REVIEW: THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, BY KATE MORETTI

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alecia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alecia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

My Thoughts: The alternating perspectives of Nate, Alecia, Bridget, Lucia…and others reeled me into The Blackbird Season, a dark tale that probes beneath the surface of small town life in Pennsylvania.

Could the golden boy Nate have crossed some lines while dealing with his students? Could his desire to help them have drawn him into a dark place? And what is behind his almost obsessive need to be liked by everyone?

As a result, I found myself not really liking Nate, who always seemed defensive and did not prioritize his family at all. However, there was also the possibility that more was hidden beneath the surface, and that others bore a great deal of responsibility for what happened to Lucia.

Bridget, of course, was his biggest supporter and the friendship that Alecia had once felt for her began to fizzle. How could Bridget blindly believe Nate when the evidence suggested otherwise?

And what was Lucia’s game? She seemed broken and who wouldn’t empathize? But her seductive, weird behavior bugged me. I don’t automatically believe the stories teenage girls tell. But it was also possible that some of what she said was true, even if there were lies and manipulations involved.

What would happen before the truth finally came out? I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for it all to unravel so we could see and understand. 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.
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TUESDAY EXCERPTS: “OUR SOULS AT NIGHT”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent download, a book I’ve been wanting to read before the movie comes out at the end of the month.  Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

 

Intro:  And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.  It was an evening in May just before full dark.

They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two-story houses.  It had been warm in the day but it had turned off cool now in the evening.  She went along the sidewalk under the trees and turned in at Louis’s house.

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Teaser:  Well, Diane stayed herself anyway, Louis said.  Throughout.  As I say I can appreciate that now.  I didn’t then, at the time.  But we didn’t know anything in our twenties when we were first married.  It was all just instinct and the patterns we’d grown up with.

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Synopsis:  In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away, her son even farther, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better–their pleasures and their difficulties–a beautiful story of second chances unfolds….

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What do you think?  Do the snippets tempt you to keep reading?

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REVIEW: LIES SHE TOLD, BY CATE HOLAHAN

 

The truth can be darker than fiction.

Liza Cole, a once-successful novelist whose career has seen better days, has one month to write the thriller that could land her back on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, she’s struggling to start a family, but her husband is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Then, the lines between Liza’s fiction and her reality eerily blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including her own. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

My Thoughts: In alternating narratives, we enter the worlds of Liza and Beth, and, at first, it seems as though Liza is simply creating a romantic suspense novel, even though she readily admits that her fiction is often based on composites of people and events in her own life. She says “to be a writer is to be a life thief. Every day, I rob myself blind.”

Sometimes events in her fictionalized world definitely mimic her life. She is worried about her marriage and she is on fertility drugs that render her emotional. And sometimes she has memory issues. Could she be mixing up events? Does her real life look too much like the fictional one? Could she have done something dreadful, and then forgotten about it?

It doesn’t help that both Liza’s husband David and fictional Beth’s husband Jake are liars…and probably cheaters. Or is everything skewed by Liza’s version of the truth?

I couldn’t stop reading Lies She Told. I loved going back and forth between the worlds of Liza and Beth, and trying to decide the truth of what had actually happened. Did David kill Nick, or has Liza done it and forgotten? Have all the actions she has attributed to Beth been her own? Is she even writing a book? Then we discover a buried secret from Liza’s childhood, one that definitely changes everything we thought we knew. An unputdownable book that earned 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

TUESDAY EXCERPTS: “THE BURNING GIRL”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud, a bracing, hypnotic coming-of-age story about the bond of best friends, from the New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children.

 

Intro:  You’d think it wouldn’t bother me now.  The Burneses moved away long ago.  Two years have passed.  But still, I can’t lie in the sun on the boulders at the quarry’s edge, or dangle my toes in the cold, clear water, or hear the other girls singing, without being aware the whole time that Cassie is gone.  And then I want to say something—but you can’t, you know.  It’s like she never existed.

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Teaser:  The path, such as it was, would seem to come and go, and the greenery overhead became more dense, the sun more obscured, as if we were going ever deeper into the woods.  I tried to trace a mental map—we turned right at the broad rotted stump, we bore left where the two maple trunks had grown intertwined, we kept the water behind our left ears and its gurgly sound came near, and retreated, and came again. (p.58).

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Synopsis:  Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful adult reality—crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.

Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.

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What do you think?  Do the excerpts draw you in?  Would you keep reading?

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A JOURNEY THROUGH MY SHELVES….

I shelved another print book, in this space I have designated for overflow (above).  I have several bookshelves throughout the house, and I could squeeze more books into them, but I’m trying to maintain them at their current state.  Once I am tempted to exceed the number the shelves can comfortably hold,  I know it is time to purge again.

Before the purges of 2015, I had a lot of shelves for the books I had read.  I had three bookshelves in my office; five shelves in my bedroom; two in the hallway; one in the bathroom; and two in the living room.

Now:  One shelf in my office; none in the hallway; none in the bathroom; two in my bedroom; and two in my living room.  Additionally, some overflow in the shelf atop this post….and a couple of shelves in my dining room.

BEDROOM SHELVES:

OFFICE SHELVES:

Shelves for Unread Books: In my office

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LIVING ROOM SHELVES:

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OVERFLOW SHELVES IN DINING ROOM:

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HOW MANY PHYSICAL BOOKS REMAIN TO BE READ?

Nine books remain on the Unread Bookshelves shown above…plus, this stack on the coffee table:

And….

Twelve books on my nightstands…

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The rest of my unread books are luxuriating on Pippa, my Kindle.

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I have pages here at this site on which all my purchased/read books are listed.  Periodically, I go through those numbers and show you what unread books are on my Kindle…but that will be for another day.

