Category Archives: Fiction

An Italian Wife

Finished An Italian Wife by Ann Hood.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the best-selling author of The Obituary Writer, the stirring multigenerational story of an Italian-American family.

An Italian Wife is the extraordinary story of Josephine Rimaldi—her joys, sorrows, and passions, spanning more than seven decades. The novel begins in turn-of-the-century Italy, when fourteen-year-old Josephine, sheltered and naive, is forced into an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t know or love who is about to depart for America, where she later joins him. Bound by tradition, Josephine gives birth to seven children. The last, Valentina, is conceived in passion, born in secret, and given up for adoption.

Josephine spends the rest of her life searching for her lost child, keeping her secret even as her other children go off to war, get married, and make their own mistakes. Her son suffers in World War I. One daughter struggles to assimilate in the new world of the 1950s American suburbs, while another, stranded in England, grieves for a lover lost in World War II. Her granddaughters experiment with the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll in the 1970s. Poignant, sensual, and deeply felt, An Italian Wife is a sweeping and evocative portrait of a family bound by love and heartbreak.”

I’m a huge Ann Hood fan and have been since I read The Knitting Circle.  All of her books are far deeper than they appear to be at first glance and this one is no exception.

While the synopsis implies that the whole book is from Josephine’s perspective, each chapter tells a different character’s story.  While I missed Josephine at first, I ended up liking all of the characters and the pieces they told of the family’s history.

It’s fascinating to see how the world changes and to have it told from one family’s perspective (and one person at a time).  The things that would be pretty much literally unheard of in Josephine’s chapter because not only no big deal but actually commonplace in her granddaughter’s chapter.

I loved this story and can’t wait to read whatever Ann Hood does next.

Highly recommended.

Leaving Time

Finished Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult.  I received a copy from the publisher at BEA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Throughout her blockbuster career, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult has seamlessly blended nuanced characters, riveting plots, and rich prose, brilliantly creating stories that “not only provoke the mind but touch the flawed souls in all of us” (The Boston Globe). Now, in her highly anticipated new book, she has delivered her most affecting novel yet—and one unlike anything she’s written before.

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers.”

I was talking to a coworker about this book and I said that I think it reminds me most of Jodi Picoult’s book Lone Wolf.  It’s different from most of her other books (although I still haven’t read The Storyteller, which I’m guessing is also different) and it deals as much with animals as  it does people.

I absolutely adored this book and its central mystery.  I felt for Jenna, who has no idea what happened to her mom, and whether she’s alive or dead.  (And really, which of those is the better scenario? If Alice is alive, then she chose to leave Jenna…but at least they could have a relationship, possibly, if Jenna could find her.  If she’s dead, then at least she loved Jenna and would’ve stayed if she could.)

Jodi Picoult’s biggest strength is writing characters.  I immediately knew who these people were, and so seeing things happen to them was upsetting.  (Yes, I treat fictional characters like they’re real. Shut up.)

Highly recommended.

The Monogram Murders

Finished The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (writing as Agatha Christie).  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The bestselling novelist of all time.

The world’s most famous detective.

The literary event of the year—an all-new mystery featuring
Agatha Christie’s legendary hero Hercule Poirot.

Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s books have been sold around the globe. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.

‘I’m a dead woman, or I shall be soon…’

Hercule Poirot’s quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered.  She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim …”

I absolutely loved the concept (as well as getting to read—sort of—a new Agatha Christie novel).  This is an incredibly interesting plot.  I definitely want to read more of Sophie Hannah’s books because this one was very fun.

But it didn’t quite read like Agatha Christie (or at least the ones I’ve read).  This isn’t a bad thing; the changes were all good ones.  (Poirot has acquired a Watson of sorts, and most of the book is told from his first person perspective.)  Most of the other aspects of the novel were the same (including the fact that I am apparently never going to be able to guess the killer or reasoning in a Christie [or "Christie"] novel).

My intellectual shortcomings notwithstanding, I think there’s a lot to love here.  Recommended.

 

Naliyah

Finished Naliyah by Shauna E. Kelley.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from author’s blog):

Naliyah is Lenora’s story.

