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}

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}

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}

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}

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

finding-jake“A heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story of psychological suspense in which a parent is forced to confront what he does—and does not—know about his teenage son, in the vein of Reconstructing Amelia, Defending Jacob, and We Need to Talk about Kevin.

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn’t. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school.
Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?

Brilliantly paced, Finding Jake explores these questions in a tense and emotionally wrenching narrative. Harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake is a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.” – Goodreads

Author Bryan Reardon’s debut novel, Finding Jake, has been compared relentlessly to We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Um… no. Well, I suppose there is a school shooting in both novels. OK, let’s say that Finding Jake is WNTTAK Light. Yes! It’s We Need to Talk About Kevin without the Butter! [If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, you’re on your own. Go read Shriver’s novel.] In all seriousness, I did enjoy Finding Jake much more than I did Shriver’s work. Here’s why.

While it is true that a school shooting does take place, Finding Jake does not necessarily center around it. There are actually three elements to this tale. Obviously, there is the mystery surrounding what exactly occurred at the school; there is the parent/child relationship; and there is the way the world reacts to those who are considered “different.”  Additionally, Reardon spends a healthy amount of time examining traditional sex roles in our society and what it can mean for individuals and families who do not follow the “norm.”

Narrated by Jake’s father, Simon, each chapter in the novel alternates between the present day beginning just after the shooting, and various points throughout Jake’s childhood and adolescence. Readers watch Simon’s journey as a stay-at-home father from the beginning and witness his discomfort among the neighborhood stay-at-home mothers, his doubts about himself as a father, and his longing for his former life outside of the home. Similarly, he examines Jake’s behavior and his differences from other children – his preference to be alone rather than with a group of friends, paying close attention to his friendships with other boys (one in particular of whom he disapproves). After the shooting, we witness the search for Jake and the doubt about his son that blossoms in Simon’s mind – doubts about himself as a father, as well. Reardon doesn’t focus so much on the tragedy at the school as he does the aftermath as it affects Simon and his family, its effects on the community, and actually following the trail of the mystery.

I spent my time reading Finding Jake going back and forth between being slightly bored, and utterly captivated. The vignettes from Jake’s childhood moved slowly and weren’t particularly appealing to me. The present-day vignettes were fast-paced and absolutely shattering. As the tale progressed, both sides moved closer and closer together, holding me rapt until the final, heartbreaking end. Yes, that’s right – this is most definitely not a feel-good book, folks. No warm fuzzies here, so if that’s what you’re looking for, move on. For the rest of you, grab this up at the earliest chance and get your read on, y’all!

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

the-witch-of-painted-sorrows“Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.” – Goodreads

Taking a turn away from her Reincarnationist series of the last few years, M.J. Rose has turned out a haunting new standalone novel for 2015: The Witch of Painted Sorrows. Staking her claim – once again – as one of the masters of romantic suspense, Rose weaves together romance, the supernatural and occult, and a dash of eroticism to create a sinister and spicy tale of love and fear in 1890’s Paris.

After the death of her father – for which she blames her own cold and cruel husband – Sandrine Salome flees in secrecy to Paris, seeking refuge with her beloved grandmother. She arrives, however, to find that many changes have taken place in her grandmother’s world – and that not all will be as she had expected. As she investigates, Sandrine embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will mercilessly thrust her into the world of occult-ridden Belle Epoque Paris. Experiencing changes she never expected, Sandrine begins having thoughts and urges that aren’t her own. But where are these unsettling feelings coming from? Things become more and more clear as she delves deeper into her family history and moves forward into a future of independence and power.

I don’t want to share too many details of the novel here; it would be easy to tell you the whole stinking story in just a few sentences. You’ll need to experience that for yourself, if you choose. As a fan of Rose’s Jac L’Etoile novels, I was familiar with her writing style and The Witch of Painted Sorrows did hold my interest as I read it, however, it’s not really  my style. I’m not really a “romance” or “supernatural” fan and don’t see myself turning into one anytime soon. That said, it is rumored that this novel is the first in a series, and if this is true then there is a good chance I’d read the next one to be published (I’m nothing if not thorough, y’all).

