I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan

i-almost-forgot-about-yoiu“The #1 New York Times bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting To Exhale is back with the inspiring story of a woman who shakes things up in her life to find greater meaning.

In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young’s wonderful life–great friends, family, and successful career–aren’t enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love. Like Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, I Almost Forgot About You will show legions of readers what can happen when you face your fears, take a chance, and open yourself up to life, love, and the possibility of a new direction.” – Goodreads

I’m just going to say this up front, y’all: I have not yet met a Terry McMillan novel that I didn’t like. I began reading her novels twenty years ago, when I picked up Waiting to Exhale at a bookstore clearance sale (this was long before it became a movie – just sayin’). I then began gobbling up everything McMillan had written, that I could find, and have remained a loyal fan to this day. She has never let me down. And I can say the same for I Almost Forgot About You, her most recent novel, published June 7, 2016. It is a winner through and through.

54-year-old Georgia Young is a successful optometrist living in the San Francisco Bay area. As the single parent of two grown daughters, she is twice-divorced and growing tired of her rather pedestrian, routine daily life. After learning of the death of a man she once loved, Georgia comes up with the grand plan of hunting down all of the men she has loved in her lifetime. She wants to let them know what they meant to her, to ask what they loved and didn’t love about her, to gain understanding and closure – but most of all, to forgive and to be forgiven. Cheered on by her two brutally honest best friends and distracted by her two troubled grown daughters – and 81-year-old newlywed mother – Georgia embarks down memory lane and discovers that there is much more to life than the one she has been living.

Georgia Young – what a character! Such a loving woman – although those she loves get on her last nerve. Georgia is wise, experienced, and street-smart, yet in the next moment can appear clueless and blind to something she is feeling or experiencing – though not to worry, her eyes are always opened sooner or later. McMillan has created a superstar cast of supporting characters to surround her protagonist, imbuing each with enough personality and spark to last long after the story has ended. As usual, this novel is laced throughout with strong, intelligent, proud women – something I’ve always loved about McMillan’s writing.

Initially I was concerned that I wouldn’t bond with Georgia – I focused on the age disparity between she and I – but there was nothing to worry about; she was as relatable as I have always found McMillan’s characters. Indeed, there was no better guide than Ms. Young for this journey through a middle-age crisis – and no better creator than McMillan for a story and characters who spread their arms to include us in their loud, crazy, joyous lives. I Almost Forgot About You is a summer read you do not want to pass on – go and get you some, y’all!

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Crown Publishing {via NetGalley}

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt-to-the-sea“Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.” – Goodreads

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a woeful and fictional depiction of the true story of the world’s most disastrous maritime tragedy known to man.

In 1945, near the end of World War II, four youth from different war-torn countries and of different backgrounds converge on a frozen path, intent on traveling to board a ship – the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff – bound for Kiel, Germany, where they are purported to be safe from Stalin and his army, who are pursuing them. What follows is the largest maritime disaster and loss of life in recorded history

Joana is a compassionate and knowledgeable nurse from Lithuania who brands herself a murderer as she grieves for her lost cousin and family. Emilia has been fleeing the Russian troops since she left Poland and is harboring a precious secret under her coat. Florian is a Prussian art restorer who is enacting his vengeance upon the Reich as he travels undercover. Alfred is an SS officer and sailor who maniacally worships Hitler and fantasizes about proving his heroism to the world at large.

Through the voices of these four young narrators, Salt to the Sea reveals to readers the calamitous tale of the Wilhelm Gustloff – which, despite the loss of over 9,000 lives when it sank at the hands of Russian torpedoes, is to this day a much overlooked tragedy in maritime history. This enormous pit of loss, horror, and despair is where Salt to the Sea is at its best. The fear and hopelessness of these characters is palpable, as is their will to survive and continue on toward salvation and a better life. It is easy to feel their grief and guilt for those they were forced to leave behind, and for those who died along the way during the long, hard trek.

It is quite clear that Sepetys was meticulous and exhaustive when it came to her research. The content of this novel meant much to her – one need only to read her touching Author’s Note at the end of the novel for proof. Unfortunately, I found that I was unable to forge an emotional connection with the novel, nor did I form any sort of attachment to one or more of the characters. The structure of the book was short and choppy, with each chapter only a few pages or less – this isn’t always a problem for me, however, with four separate narrators it cut short the time spent with each character and put me at a disadvantage when it came to forging a relationship with anyone.