Lenora is different, and though her tight-lipped father Gabriel refuses to tell her much about what she is, she knows that she is not a vampire… not exactly. She can eat human food, survive the daylight, and is not quite immortal. Nonetheless, she and her father carry an ancient disease and need human blood to survive. They travel the world to battles and scenes of all manner of depravity feeding on the dying. They bring mercy and release to men in their final moments.

From 19th century Baltimore, across the Boxer Rebellion in China, and into the jungles of Vietnam, Lenora follows her father from each scene of brutality to the next, comforted only by her recurring dreams of a blue-eyed man.

Lenora’s life, surrounded by carnage and atrocity, weighs on her and she begins to question how long she can go on… until the blue-eyed man from her dreams becomes reality.”

I signed on to be a beta reader for this because the author is friends with my college friend Matt.  That’s the extent of me knowing Shauna, so me liking this book is not because we are friends once removed (although now we are getting to be actual friends).

And you guys, I absolutely adored this book.  I will admit that I absolutely love books set in Baltimore (and this one is, at least partially) and I loved learning exactly what was going on with Lenora.  There are definite parallels to Cassandra Clare in that the world-building in this is absolutely unparalleled.  (And I think that regardless of your feelings about Cassie Clare, you have to give her props for creating amazing worlds.)

I was immediately enthralled in this story and I loved Lenora and was desperate to know what was happening.  The answers come at their own pace but it never feels dragged out.

I’m delighted to know that this is part of a series and cannot wait for the second book.  I hope it comes out soon.

Highly recommended.

The Impersonator

Finished The Impersonator by Mary Miley.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In 1917, Jessie Carr, fourteen years old and sole heiress to her family’s vast fortune, disappeared without a trace. Now, years later, her uncle Oliver Beckett thinks he’s found her: a young actress in a vaudeville playhouse is a dead ringer for his missing niece. But when Oliver confronts the girl, he learns he’s wrong. Orphaned young, Leah’s been acting since she was a toddler.

Oliver, never one to miss an opportunity, makes a proposition—with his coaching, Leah can impersonate Jessie, claim the fortune, and split it with him. The role of a lifetime, he says. A one-way ticket to Sing Sing, she hears. But when she’s let go from her job, Oliver’s offer looks a lot more appealing. Leah agrees to the con, but secretly promises herself to try and find out what happened to the real Jessie. There’s only one problem: Leah’s act won’t fool the one person who knows the truth about Jessie’s disappearance.

Set against a Prohibition-era backdrop of speakeasies and vaudeville houses, Mary Miley’s Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition winner The Impersonator will delight readers with its elaborate mystery and lively prose.”

This was an incredibly fun novel.  I love the fact that it features vaudeville and speakeasies.  I wasn’t too familiar with vaudeville and my knowledge of Prohibition is basically incredibly limited (although I want to learn more) and I immediately loved Leah/Jessie.  She’s got intelligence and strength for days.

I also love the way that she falls in love with her family but is also still homesick for vaudeville.  It’s literally the only life she knew, and those people were her family before she inserted herself into the Carrs’ lives.  (Fun fact: several famous people make cameos in this.)

I also love the fact that Leah is definitely not Jessie.  There’s no amnesia or revelations that she and Jessie were twins and one was stolen away, never to be spoken of again.

I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but that’s a minor thing. There’s a sequel that I’m ridiculously excited to read (hopefully within the next couple weeks).

If you want something fun to read, this is for you.  Recommended.

Little Mercies

Finished Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Veteran social worker Ellen Moore has seen the worst side of humanity; the vilest acts one person can commit against another. She is a fiercely dedicated children’s advocate and a devoted mother and wife. But one blistering summer day, a simple moment of distraction will have repercussions that Ellen could never have imagined, threatening to shatter everything she holds dear, and trapping her between the gears of the system she works for.

Meanwhile, ten-year-old Jenny Briard has been living with her well-meaning but irresponsible father since her mother left them, sleeping on friends’ couches and moving in and out of cheap motels. When Jenny suddenly finds herself on her own, she is forced to survive with nothing but a few dollars and her street smarts. The last thing she wants is a social worker, but when Ellen’s and Jenny’s lives collide, little do they know just how much they can help one another.

A powerful and emotionally charged tale about motherhood and justice, Little Mercies is a searing portrait of the tenuous grasp we have on the things we love the most, and of the ties that unexpectedly bring us together.”

