lost, trying to figure out the story, and especially the when of the story. I think it's deliberate in this case-not being very specific on a year, a decade. But, I quickly figured out it is contemporary-first tip was a cell phone. But it starts out on a small island; a very small, isolated island somewhere off the coast of...somewhere? I'm guessing British Columbia, but I could be wrong. While this may irritate some readers, I like that it leaves me to decide. All I really need to know is Emmeline and her father are living on a small island, in a cabin, and they are quite content. 

Emmeline and her father have a magic machine in their cabin: it produces bits of paper that have fragrances on them--the scents of moments; memories captured on paper. It's like a photograph of a place, but instead of seeing a picture, you smell that specific moment in time. There are hundreds of tiny glass bottles with bits of paper sealed inside and arranged on a wall in the cabin. Each is a scent memory her father has captured. But as Emmeline grows from a small child into a pre-teen, she begins to figure out that her father hasn't been truthful with her, and her fairy-tale life on the island takes a turn that ends in tragedy and complete disillusion for Emmeline. 

Emmeline's life after the island, living with two dear souls who love her, and take care of her, is fairly peaceful-except for the constant bullying at school. Her gift for scent-being able to parse them out, bit by bit, teasing all the high, low, and middle notes, is highly unusual-but of course it's a cause for bullying. 

I don't want to tell you more, because I want you to read this and enjoy the unfolding of this story. It's so elegantly written; the fragrances of Emmeline's surroundings are so vividly written you can almost smell them. Just how much does scent play into our memories? I know when I smell a freshly lit cigarette, I immediately think of my Dad. It's a childhood memory that will never fade. The smell of freshly brewed coffee always brings me back to my Aunt Judy's house, and our Christmas visits-it always smelled like coffee, and reminds me of love, home, and happiness. 

After a bit of a long start (I couldn't concentrate long enough to dive in!), I settled into this story and then had a heck of a time putting it down. It really is a feast for your senses; I hope you also experience the magic of Emmeline's gift, and her journey to finding peace. The biggest mystery is the unexplained puzzle of her father and her mother. Who is she? Where did she come from? What does it all mean?

A perfect vacation book. It made me long for my childhood stays at a cabin resort in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. We had a cabin and we fished, swam, took boat rides, and had a wonderful time. I can still smell the exhaust from the boats, the scent of the water, and the taste of cold strawberry pop from a bottle. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that explores how we build our memories and sense of comfort from scents we hold dear to our hearts. Emmeline is a compelling character who grows from a small child to a young woman over the course of the novel. I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

I was surprised and super happy to have this novel arrive in my mail from Crooked Lane Press. I always say books find people at the right moments, and somehow, the folks at Crooked Lane Press knew I needed this book. Never doubt the magic of books.

Ruth Hogan's first novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, was published in 2017 and I happily reviewed it. She has a remarkable gift for writing that captivated me, and I'm happy to say her second novel cast a similar spell over me. Whomever designs her book covers, sheesh! They are amazingly beautiful. Can't help but pick it up just based on the cover art. 

Masha is a woman who lives with grief. Twelve years before, she lost her toddler son, Gabriel, in a freak accident. More horribly, his body was never recovered from the little creek it was presumed he fell into and drowned. Masha punishes herself by going to the local swimming pool all year round (it's outside) and dives into the deep end and holds her breath. She wants to feel what her son felt as he drowned. Masha's life is pretty colorless, except for her beloved dog Haizum and her daily walks in the local cemetery. This is a cemetery that only the English can do: a Victorian wonderland of meandering paths, glorious headstones dedicated to long lost souls, and a peace that begs people to sit and reflect. Masha sees Sally Red Shoes, an elderly woman who always wears--you guessed it--red shoes, feeds the crows, and bursts out in operatic songs. She also swears like a sailor-you just never know what you're going to get with Sally. She's a character most people would dismiss, but Masha soon forms a friendship with this wise woman. 

Masha's growing friendship with Sally has her realizing she's punished herself enough, and it's time to start living again. As Sally tells her, Masha stopped dancing to life when Gabriel died, and she owes it to Gabriel to keep dancing for him. 

Masha's slow re-entry into life means as much to her as it does to her friends and parents, who have had to change their behavior over the years to protect Masha's grief. She realizes she's done a great disservice to everyone by her unending grief, and the barriers she's placed around herself to prevent anymore pain. 

This was such a wonderful book-the characters are all so well drawn out. They're people I'd want in my life! There is another large storyline  in this novel that runs in and out of Masha's story, but I want you to discover that yourself. It's not hard to figure out what's going on, but I don't want to spoil your discovery. 

Colorful characters, a mother's slow climb out of grief, and beautiful writing all make this a charming read. It's not a sad tale at all. As Mr. Rogers said, "Look for the people who help" and there are plenty of people who help Masha regain her joy for life. This will be one of my top reads for 2019, and Ruth Hogan is definitely an author I will read again and again. 

A huge thank you to Crooked Lane Press for a chance to read and review this gem. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that captures a woman's journey through an endless grief. When it seems all is lost, there is always a path to happiness and peace. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I love Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway Mysteries. In fact, they are what started me on reading mysteries. I'm still dipping my toes into the mystery world, but I'm finding myself looking at them more often than I used to-both at the library and at my local bookstore. 