Oh, yes, I mentioned that this novel is somewhat erotic… Um, yeah. There is sex. Graphic sex. This is not my thing. I’m a total prude (let’s not even talk about when my BFF made me read the Fifty Shades trilogy). Not that I don’t approve, or that I think it’s inappropriate in any way – there’s nothing wrong with it at all; sex scenes just gross me out. They didn’t used to; it started a little over ten years ago. No idea why. I just cringe and gag and skip over the pages to the next part. Maybe it’s a Mom thing…? So… FYI, y’all. Be prepared.

Would I buy this book? Not for myself – but I would purchase it for a friend who was into the genre. Totally worth your time if this is your thang. Go and get you some!

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose: On Sale Now!

3 stars

Source: Atria Books {via NetGalley}

What I’ve Been Reading: Mini-Reviews

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I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that with as many books as I read, I don’t take the time to review every. single. one. I have read some pretty great ones (and a not-so-great one or two) recently that I wanted to mention, however, so I thought I’d share them here (in what may or may not become a recurring post):

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1. Pluto by R.J. Palacio – 4 stars

The Boy and I both loved R.J. Palacio’s hit novel, Wonder (2012), and were thrilled when we learned she had written a follow-up novella, The Julian Chapter. Pluto is yet another Wonder Story, told exclusively from the perspective of Christopher, Auggie’s best and oldest friend.

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2. God Don’t LIke Ugly by Mary Monroe – 5 stars

In God Don’t Like Ugly, Mary Monroe “brings to life the bond between two girls from opposite sides of the tracks–and the shattering event that changes their world forever–in this coming-of-age tale about a sexually abused young black woman and the beautiful and diabolical best friend who comes to her rescue.” Make no mistake: this is a very heavy and at times depressing novel, albeit a very good one. There are six novels in this series, of which I’ve read three. God Still Don’t Like Ugly (#2) is definitely worth reading, God Don’t Play (#3) is something you’ll want to read only if you can’t find anything else. I tried reading  God Ain’t Blind (#4), but put it down almost immediately – definitely not worth your time.

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3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – 5 stars

In this YA novel, we follow Melinda as she moves through her first year of high school. She has been shunned due to the fact that she called the police to break up a late summer party; we’re not told at first why she did this, although the reason soon becomes clear. Speak is very powerful, very heartbreaking, and I highly recommend it.

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4. Mobile Library by David Whitehouse – 3 stars

Twelve-year-old Bobby Nusku befriends thirteen-year-old Rosa and her single mother, Val. Val is employed as the cleaning lady for the local Mobile Library, which is about to be closed down due to lack of funding. When Bobby is beaten badly by his abusive father, Val packs up Rosa, their dog and Bobby, and they hijack the Mobile Library for an across-the-country  escape. I had such high hopes for this novel, but it just didn’t do it for me the way I thought it would. Mobile Library is still, however, a good read and you should check it out if you have the time.

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5. The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis – 3 stars

The Orphans of Race Point is another novel I had high hopes for, that just didn’t give me the toe-tingling excitement I’d hoped for. Hallie and Gus were high-school sweethearts until an act of violence tore them apart. Gus then entered the seminary and served as a priest until he was falsely accused of murder and sent to prison. It’s up to Hallie to try to prove his innocence, but she doesn’t do such a hot job with that. Basically, the writing is all very long and drawn-out and full of unnecessary detail until about halfway through, when things start to get a bit more exciting. Don’t just take my word for it, though, because a whole lot of people reeeeally loved this book – so go and get you some, y’all.

A few more worth mentioning…

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So that’s what I’m up to, y’all, when I’m not homeschooling, homemaking, spending time with The Boy, or reviewing the other books I’ve read. It’s a small life, but it’s my life, and I love it. Happy Reading, y’all!

What have you been reading?