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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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}

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}

 

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}

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

at-the-waters-edge“In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook).

Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.” – Goodreads

As a fan of Sara Gruen (before Water for Elephants, thank you very much), of course I was first in line when I learned of her newest novel, At the Water’s Edge (March, 2015). Praying that I would not be disappointed, I greedily began devouring her words – and things came to a grinding halt. It. Was. So. Sloooow. My heart broke. I gnashed my teeth. I very nearly wept, y’all. No way could I not like this book – it was Sara Gruen! How could she disappoint me?! Well, thankfully, she didn’t. Once I calmed down and continued reading further, things changed. More than changed – they bloomed. Bloomed into a gorgeous novel full of life, love, loss and the courage to grow.

When Maddie Hyde and her husband, Ellis, embarrass his socialite parents at the New Year’s Eve party of 1942, they are kicked out of their home and cut off financially. Ellis and his best friend, Hank, who are both unable to serve in the War due to medical reasons, decide to make their way across the U-Boat-filled Atlantic to Scotland to hunt the one and only Loch Ness monster – dragging behind them a protesting Maggie. Arriving to a cold welcome (Ellis’s father had preceded him in his own search years before and had not left a good impression on the locals), Ellis and Hank continue to alienate the inn staff and other locals with their drinking, carousing, and Ellis’s mistreatment of Maggie.

During her time at the inn while Ellis and Hank are off hunting Nellie, Maggie is busy going through a transformation: from meek, spineless and whiny, dependent on Ellis and Hank as her only friends,  to independent-thinking and strong-willed, growing close to staff at the inn as well as other locals. When a quiet yet desperate love begins to bloom between Maddie and the innkeeper, things get even more complicated as Ellis threatens to have her lobotomized for her noticeably defiant behavior of late (no joke, y’all!).

Did At the Water’s Edge live up to the fabulousness that is Ape House or Water for Elephants? No, not really. But it is itself an enchanting and romantic read with a guaranteed happy ending that will leave readers with a smile on their faces. Go and get you some, y’all.

At The Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen: On sale now!

4 stars

Source: Random House/Spiegel & Grau {via NetGalley}

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

the-stranger#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Harlan Coben delivers his most shocking thriller yet, proving that a well-placed lie can help build a wonderful life– and a secret has the same explosive power to destroy it.

The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.” – Publisher Summary/Amazon

I miss Harlan Coben. Well, let me rephrase that: I miss the Harlan Coben of old. The one who wrote novels like Tell No One, and The Woods. Such heart-racing, captivating thrillers as those that kept me on the edge of my seat and cemented my loyalty forever. He hasn’t been around for a few years now. However, after reading The Stranger, Coben’s newest novel, I think he may be making his way back to us.

Adam Price is at a coach’s meeting for his son’s sports team when he is approached by a man who introduces himself as “the Stranger.” The Stranger then reveals a small but devastating piece of information about Corrine, Adam’s wife – that if true, will rock the very foundations of their marriage and family. When Adam confronts Corrine, she asks for some time before she has to explain things to him, thereby setting off a chain of events involving a web much larger than Adam could ever have imagined – and much more deadly, as well.

There is definitely a strong emotional edge to this tale – after all, imagine being told that the one person you trust implicitly has betrayed you in some way? Imagine looking back on your life with a different set of eyes and seeing something completely different than what you had thought it was. Coben includes characters that are realistically drawn – many of them could be your friends or neighbors – who are suddenly shot out of their comfort zone and into a web of lies, deceit, and danger.

There are many twists and turns to keep readers wondering until the last minute, and Coben does well with keeping the suspense and action realistic yet exciting for us. I found the final twist to be somewhat incongruent with the story – it didn’t seem to fit quite cohesively enough for my taste – however, it was still a satisfying end in general. The Stranger is absolutely on a level above that of Coben’s last two or three novels, and my hope that he will continue to surprise me is definitely going to keep me coming back for more.

The Stranger by Harlan Coben: On sale March 24, 2015

3.5 stars

Source: Penguin Group/Dutton {via NetGalley}

Aquarium by David Vann

aquariumLike Melville, Faulkner, and McCarthy, Vann is already one of the great ones of American literature.”—ABC(Spain)

“Vann’s prose is as pure as a gulp of water from an Alaskan stream.”—Financial Times

David Vann’s dazzling debut Legend of a Suicide was reviewed in over a 150 major global publications, won 11 prizes worldwide, was on 40 “best books of the year” lists, and established its author as a literary master. Since then, Vann has delivered an exceptional body of work, receiving, among others, best foreign novel in France and Spain (France’s Prix Medicis Etranger, Spain’s Premi Llibreter), a California Book Award, and the mid-career St. Francis College Literary Prize. Aquarium, his implosive new book and first to be published by Grove, will take Vann to a wider audience than ever before.

