2017 Book Review, Uncategorized

Book Review: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

4 ⭐️ ‘s from Me.29430012

Goodreads Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel 
With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. 

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.”

My Review:

This was a jovial read. Unlike the Russian classics revered and referenced in this book, the story of the Count stuck in the hotel has a surprisingly optimistic tone. Towles has explained that he found inspiration when he stayed in the same hotels repeatedly and began to observe other regulars.

Don’t worry if you are not a Russian history buff – Towles does a good job of explaining the history as time progresses throughout the novel. The tone of the footnote technique he occasionally uses as a teaching moment is lighthearted and is a nice breakup of the story. I loved the way Count Rostov’s observations from the bowels of the hotel were a window into the history passing around him, and how perhaps history repeats itself more than we realizes.

The characterization in this novel is lovely – Count Rostov is portrayed as the positive, fatherly figure for the Metropol patrons and staff, and even his own family. As each layer of Rostov is revealed, you realize how he has touched each and everyone’s life while being a prisoner.

Despite the good feels this novel gives, it does take a while to get going. It isn’t until about half-way through the book where the plot really picks up and I found myself wanting to get back to The Count and The Metropol Hotel as soon as I started my train ride home. So don’t give up! I also think there were a couple of unanswered questions as to how the plot progresses so smoothly and whether the life the Count lives was really accurately explained.

But, overall its a great read. I’ve even added Towles’ other novel, Rules of Civility, to my TBR list. Let me know what you think!


Book Review: The News from the End of the World by Emily Jeanne Miller

Book Review: The News from the End of the World by Emily Jeanne Miller

Goodreads Summary: Meet the lovable but dysfunctional Lake family over the four days that will make or break them.

When Vance Lake—broke, jobless, and recently dumped—takes refuge with twin brother Craig back home on Cape Cod, he unwittingly finds himself smack in the middle of a crisis that would test the bonds of even the most cohesive family, let alone the Lakes. Craig is strangely mournful and angry at equal turns. His exasperated wife, Gina, is on the brink of an affair. At the center of it all is seventeen-year-old Amanda: adored niece, rebellious daughter, and stubborn stepdaughter. She’s also pregnant.

Told in alternating points of view by each member of this colorful New England clan, and infused with the quiet charm of the Cape in the off-season, The News from the End of the World follows one family into a crucible of pent-up resentments, old and new secrets, and memories long buried. Only by coming to terms with their pasts, both separately and together, do they stand a chance of emerging intact.”

My Review: 

What is most disappointing about this book is the blurb above – it gives you most of the plot. The suspense that could be created by family members discovering each other’s secrets is diminished for the reader, as you already know what they are going to discover.
That being said, the characters are well developed through the switching of narrators. I was worried at the beginning that there would be too many points of view, but I was pleasantly surprised. This method allows the demons of the past to be slowly and deliberately revealed (despite the blurb). As a bonus for a Massachusetts resident, it was very easy to picture the characters in the novel as they travel throughout the Cape and to Boston.
There was also a bit of extra fluff in some of the chapters – I found my attention wandering at times, but for the most part the storyline progressed at a decent pace. And I was satisfied with the finish, how we leave the family.
This is a good novel about the struggles of one dysfunctional New England family to forgive the past and move forward.
3.5 stars from me.

**I received my copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to the author and publisher for this opportunity.**


Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch

4.5 ⭐️’s from me

Goodreads Summary: “An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal.

It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.”

My Review:

This is a delectably sinister story of two couples forced to deal with the acts of their sons – who happen to be cousins. Be prepared to sit down with this novel as if you were going out to a fancy restaurant – you will devour it in one sitting. The progression of this novel is perfectly split into sections which are labeled the courses of a meal; a split that seems to echo the progression of tension in the story.

I also loved the narration of this novel by one of the fathers, Paul. At the beginning this seems to be a normal family with their inevitable bickering and jealous, but as the meal progresses the dysfunction runs so much deeper than that. Paul grows from a seemingly normal father to one with increasingly frightening thoughts, just over the course of a meal. His narration explores the struggles of marriage, mental health, and above all the roles of a parent. Somehow we are also able to observe the jealousy of siblings, particularly when it comes to one’s economic standing. How big can those differences be? Who is right? You will have to decide.