Salt to the Sea is definitely a novel worth reading, if not for any other reason than this is a haunting tale that needs to be told to the masses.  The horror and tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the enormity of the impact on the people who were kicked out of their homes and forced to trek so many miles through vicious snow and low temperatures, and the fate of so many who were a part of Operation Hannibal as they attempted to escape the Eastern Front press of the Russian army are things that must not fall by the wayside of our awareness.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – Read it today!

3 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

Shelter by Jung Yun

shelter“Why should a man care for his parents when they failed to take care of him as a child?

One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of the Year (Selected by Edan Lepucki)

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.” – Goodreads

On the surface, Shelter by Jung Yun appears to be a tale about a modern family in the midst of a financial crisis, brought on by living above their means. Add to that some parent/child family dynamic issues between Kyung Cho and his wealthy Korean-immigrant parents and there is a sense of palpable tension to the novel right from the start. Yet this is nothing compared to what is about to come – nothing compared to a tale so captivating, so devastating, that you won’t be able to put this book down until you’ve read every last page.

As the Chos are showing their un-fixed fixer-upper in once of the area’s nicer neighborhoods to a realtor, the three look out the back window to see a naked woman running about in the field behind the home. As Kyung looks more closely, he realizes that the woman is his own mother, with whom he has minimal contact in his daily life. And thus begins the emotionally frenzied pace of a novel I least expected.

Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae Cho, have been the victims of a brutal home invasion in their ritzy neighborhood just blocks away from Kyung’s own home. Kyung is forced to bring them into his own home to care for them. This brings into play a plethora of issues, not the least of which includes the long-hidden abusive relationships within Kyung’s family: his father’s abuse of his mother, his mother’s abuse of Kyung, and even Kyung’s own emotional self-abuse that permeates this story. Kyung seems to be constantly filled with a sense of rage and ineptitude, trying his hardest to instill a sense of normalcy within his family yet furious when he senses anyone else – his wife, his parents, their church members – trying to do the same.

There is some strong writing and certainly a few harrowing (read: graphic) scenes in Shelter, that may cause some discomfort, however, I feel that they fit concisely within the context of the story. Ultimately, this affecting story has an universal appeal. Kyung, his struggle to hold on to his wife and child, his resistance to forgiving his parents, and his inevitable fall from grace – along with the devastating effects of the home invasion upon Jin and Mae – will keep you hooked from beginning to end as you race through the pages of this gripping and satisfying literary thriller.

Shelter by Jung Yun – On sale March 1st!

4 stars

Source: Macmillan-Picador {via NetGalley}

Libraries Around the World Coloring Book by Lacey Losh

cover_librariesaroundtheworld“50 libraries from across the globe have been transformed into line art coloring pages in this unique coloring book collection. These line art images will delight the adult coloring crowd as well as all ages of coloring enthusiasts.

The Libraries Around the World Coloring Book offers a first-of-its-kind combination of two current trends (the adult coloring phenomenon and little libraries) into one neat package. These coloring books feature libraries, large and small, with locations in 23 US states along with 13 countries on 6 continents!

This coloring book includes library steward stories, location details and interesting tidbits alongside the coloring sheet for each library, connecting art and education with the mental health benefits of coloring.” – Goodreads

I almost titled this post, “In Which I Don’t Even Know Where to Begin…” Do I start by professing my love and obsession for Little Free Libraries? Do I launch into a lecture about my newfound love for adult coloring books and the multitude of mental health benefits to be gained from coloring in them? Or do I simply begin by telling you about Lacey Losh’s amazing new publication, the Libraries Around the World Coloring Book?

little-free-library

What exactly is a Little Free Library, you ask? The Little Free Library website states:

“A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.”

The mission of Little Free Libraries is:

To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”

There are currently over 36,000 Little Free Library book exchanges around the world, bringing curbside literacy home and sharing millions of books annually. You can read more about the history of the Little Free Library movement here.

Lacey Losh, author of the Libraries Around the World Coloring Book, is the steward of a Little Free Library right here in my very own Lincoln, Nebraska. You can visit – and LIKE – the Losh Free Library Facebook Page here. Lacey collected 50 photographs of Little Free Libraries from across the globe, created line art pictures from them, and gathered them into a coloring book collection that will delight the minds of creative, coloring individuals young and old alike. Each picture also includes charming details and stories about the library it represents.