This is the third of Heather Gudenkauf’s books I’ve read and, while I’ve loved them all, this is my new favorite.

It continues her tendency to explore issues that are seemingly ripped from the headlines and to force the reader to examine them in a new way.

I know it’s a typical thing to blame the mom whenever something goes wrong in the family—and I’m being intentionally vague, because I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t read this book—but it’s not always a fair thing to do.  Many times blame can be shared, or isn’t appropriate because it really is just a freak accident.

I loved both Ellen and Jenny’s stories and while I was definitely more interested in Ellen’s (who was facing legal problems, among other things), I was invested in both.

I still haven’t read her first book, but I hope to fix that soon.

I absolutely loved this thought-provoking book and I hope you guys read it soon so we can discuss.

Highly recommended.

Mahalas Lane

Finished Mahalas Lane by Marianne Cushing. I received a copy from the author for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Exhausted and dismayed, Madi Lyons arrives on the rocky shores of Maine, hoping for a relaxing respite from Madison Avenue’s relentless grind. Twelve-hour days and the sudden news of her best friend’s engagement have the aspiring creative director’s head spinning. Shortly after settling in at the quaint rental cottage, she is awoken by the local sheriff with startling news: A woman has been murdered on her private beach. A violent encounter next door and an elusive stranger draw Madi deeper into Mahalas Lane’s mysterious past, while a magnetic attraction propels her into the sheriff ’s welcoming arms. Will she find the solace she seeks, or will a small town’s dark secrets cost her the ultimate sacrifice—the love of her life?

This book is incredibly fun and I had a hard time putting it down.  The first half of the book focused more on the burgeoning relationship between Madi and Josh; the second half is when the murder mystery comes into play.  (And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to point out that Josh—as the sheriff—and Madi are incredibly involved in that investigation.)

I did very much enjoy that relationship, incidentally.  It felt a bit like insta-love, but it was more like insta-attraction and there were mentions of several dates and conversations.  I do also think that intense situations tend to make things move faster than they otherwise would.  (Wasn’t there a mention of that at the end of Speed?)

Parts of the book felt a little bit rushed (mostly the last 50 pages or so, which makes sense for reasons I can’t really discuss, because spoilers, but I wish that the book were a bit longer than its 221 pages because I feel like those events could have been fleshed out a little).

Even so, this book was a complete delight to read and I am very excited to see what Marianne Cushing writes next.

Recommended.

The Whole Golden World

Finished The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

To the outside Dinah and Joe have a perfect family-three lovely children, a beautiful home, and a café that’s finally taking off. But their world is rocked when it’s discovered that their oldest daughter, 17-year-old Morgan is having an affair with her married teacher, TJ Hill.

Their town rocks with the scandal. When the case goes to trial, the family is torn further apart when Morgan sides not with her parents-as a manipulated teenage girl; but with TJ himself-as a woman who loves a 30-year-old man.

Told from the perspectives of Morgan, Dinah, and TJ’s wife, Rain, this is an unforgettable story that fully explores the surprising, even shocking, events that change the lives of two families.”

This was my first Kristina Riggle book and I very much enjoyed it.

As the synopsis says, it’s told from three different perspectives (Morgan, her mom Dinah and TJ’s wife, Rain) although I think they spent the least amount of time with Rain.

I liked Morgan and both of the women, although they could all be infuriating, as well.  I didn’t get TJ’s appeal, which made it hard to understand why Morgan loved him so much and why Rain was willing to believe him and stay with him.  It would have been nice if there had maybe been a little more attention given to that.

Of course, it also makes sense that, as a 34-year-old, I would be better able to say, “Yeah, that guy’s a creep” than 17-year-old Morgan.

At any rate, this is an engrossing novel and I look forward to working my way through Kristina Riggle’s backlist (eventually).

After The Funeral

Finished After the Funeral by Agatha Christie.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Amazon):

The master of a Victorian mansion dies suddenly – and his sister is convinced it was murder…When Cora is savagely murdered with a hatchet, the extraordinary remark she made the previous day at her brother Richard’s funeral suddenly takes on a chilling significance. At the reading of Richard’s will, Cora was clearly heard to say: ‘It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it…But he was murdered, wasn’t he?’ In desperation, the family solicitor turns to Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.