Koch also vividly creates the restaurant atmosphere in the reader’s mind. It is not only what is said, but also Paul’s observations of the waiting staff, patrons, and his own family members – a glance here or there, a hand out of place. I felt as if I was eating at the table myself. It is no wonder that this will soon be a movie.

This is a dark and disquieting read, but I definitely recommend it. The movie edition of the book is out in paperback today!

**I received my copy via Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to the author and publisher for this opportunity.**


Book Review: Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi

Book Review: Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi

⭐️’s from me

Goodreads Summary: “Giverny, France. During the day, the town is the home of the famous artist Claude Monet and the gardens where he painted his Water Lilies. But once the tourists have gone, there is a darker side to the peaceful French village.
This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.

Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher, and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval’s corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious, rumored painting of Black Water Lilies?”

My Review:

To put it simply, this book has such an appealing concept, but was such a let down.

If you want a story that appeals to your artistic side and gets your creative juices flowing all while having a murder mystery to solve, this would appear to be a book for you. Seriously, who wouldn’t like a murder mystery set in Giverny with Monet’s water lilies for a backdrop from a known crime writer?

Although the novel only takes place over thirteen days, the three women will take you on a journey through time taunting you with the truth. The three women are captivating. The French setting and culture is vividly conjured into your mind. And, it’s true, the build-up in this novel is so purposefully twisty that I wasn’t able to put it down…But, perhaps I shouldn’t have started. Once the prolonged ending was finished I was more than annoyed. Given all the artistic elements and the twisty plot, I felt that there were so many different resolutions that would have propelled the ending to the next level. It just didn’t get there for me.


Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Goodreads Summary:

“In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.”

My Review:

This is a brilliant novel about the travels of refugees. You follow a couple who fall in love and together ate forced to leave their home. The writing is absolutely gorgeous. I hope you will, as I did, re-read some of the passages describing both their lives prior to emigrating and after emigrating. I found it particularly startling on how the modern conveniences, even a simple cell phone, can simply cease to have meaning so quickly. It forces you to comfort the real perils and emotional toll of both Saeed  and Nadia. Could you leave? Who/what would you leave behind – this novel clearly captures the ugly side of these life-altering journeys and the scars on the people just trying to survive.

The humanization of the travels of migrants is, despite being fiction, an eye-opening look at the refugee side of emigration – one that is so often overlooked.

This is a must read – especially today as when human migration is such a frequent and, at times, contentious topic. The Best Book I have read this year!

5 stars from me! Go get your copy now!


Book Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Book Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Goodreads Summary: Fast-paced and addictive, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR announces a major new talent in thriller writing.

You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour.

Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?”

I picked this up after a recommendation from a friend. However, I was unimpressed. I did like the pace of the novel and it is definitely an easy read. But, the characters did not blow me away. All characters seemed too dramatic for me and I couldn’t feel any connection to any of them. The twists that solve the mystery of this novel are good, but again a little unrealistic and I would have enjoyed a little more suspense perhaps. This would be an each mystery to read on a beach vacation, but not a must buy in my opinion. It really left me feeling, “Meh?”

3 Stars from Me.


Literary Adventure: amazonbooks

Last weekend, I took a mini shopping adventure and decided to visit the new amazonbooks outside of Boston. Although I definitely believe we should continue to support our local bookstores, I wanted to check-it out.

Amazonbooks’ stock is based on top-ratings and bestsellers. This leads to a limited selection of books – so don’t expect to get an entire series of anything here. However, it is nice to see the covers of all of the books as opposed to the spines.

There are also no prices, you can scan your book at the kiosk or use the app on your phone. As an amazon prime member there are definitely cost benefits to this store – so if you are trying to stick to your book budget this could be a big benefit. But don’t expect to pay with cash – they have to have a way to verify your prime status. 

I do miss the personalization of your local bookstore manager’s recommendation. The employees here have to check an app to see if they even carry a book (there is currently no way to look it up yourself).

Finally, those of you who are fans of Peet’s coffee can get a treat here! And who doesn’t love coffee and a book?

It is definitely an experience, but make sure to support your local spots and of course, the library!! Have you been to an amazonbooks?