Great things about this coloring book (other than featuring LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES?!):

    • Each picture is on a page of its own, with no picture on the backside
    • The paper is of the perfect weight; even markers would work without bleeding through (NOT including Sharpies, friends!)
    • While each picture is detailed, it is not so intricate that it is difficult to color and can easily be completed in one sitting

I was so thrilled to be gifted a copy of this coloring book. The lovely pictures and charming stories, along with Lacey’s personal bio, brought tears to my eyes. Yes, I realize I am a library nerd, but I think you will be moved as well. There are two things you need to do today: visit a Little Free Library near you, and snatch up a copy of the Libraries Around the World Coloring Book! Go and get you some, y’all!

losh-free-libraryAbout the author:  Lacey Losh is a professional Digital Prepress Specialist and Graphic Designer. She is the steward of a Little Free Library in her own front yard, now in its third year of operation. She also volunteers as a Community Organizer with Common Root, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based nonprofit agency. Lacey is currently working on her second coloring book project, The Tiny Living Coloring Book. You can learn more about Lacey and her work at her website, Coloring With Lacey!

Libraries Around the World Coloring Book by Lacey Losh: Get it Today!

5 stars

Source: Lacey Losh

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11-22-63“Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.” – Goodreads

Holy Mother of Sweet Baby Jesus.

Hands down, BEST book I’ve read this year.

Sorry, David Joy (I promise you came in at a close second).

I was a Stephen King fan back when I was in middle school. In my first year of high school, I read It, which scared the crap out of me. Beyond words. And that, my friends, was the end of me and horror novels. I broke up with Stephen King lickety-split, I will tell you what. Swore him off fo-eva, y’all.

But people would not shut up about 11/22/63. So, I bought it for my Kindle Paperwhite. Back in, oh, January of 2013. And there it sat, on my Kindle bookshelf, for two years. Taunting me, daring me, threatening me with visions of 849 pages of possibly creepy science-fiction-y boredom… Oh, how wrong I was. How. Wrong. I. Was.

Along with all of the accolades, ultimately the premise of this book was just too good to pass up. At the urging of my MomAdvice Book Club, I gritted my teeth and dug in. And I’m ever so glad that I did. There is so much to this novel that it is difficult to craft a concise summary about it. It is nothing like the Stephen King novels I read oh so many years ago. Those who enjoy historical fiction, particularly those with an interest in 60’s history – and maybe a side interest in sci-fi – will enjoy this book.

And, y’all, this is no joke – I flew threw all 849 pages of this novel – absolutely captivating, I tell you. King quite obviously researched the hell out of the time period he was writing about – details, details, details. His writing was simply flawless. I was a bit concerned that at some point, perhaps near the end of the book, that things would take a bend toward the science fiction side of things and ruin the beauty of this work – and while it did rear its head, it wasn’t in a bad way at all. Y’all, I am not lying when I tell you that I loved everything about 11/22/63. Except the fact that it ended. Boo-hoo for me.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. Read it today!

5 stars

Source: Personal Library {Kindle Paperwhite}

A Slanting of the Sun: Stories by Donal Ryan

a-slanting-of-the-sun“Donal Ryan’s short stories pick up where his acclaimed novels The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December left off, dealing with dramas set in motion by loneliness and displacement and revealing stories of passion and desire where less astute observers might fail to detect the humanity that roils beneath the surface. Sometimes these dramas are found in ordinary, mundane situations; sometimes they are triggered by a fateful encounter or a tragic decision. At the heart of these stories, crucially, is how people are drawn to each other and cling to love when and where it can be found.

In a number of the these stories, emotional bonds are forged by traumatic events caused by one of the characters – between an old man and the frightened young burglar left to guard him while his brother is beaten; between another young man and the mother of a girl whose death he caused when he crashed his car; between a lonely middle-aged shopkeeper and her assistant. Disconnection and new discoveries pervade stories involving emigration (an Irish priest in war-torn Syria) or immigration (an African refugee in Ireland). Some of the stories are set in the same small town in rural Ireland as the novels, with names that will be familiar to Ryan’s readers.