Twelve year old Caitlin lives alone with her mother—a docker at the local container port—in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence.

In crystalline, chiseled yet graceful prose, Aquarium takes us into the heart of a brave young girl whose longing for love and capacity for forgiveness transforms the damaged people around her. Relentless and heartbreaking, primal and redemptive, Aquarium is a transporting story from one of the best American writers of our time.” – Goodreads

In the 1990’s, twelve-year-old Caitlin and her mother, Sheri, are living in a tiny Seattle apartment. Sheri works long hours as a manual laborer and because of this, the two thrive on routine. They wake early, Caitlin always arriving at school long before the other students. After school, because they can’t afford sports or after-school activities, Caitlin frequents the local aquarium for a few hours until Sheri is able to pick her up after work. This isn’t a problem for Caitlin, who loves the marine life and in fact yearns to become an ichthyologist as an adult. Eventually, Caitlin is befriended by an elderly man who also enjoys the fish and the two develop a friendship. When the man expresses his desire to meet Caitlin’s mother, she is more than happy to tell Sheri about her fish-loving friend – and unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that will reveal long-held family secrets that will forever change Caitlin, Sheri, and the relationship between the two of them.

Aquarium by David Vann is a simple but beautifully crafted coming-of-age tale of family, forgiveness, and self-discovery. Vann’s powerful and emotionally-charged writing is sure to touch readers at a personal level. The raw emotion and anger of Sheri is palpable as we move further through the tale, as is Caitlin’s naivety and hope. There is such a sweetness to the innocence of Caitlin’s first experience with love. While I loved Caitlin, I adored the elderly gentleman; his quiet stoicism and determination. I don’t want to reveal any more about this novel than I have already, but suffice it to say that he stole my heart without even having to try.

I read Aquarium on my Kindle Paperwhite, however, I’m told that the print novel is absolutely beautiful. The blurry black-and-white photos that my eReader displayed are apparently gorgeous, full-color gems in print. For a sneak peek at what they look like, check out this review. I have read another book of David Vann’s, Goat Mountain, and the two novels are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s almost as though Aquarium is an apology for the stark familial destruction of Goat Mountain… It certainly touched me in a far different manner than the previous novel had. Aquarium has easily hit my Top 5 of 2015 so far. Don’t miss the chance to add it to yours.

Aquarium by David Vann: available at a bookseller near you on March 3, 2013!

4 stars

Source: Grove Atlantic {via NetGalley}

 

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Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

dreaming-spies“Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are critically acclaimed and beloved by readers for the author’s adept interplay of history and adventure. Now the intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.” – Publisher Summary

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are at it again in Dreaming Spies, book #13 in the mystery series by Laurie R. King. The couple’s latest adventure brings to them a visit from an old friend, causing them to revisit an episode in their lives heretofore shrouded in mystery: a three-week visit to Japan in 1924.

The novel begins in March 1925, when Russell and Holmes arrive home in Sussex to find a mysterious carved stone from Japan sitting in their garden. Shortly thereafter, Mary returns to her second home in Oxford, where she finds an old friend, Haruki Sato, waiting for her – with blood streaming down her arm:

“Mary-san. Help me.”

From this point, the story unfolds into a long flashback to 1924 as Mary recalls her experiences on the cruise ship on which she met Haruki and the following period of time that she and Holmes spent in Japan. As always, readers receive somewhat of a crash course in Japanese culture and geography – something we can depend on in these novels and something that brings them alive in our minds. After spending much time focusing on the couple’s time in Japan, the story then jumps back into the present (March 1925) where there is a surprising turn of events in a case thought to have been resolved.

While a series such as this is best enjoyed when read in order, Dreaming Spies does give new readers a brief but thorough introduction to Russell and Holmes. Longtime fans will thrill at the frequent references to cases past, and the footnotes referring to past novels in the series help to map events out for the newbies. The partnership between Russell and Holmes is a delight to observe; particularly during the very few moments when one or the other of this undemonstrative couple wears their heart on their sleeve. King, as always, combines rich historical and cultural detail, life-like characters, and spine-tingling suspense. For old fans or new readers, you cannot go wrong with Dreaming Spies.

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King is available now at a bookseller near you!

4 stars

Source: Random House/Bantam Dell {via NetGalley}

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