Elly Griffiths has written other mysteries, but this is a stand alone contemporary mystery with a bit of a gothic feel to it. And yes, I'm terrible at figuring out who did it before the end. 

The Stranger Diaries takes place in Sussex, at a school. Clare Cassidy is a high school English teacher, divorced and living with her teen daughter Georgia. Her close friend and colleague Ella is found viciously murdered in her home, and everyone is shocked. Who could possibly want her dead?

As Detectives Harbinder Kaur and Neil Winston begin investigating Ella's murder, suspicions swing to the head of the English Department at school: Rick Lewis. Clare knows a secret Ella shared with her: that she had a quick affair with Rick, and ended it weeks before. Harbinder knows Clare has more information than she's willing to reveal, and digs deeper. 

Clare has a few things troubling her: the diary she writes in daily has been tampered with; someone is leaving her notes. That someone is also closely following the plot of one of Clare's favorite novels: The Stranger. Who else is in danger? 

This was an easy to get sucked into mystery. Chapters are told through alternating voices: Clare, Georgia, and Harbinder. There are suspects a-plenty, and it seems that the mystery gets murkier before clues start coming together. Harbinder is the most interesting character, and I hope the author writes a few more mysteries with Harbinder as the investigating detective. I'd like to see more of her story. Clare is simply a woman trying to raise her daughter and be a good teacher. What others see her as is part of the whole plot. Appearances are most definitely deceiving in this tale of murder, mystery, and yes, a touch of madness. 

Rating: 3/6 for an interesting mystery. I thought the addition of the old short story sometimes interfered with the mystery; sometimes I had to get through bits of that in order to return to the meaty part of the story. Overall, a satisfying read.

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

I finished this novel early this week, but wanted to take a little time to think about it--and then the week hit, and holy heck it was a busy one! Now it's Friday evening, and before I make a cocktail and have date night with my boyfriend, I'm going to tell you about this unexpectedly sweet novel about friendship and trees. 

May Attaway is a forty year old single woman who still lives in the home she grew up in; her father lives downstairs, and she has the top half of the house. She's part of the grounds crew at the local university, and she's  an expert at cultivating trees and plants. She's a bit of an introvert in that she goes to work, spends a minimal amount of time in conversation every day, then goes home. Her friends? Well, she doesn't really have any close friends. 

A surprise gift from the university (a month of paid time off) has May ruminating on how to spend that time. She begins noticing people all around her who have friendships: the two elderly ladies in the coffee shop, the folks in the neighborhood who not only know each other by sight, but are actual friends. She thinks a lot about friendship: how it is cultivated, nurtured, and sustains the people in it. She decides she will visit the four women she once considered friends, to reconnect and see just what friendship is all about. 

May is a bit of an old-fashioned woman, in that she believes friendship is a face to face relationship, and the digital age has left people too many ways to say they are friends with so many folks. But, the important parts of friendship are neglected by the simple fact that people never visit each other and spend time  talking in person, enjoying each other's company. As May makes her trips to her friends, she finds joy and reaffirmation in simple things: a walk together, conversation at night over a glass of wine; a trip for ice cream. She sees each of her friends and their lives--all different from each other, and each friendship is different, too. Not better or worse, just different. 

There's more to the story, but it is worth savoring and reading for yourself. I found myself settling in and loving May's journey. The references to trees, flowers, and plants were wonderful, too. It's a quiet book, but worth reading. You'll be surprised at how much you enjoy it, and it will make you pause to reflect on the importance of friendship for each of us, and what we do to nurture it, or to neglect it. 

Rating:  4/6 for a novel to savor slowly. There's not a ton of action, but that never bothered me at all. A surprising little gem!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

June Reads: Friendship, Frauds, and Flowers

June 1st almost slipped by without my to read post. After a very soggy week, today was a beautiful day (a little on the humid side :{) and I spent time in my yard and took a long walk in a local park. Thinking about how I'm going to restrain myself when I buy flowers tomorrow--it's so darn hard to not want them all! But I've just got a few spots to fill, and a few containers, so I hope that keeps me under control. 

I suspect June will fly by, and it's already filling up with things to do and people to see. And, lots of books to read. Many of my library books became available all within the last week, so I've got a chunk to get through quickly. Here's what I plan on reading and reviewing this month: 

I've been waiting for this for awhile. I love Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway mysteries, so I'm interested in this new murder mystery. 

Publisher review. Two women meet on a plane and their lives become chaotic in this new thriller. 

The School of Essential Ingredients is a favorite novel of mine, so I was beyond excited to see Erica Bauermeister has a new novel! Sure to be a highlight of my summer. 

An exploration of friendship: how we make friends, keep friends, and cherish friendship. 

I read Ruth Hogan's The Keeper of Lost Things and thought it was wonderful. Happily surprised to receive an advanced copy of her latest. The cover...I just LOVE the cover! A woman forms a friendship after suffering loss, and it opens up a whole new world to her. 

Happy June everyone! Create your comfy outdoor reading nook. I hope you can spend as much time as possible reading and relaxing. 

The Bookalicious Babe