Book Review: Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

Goodreads Summary: A missing woman leads her twin sister on a twisted scavenger hunt in this clever debut novel of suspense for readers of Luckiest Girl Alive and Reconstructing Amelia.
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Ahoy, Ava! Welcome home, my sweet jet-setting twin! So glad you were able to wrest yourself away from your dazzling life in the City of Light; I hope my death hasn’t interrupted anything too crucial.

Ava Antipova has her reasons for running away: a failing family vineyard, a romantic betrayal, a mercurial sister, an absent father, a mother slipping into dementia. In Paris, Ava renounces her terribly practical undergraduate degree, acquires a French boyfriend and a taste for much better wine, and erases her past. Two years later, she must return to upstate New York. Her twin sister, Zelda, is dead.

Even in a family of alcoholics, Zelda Antipova was the wild one, notorious for her mind games and destructive behavior. Stuck tending the vineyard and the girls increasingly unstable mother, Zelda was allegedly burned alive when she passed out in the barn with a lit cigarette. But Ava finds the official explanation a little too neat. A little too Zelda. Then she receives a cryptic message from her sister.

Just as Ava suspected, Zelda’s playing one of her games. In fact, she’s outdone herself, leaving a series of clues about her disappearance. With the police stuck on a red herring, Ava follows the trail laid just for her, thinking like her sister, keeping her secrets, immersing herself in Zelda’s drama and her outlandish circle of friends and lovers. Along the way, Zelda forces her twin to confront their twisted history and the boy who broke Ava’s heart. But why? Is Zelda trying to punish Ava for leaving, or to teach her a lesson? Or is she simply trying to write her own ending?

Featuring a colorful, raucous cast of characters, Caite Dolan-Leach’s debut thriller takes readers on a literary scavenger hunt for clues concealed throughout the seemingly idyllic wine country, hidden in plain sight on social media, and buried at the heart of one tremendously dysfunctional, utterly unforgettable family.”

An excellent debut novel from Dolan-Leach. She uses the backdrop of the unique relationship of identical twins to write her mystery. You will not like the characters – they are at times detestable, but somehow in this novel I found that all the more intriguing. Everyone is damaged in some way and that is wonderfully teased out to show us each character’s role and motivation in this dark mystery. The tantalizing clues that the author leaves you through-out the book, only for you to realize it many chapters later, are lovely surprises. I found myself flipping back to make sure I hadn’t missed something else. I would highly recommend this novel.

4.5 stars from me. 


Book Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Book Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Goodreads Summary: “Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”
After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.
As it weaves between Lane s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.”

Published today! This is definitely an intriguing read. Warning – this book may be traumatic for some.

Following my trend of reading books centered around family secrets, the Roanoke Family is no exception. You are met with a family mystery – one that the main character, Lane, is determined to solve. But, in order to do so she must face the truth head-on. And…it’s creepy, irksome even.

Engel’s portrayal of Lane is intriguing. I was hooked by the subtle teases of the truth – how it seeps out.  I found myself hoping that the truth would be different. I particularly liked the clues that Lane follows and the imagery used throughout her search for the truth. Engel spun an intricate web of characters that repeated fail each other. Even those who suspect the truth are reluctant to seek it out. The only let down for me was the way the truth was finally revealed – it was anti-climatic in a way. Definitely a good read though.

4 stars from me.

**I received my copy via Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to the author and publisher for this opportunity.**


Book Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Goodreads Summary: A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.
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“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.”

Similar to Everything I Never Told You,  this book explores the ramifications of keeping secrets and not asking for help. However, in this case I found myself very annoyed with the characters of this novel. In a church setting, Bennett explores how the gossipy nature of a close knit society can force individuals to keep secrets that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Although race is touched on in this novel, it is not the main topic. Rather race is seamlessly integrated with the topic of abortion. Bennett aptly explores all viewpoints on abortion – the religious side, the practical side of can a mother take care of her child, family support, money. A woman can be “unpregnant” – a particularly poignant term in this novel.

I did find some of the characterization lacking. I felt that we need more of the history behind the youth of the characters – although repeatedly touched-on, I feel as if there was more to be explored.
Bennett also employs the use of a chorus in this novel, but because it was not clearly delineated, e.g. italicized, it was a confusing switch. The chorus had the potential to add so much more to this novel – to be a perfect portrayal of the church’s role in this matter. But instead the chorus could have been removed altogether and we would be left with a better story. And perhaps a more climactic ending?

3 Stars from Me.