In haunting prose, Donal Ryan has captured the brutal beauty of the human heart in all its failings, hopes and quiet triumphs.” – Publisher Summary

Having read, in the past, author Donal Ryan’s previous two published works of fiction (The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December), I already held a high regard for his talent as a writer. I was not prepared, however, for the impact his newest collection of short stories would have on me. After reading A Slanting of the Sun: Stories, I am quite convinced that Ryan is somewhat of a literary genius. Each story in this collection held that punch to the gut all true readers long for – that glorious rush of all the feels slipping through our veins as our bodies tingle in anticipation for the next page, and the next, and the next.

“An old man looks into the fearful eyes of a burglar left to guard him while his brother is beaten; an Irish priest in a war-torn Syrian town teaches its young men the art of hurling; the driver of a car which crashed, killing a teenage girl, forges a connection with the girl’s mother; a squad of broken friends assemble to take revenge on a rapist; a young man sets off on his morning run, reflecting on the ruins of his relationship, but all is not as it seems…” – Publicity Blurb

Some of the stories take place in or around the same familiar territory of Ryan’s previous novels; others visit faraway lands such as Syria. It was a treat to recognize names that appeared in his previous novels, as well. While the subject matter of each story varied wildly, one thing remained the same: each and every one of the pieces ripped my heart from my chest and returned it to me in a dripping, shredded mess. Each tragic story wielded power in it’s own unique way, leaving me breathless and anxious, as each one ended, to move on to the next. This, friends, is the kind of reading that I love – when it’s real and gritty and doesn’t pull any punches. And this, too, is why you do not want to miss out on reading this amazing collection of stories.

A Slanting of the Sun: Stories by Donal Ryan: Read it Today!

5 stars

Source: Steerforth Press {via NetGalley}

Memory Man by David Baldacci

memory-man“Amos Decker’s life changed forever–twice.

The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect–he can never forget anything.

The second time was at home nearly two decades later. Now a police detective, Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare–his wife, young daughter, and brother-in-law had been murdered.

His family destroyed, their killer’s identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. He leaves the police force, loses his home, and winds up on the street, taking piecemeal jobs as a private investigator when he can.

But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. At the same time a horrific event nearly brings Burlington to its knees, and Decker is called back in to help with this investigation. Decker also seizes his chance to learn what really happened to his family that night. To uncover the stunning truth, he must use his remarkable gifts and confront the burdens that go along with them. He must endure the memories he would much rather forget. And he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Memory Man will stay with you long after the turn of the final page.” – Publisher Summary

I remember when good old James Patterson began letting other people write his books co-writing his books (and y’all, I fully believe this was happening long before he admitted it). Until that point, I’d been somewhat of a (closet) fan; when I sensed the shift in writing style, it just didn’t work for me anymore and I ceased to read his novels. While reading David Baldacci’s most recent novel last week, I had to wonder if he were not taking a cue from Patterson. But more on that later…

Memory Man is touted as a standalone novel, starring one Amos Decker: ex-NFL player, former cop, and owner of a photographic memory unlike that which most of his doctors have ever seen. Currently an down-and-out PI, Decker is brought back to the police force as a consultant when a tragic massacre takes place at his former high school. As he begins to investigate, it becomes more and more clear that the killer (killers?) is personally connected to Decker, and is committing these murders in his honor. Hooking up with his former partner and a newbie journalist, Decker slowly solves the mystery of who the murderer is, and he sets off on his own to settle the score once and for all.

After reading the first few chapters of Memory Man, my first thought was, “There is NO WAY that David Baldacci wrote this book.” Well, actually, my first thought was that this was kind of crappy writing, but since it led to the main point, I left it out. Except I didn’t. Because I just told you about it. So now you know. It’s true, though, y’all – if I had been handed this book without the author’s name, after reading it I would have assumed that the author was new to the scene and still pretty wet behind the ears. I could be wrong. Maybe Baldacci was just drunk while he wrote it. But I suspect not; I suspect the hands of another wrapped up in this little package. I may be calling it completely wrong but time will tell, y’all, time will tell.

Would I recommend Memory Man to a fellow reader? Eh, maybe, depending on who it was. The truth is, this is a nice mystery novel that would be perfect for passing the time if you didn’t have anything else to read. OK, wait – that still wasn’t very complimentary. Let’s try again. Memory Man is a book that would/will be enjoyed by many mystery fans out there who are not as picky as myself. For those who are familiar with Baldacci’s work, maybe not so much. But I would tell you to go ahead and check it out if you have the urge to do so – you’ll never know unless you try!