Do you regularly inventory your books?  Or do you enjoy just having them around?

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REPRISING A REVIEW: MIDWIVES, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

In December 2012, I read my first book by Bohjalian…and have gone on to find several more favorites from him.

Here is my review from back then:

It was an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, in March 1981. An experienced midwife named Sibyl Danforth took desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performed a C-section on a mother she believed had died of a stroke. But what if she was wrong? What if she’d accidentally killed her instead?

Told in the voice of Sibyl’s teenage daughter Connie, as well as from the midwife’s personal notes, we gradually come to know the events that transpired both during the event and afterwards. An inexperienced assistant, the clouded emotions of others, and the outrage of the medical community all converge to bring the case to a courtroom.

Even as the events afterwards unfolded, and as the past slipped seamlessly into the present, the reader is left frantically turning pages, uncertain as to what the outcome will actually be.

Will the efforts of a brilliant defense attorney and expert witnesses for the defense combat the aggressive, almost cruel methods of the state’s attorney? Will the jurors be able to sort out the facts from the conjecture offered by some of the witnesses? And what will happen to Connie Danforth’s life if her mother is convicted? And what chance of acquittal could there be, since Connie has kept a secret that could sway events and change everything?

Midwives is more than a case about medical malpractice or involuntary manslaughter. It’s also about tradition vs. alternative methods. It is about how hostility within the medical community can affect the lives of many. How perceptions often alter reality.

This is my first novel by this author, but I was thoroughly engaged throughout and will be reading more of his work. Five stars.

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WRAPPING UP AUGUST!

It’s time to look back at August!  I read more pages this month than the previous ones, but I read one less book than in July.  There were so many books to love…so it was hard to choose favorites. 

Check in at The Book Date, to see what others have read and enjoyed.

Here are my favorites, despite how difficult it was to choose:

Top Favorites:

 

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My Book Genres:

Literary Fiction:  2 books read

Contemporary Fiction:  2 books read

Historical/Contemporary Fiction:  2 books read

Mysteries/Thrillers:  8 books read!

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Click on my titles to see my reviews:

AUGUST 2017:

1.After She Fell (e-book), by Mary-Jane Riley – 323 pages – (psychological thriller) – 8/26/17

2.Before We Were Yours (e-book), by Lisa Wingate – 352 pages – (historical/contemporary fiction) – 8/12/17

3.Bookshop on the Corner, The (e-book), by Jenny Colgan – 331 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 8/3/17

4.Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian – 266 pages – (literary fiction) – 8/7/17

5.Good Daughter, The (e-book), by Karin Slaughter – 528 pages – (suspense thriller) – 8/28/17

6.Here & Gone (e-book), by Haylen Beck – 288 pages – (suspense thriller) – 8/18/17

7.Home, by Harlan Coben – 385 pages – (mystery) – 8/30/17

8.Identicals, The (e-book), by Elin Hilderbrand – 418 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 8/17/17

9.Lying Game, The (e-book), by Ruth Ware – 384 pages – (mystery) – 8/24/17

10.Other Girl, The (e-book), by Erica Spindler – 256 pages – (mystery/thriller) – 8/4/17 – (NetGalley – 8/22/17)

11.Secrets She Keeps, The (e-book), by Michael Robotham – 367 pages – (mystery) – 8/15/17

12.Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The (e-book), by Taylor Jenkins Reid – 400 pages – (historical/contemporary fiction) – 8/21/17

13.Sunday Morning Coming Down, by Nicci French – 406 pages – (suspense thriller) – 8/1/17

14.Swimming Lessons (e-book), by Claire Fuller – 356 pages – (literary fiction) – 8/8/17

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NUMBER OF BOOKS READ IN AUGUST 2017:         14

NUMBER OF PAGES READ IN AUGUST 2017:     5060

BOOKS READ YTD:                                                      117

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Enjoy September!

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REVIEW: HOME, BY HARLAN COBEN

A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend? Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home.

My Thoughts: From the first page, Home captures the reader. Win is in London and, following up on an anonymous e-mail, stumbles upon a situation involving a teenage boy who may be Patrick Moore. In his inimitable fashion, he attacks the men with the boy, but then the boy disappears. He calls upon Myron’s help back in the states, who quickly joins him.

How the two men finally catch up with the boy again and “rescue” him kept me enthralled, even though I don’t usually enjoy the antics of guys wanting to show their machismo.

For the rest of the story, we alternate between Win and Myron’s narratives, and we are back and forth between Europe and the states. There are meetings with the parents, whose behavior seems strange in light of recent developments. Why are Patrick’s parents so determined to keep him away from everyone? Why haven’t they done a DNA test? How does Patrick seem to be so up-to-date with contemporary life? Where is Rhys?

Finding the answers kept me turning pages, as even when parts of the story were less interesting to me, I did want to know what had happened, and whether or not Patrick was really the boy who had been kidnapped. By the end, the twists and turns that brought us to resolution reminded me of what Myron and Win always said: Sometimes you have to start at the beginning to figure out the truth. 4.5 stars.

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UPCOMING EVENTS, ETC.

I am eager to start working on this site for Bloggiesta, even though I have until late September.  So, of course, I had to do a couple of “cosmetic” things, like changing the theme, header, and background.

Instead of fussing over these technical issues, I should focus more on my reading, which includes some print books on my nightstand that I am reading, a bit at a time.  I’ve been working on America’s Queen and Home for a while.

I’m almost finished with Home!  I might even have a review up by the end of the day.

I could also do a little housework, but no…scratch that!  There is plenty of time…later.

So…many things to ponder, which means that I will waste some time trying to decide.  Do you find that trying to choose what to do next leads to fewer things accomplished?

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