This is the third (of four) books in Harper Collins’ readalong of Agatha Christie’s novels.  (The next and last one is The Monogram Murders, a new Hercule Poirot novel written by Sophie Hannah.)

This is easily my favorite of the ones we’ve read so far.  I loved the concept and the fact that pretty much every single person was a suspect for one reason or another.  (No, I did not guess the killer—I’ve not guessed the killer in any of the three so far, which makes me cranky.)

These books are so fun and I’m just incredibly grateful for Harper Collins for doing this so that I could finally read some of Agatha Christie’s books.  I’ve gotten a few others (including Murder on the Orient Express) and I plan on getting The Body in the Library so that I can meet Miss Marple.

Note: this new edition has an introduction by Sophie Hannah.

Highly recommended.

And now to the questions! :)

1)   From the beginning, there is tension among the surviving Abernethie family. Despite being bound together by name and blood, there doesn’t seem to be a strong connection amongst the different generations. Did you sense a motive for murder or suspect someone in the group early on?

I thought it was Gregory.  I would have placed a lot of money on that.

2)  It was noted early on that Helen Abernethie felt something was strange during the will reading. Were you ever able to guess what it was she sensed? Once the murder plot is revealed, it becomes clear that the answer was there from the beginning.

Nope.  It wasn’t even one of those cases where it dawned on me right before we were told.  I can never guess the outcome of a Christie mystery.

3)  Name some of your favorite red herrings, as there are quite a few. To get you going, I enjoyed the reoccurrence of nuns. I knew they had to have some significance, as nothing can just be a coincidence.

The nuns! I was pretty sure that they weren’t really nuns (because how hard would it be to dress like a nun?).    That was by far my favorite.

4)  The will was split fairly across Richard’s relatives and each had their own reason for needing the money. Did you ever once consider Cora’s murder to be separate from Richard’s?

No. I thought they were obviously connected, even if only because she knew that Richard was murdered and the murderer got twitchy.

5)  Some of the family members (by blood or marriage) acted truly deplorably—there was the house-bound Timothy, the beautiful but vapid Rosamund and her cheating husband Michael, and Susan’s husband, Gregory who was outed as a mental patient. I half expected Helen to have her own dirty secret (which really wasn’t all that bad once revealed). Did you consider any of them for the murderer?

Gregory.  I hated that guy and was sure that he would do it.  (I never really liked any of the people, but I was so confident in Gregory.  I should’ve known better because I think he was the obvious choice.)

6)  In Sophie Hannah’s introduction to After the Funeral, she discusses the Christie-concept of “nontransferable motive,” meaning a motive that no other murderer in any other crime novel has had or will have.  Do you think that applies to After the Funeral? What do you make of a “nontransferable motive?” Does this apply to other Christie mysteries?

I like the idea, but I could see a lot of the people killing for the same reason (namely money).  I think it applies to other Christie mysteries ( and really to mysteries in general).  I loved that we got an introduction from Sophie Hannah and I’m very eager to see her take on Poirot.

7)  This was my first time reading After the Funeral, and I couldn’t help but think this had all the components of a classic Christie mystery.  What are some of those elements?

Red herrings and people being much more than they appear to be.  (Although Rosamund was about as dumb as I thought, unlike the wife in Dead Man’s Folly.)

My Real Children

Finished My Real Children by Jo Walton.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.”

This book was not even on my radar when it was handsold to me (in a manner of speaking) on the afternoon of the last day of BEA.  I wish I had gotten the name of the lady at the Tor booth because I would send her the world’s nicest email.  (If she sees this somehow,  THANK YOU.)

First, a caveat: this book does not have a tidy ending.  Instead, you will have to decide what you think happens.  This makes me love the book more; you may have a completely different feeling about it.

But here’s what we know for sure: Patricia has lived two lives. In one, she married a man and had four children; in another, she had one of the world’s best love stories and three children.  In the first life, her personal life is not great but the world is pretty fantastic; in the second life, the opposite is true.

This book is absolute perfection and thought-provoking.  I do think that choices we make can impact the world and I find it oddly comforting to think that maybe there are alternate worlds where things are a little bit different (and, hopefully, better).

Yes, this review is vague; discover this book on your own.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Highly, highly recommended.