Memory Man by David Baldacci: Read it today!

2 stars

Source: Grand Central Publishing {via NetGalley}

The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane

the-thunder-of-giants“Mixing the eccentricity of the circus world and the heart of a love story, The Thunder of Giants is a warm and engaging debut about two exceptional women — both almost 8-feet tall

The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey – 7’11 and just under 320 pounds – is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th century.

Thus, Anna Swan’s story unfurls. Where Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin – and the world – that she is more than the sum of her measurements.

The Thunder of Giants blends fact and fiction in a sweeping narrative that spans nearly a hundred years. Against the backdrop of epic events, two extraordinary women become reluctant celebrities in the hopes of surviving a world too small to contain them.” – Publisher’s Summary

Born in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia in 1846, Anna Swan was a real-life “giantess” who eventually reached a height of nearly 8 feet tall. At the age of seventeen she travelled to New York where she lived and performed in P.T. Barnum’s famous museum; during this time she was reacquainted with childhood friend Gavin Clarke who had been injured while fighting in the Civil War. Anna made a great deal of money during her time with P.T. Barnum, however, after two separate fires destroyed the museum, she embarked on tours of Europe and the United States. While touring, she married a former Confederate Captain (from the Civil War) who was also a “giant.” After retiring from show business, the two attempted to have children, but both were so large that they died within hours or days of their births. Sadly, Anna died of Tuberculosis one day before her 42nd birthday.

In Joel Fishbane’s debut novel, The Thunder of Giants, he weaves together Anna Swan’s real-life story with a fictional account of Andorra Kelsey’s life – Andorra Kelsey being another “giantess” living in 1937 Detroit and weighing in at 7’11” and 320 pounds. Andorra, her three children, and her aging father are living in near-poverty while grieving the recent death of husband, father, and son-in-law Nicholas Kelsey. Discovered walking down the street by down-and-out talent scout Rutherford Simone, Andorra is convinced to travel to Hollywood – to star in a movie about the life of legendary giantess Anna Swan.

anna-swanIn this way the two women’s lives are brought together. Each chapter alternates between Anna’s life, Andorra’s past, and Andorra’s present experiences in Hollywood. As the history – and present – of each woman unfurls, their lives hurtle closer and closer together until they meet in a way most unexpected. Fishbane collects a delightful cast of characters to surround Andorra and while her life is difficult and she experiences tragedy, he also brings to her love, laughter, and hope. Fishbane also does a wonderful job of respectfully bringing Anna Swan’s story (Anna Swan is pictured on your left) to life in these pages, avoiding the type of sensationalism that often accompanies those who are quite so “different.”

I found The Thunder of Giants to be an enjoyable read. It didn’t keep me sitting on the edge of my seat or rushing through dinner to get back to reading, however, it did sufficiently interest me. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the death of Andorra’s husband – in the beginning of her story, she claims to have killed him but doesn’t explain how – that unfolds near the very end. I was mostly intrigued, however,  by Anna and was even encouraged to do a bit more research on her life and experiences .

The Thunder of Giants is a charming and engaging tale of two women – one real and one fictional – that will tug on your heartstrings, bring a chuckle to your lips, and perhaps even a tear to your eye a time or two. If you’re up for that, then go and get you some, y’all.

At the end of this post is a video about Anna Swan and The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane.

The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane: On sale now!

3 stars

Source: St. Martin’s Press {via NetGalley}

 

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

where-all-light-tends-to-go“Lyrical, propulsive, dark and compelling. Joy knows well the grit and gravel of his world, the soul and blemishes of the place.”—Daniel Woodrell

In the country-noir tradition of Winter’s Bone meets ‘Breaking Bad,’ a savage and beautiful story of a young man seeking redemption.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually.  The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when a fatal mistake changes everything, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.” – Goodreads

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy is one knockout of a novel. No joke, y’all – Joy absolutely hit it out of the park with this one. Just reading the title and book summary got me all giddy and ready for a deep down, dirty heartache of a read and that is exactly what I got. I already cannot wait to read this baby again! That said, it is difficult to share the impact this book had on me without revealing spoilers galore, when so much of what makes it stand out from the crowd is that final sock to the gut that Joy tosses in at the end. You’d think a smart girl like myself would have seen it coming. Um, no. By the time we’ve reached the climax, Joy has readers so mesmerized by the first actual slice of hope in the entire novel that we’re completely blindsided by the humdinger he’s been setting us up for, like suckers, all along.

But let’s back up a bit. Eighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely was raised by his drug-dealing father and has minimal contact with his meth-head mother. As you can imagine, the emotional landscape at home is a bit lacking, and no one really notices when he drops out of high school in the tenth grade. Everyone in his small town has a preconceived notion of who Jacob is and what his future holds – knowing this, Jacob has dutifully prepared himself for a life of fulfilling all of those low expectations. The one person in Jacob’s corner is his childhood friend/high school girlfriend, Maggie Jennings. Maggie sees the good in Jacob, the things that he just can’t bring himself to believe exist, and when he parts ways with high school, he parts ways with her as well – telling himself that she deserves more than him dragging her down with him.

Jacob’s daddy works hard to bring him into “the business,” manipulating him and giving him odd jobs from the time he was small, holding on to his “pay” with the promise that someday he’d receive the money in bulk. When things take a wrong turn and Jacob becomes trapped in what he feels is a hopeless situation, he allows his father to push him deeper and deeper into the pit until he’s so far in that he begins to push back. When unexpected help shows up, Jacob leaps blindly at his chance for salvation. Key word: blindly. For this is when Joy slips in his sucker punch, and for this I will resent him forever, even though I should have known better in the first place.

I’m sure most authors don’t like to be compared to others; they likely want to make a name for themselves. But I have to do it… Joy’s writing reminded me so much of one of my absolute favorite authors, Ron Rash. That stark, unforgiving Appalachian landscape. The harsh and gritty look at reality. The futility and uselessness of hope. And – always – that dark, dark, irony. It’s all here in Where the Light Tends to Grow, y’all, and Joy whips it into a powerful novel that will positively wreck you. This is one of the strongest debuts I’ve read, and trust me when I say that you do not want to miss it. Go and get you some today.

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy: Read it today!

5 stars

Source: Personal Library

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

inside-the-obriens“From the New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice Lisa Genova comes a powerful and transcendent new novel about a family struggling with the impact of Huntington’s disease.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (The San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core.” – Publisher Summary

May I ask you a question, dear readers? Exactly how much do you know about Huntington’s Disease? If you are like most people, your answer will be, “not much.” Well. If  you are planning on reading Inside the O’Briens, that is about to change. In her latest release, Harvard-educated neuroscientist and award-winning author Lisa Genova paints a sensitive yet realistic portrait of one man’s battle with Huntington’s Disease and the havoc it wreaks on both himself and his family of six.

The O’Briens could easily be the family next door. Living in a strong Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Boston for years, Joe and Rosie have been married since age eighteen and have four adult children: JJ, Patrick, Meghan, and Katie. The entire family, along with JJ’s wife, lives in the gigantic three-story brick walk-up that has been in Joe’s family for generations. While Patrick has been just drifting along, JJ and his wife, Colleen, are trying to start a family; Meghan is a dancer with the Boston City Ballet, and Katie is a Yoga instructor. Joe himself has had a successful career as a police officer, and identifies strongly with his job. Their everyday family life veers strongly off course, however, when Joe is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. To make matters worse, more bad news follows: there is a fifty percent chance that each one of his children will have inherited the disease as well.

The brilliance of Genova’s writing lies in sharing her medical expertise in a way that is knowledgeable yet understandable, via characters who are easy to relate to. Through Inside the O’Briens, we experience the realities of living with Huntington’s  – from both sides of the disease. We witness the shock of diagnosis, followed by Joe’s gradual decline that slowly robs him of his independence, and the reality that the four siblings face knowing that this, too, may easily be their own fate. While JJ, Patrick, and Meghan are all confident in their decisions whether or not to find out if they are gene positive for HD, Joe’s youngest daughter, Katie, is wracked with guilt, anxiety and uncertainty.

At the beginning of each new section of the novel, Genova has placed medical information about Huntington’s Disease; this allows readers to gain even more knowledge of the relatively unknown disease in addition to what they glean from the reading of the novel itself. Inside the O’Briens is a very sensitive and emotional portrayal of the realities of living with HD. Readers will be captured from the beginning of this tale until the very, breathtaking end.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova: On sale now!

4 stars

Source: Gallery/Threshold/Pocket Books {via NetGalley}