CHALLENGE UPDATE…

It is time to add up the results of this Reading Challenge 2017.

Head on over to The Book Date to enter your link.

My totals are found on this Reading Challenge Page, where I’ve listed books read and reviewed…and linked to my reviews.

121 Read and Reviewed from TBR Purchased between July 2016 through December 2017

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DELICIOUS AND ADVENTUROUS ROMP

In this fifteenth Stephanie Plum adventure, we follow her in her job for a bail bondsman, but typically, her adventures carry her off onto divergent pathways as she inadvertently gets mixed up in a murder case. A gruesome decapitation, no less! And one of her coworkers is a witness, which also puts her at risk.

Stephanie also is trying to figure out who is breaking into the homes with Rangeman security systems—a part time gig that lands her in another batch of trouble—while trying to escape the various fire bombs that always seem to be going off around her. Not to mention the paint bombs.

Yes, just as in previous books, Stephanie Plum seems to be a disaster waiting to happen everywhere she goes.

I love the way this character is so down-to-earth and real, almost as if she’s part of our neighborhood or our family. She is a flawed, yet courageous soul who loves her life, even when it’s falling down around her.

Finger Lickin’ Fifteen (Stephanie Plum Novels) is my second book by this author, and hence satisfies one of my reading challenge tasks. But I’m not stopping with this one…I want to go back to the beginning of this series and read them all…which is why I’m awarding five stars to this book.

IN PURSUIT OF THE BIG BAD WOLF — A Review of “The Big Bad Wolf”

When Alex Cross first joins up with the FBI, he is assigned to a big case. One involving the kidnapping of men and women in broad daylight–who then disappear completely. The victims are being bought and sold, and the shadowy figure behind it all is a Russian predator dubbed The Wolf.

Every time the agents have a lead, they are stymied. They find and arrest several participants in this ring, but everywhere they turn, The Wolf eludes them. Each time they think they have finally identified him, they come up short.

Meanwhile, Alex’s family life is taking a hit, too. His youngest son, Alex, given up by the mother, Christine Johnson, in his infancy, is now the subject of a new custody battle. It seems that Christine is pulling out all the stops and stating that Alex Cross is a lightning rod for danger, which puts his son at risk.

This is a very exciting tale, between the FBI pursuits, bureaucratic hijinks, and various near misses…while on the periphery, the shadow of the custody battle looms.

Until the very last page, I wasn’t sure how this would end up, but I knew I had to keep reading. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed this particular Alex Cross adventure,The Big Bad Wolf (Alex Cross), it wasn’t one of the best. Therefore, the four star rating.

CHERISHING THE MOMENTS — A Review of “Evenings at Five”

An author and a composer have a daily ritual. Every evening at five o’clock, they begin with Happy Hour; they then share their love of language and music along with their cocktails. This tradition is so much a part of their lives that it’s only natural that its absence would leave a huge hole in the author’s heart when her companion dies.

Author Gail Godwin had similar experiences, and has commemorated these traditions and moments by fictionalizing an account, which she has added to a series of additional short stories about her alter-ego Christina.

In these stories, we meet Christina at various crossroads in her life, and woven in with these “flashback” type portrayals are more moments between “Christina and Rudy.”

A provocative read, Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New Stories (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) is a reminder that we must cherish our moments with our loved ones, because when they are gone, the memories of those moments could sustain us.

I deducted one star, as sometimes the story’s back and forth movements was confusing, and I had to stop a moment to figure out where the characters were—the past or the present.

FAMILY SAGA AND EPIC LOVE STORY

In this lyrical family saga, we observe family members who interact like children in parallel play. This mother and two sisters appear detached from one another and bound only by their common love for one man—a husband to one of them and the father to the other two—and how his death fractures them all.

On his deathbed, however, the man, Evan Whitson, exacts a promise from his daughters. He insists on them listening to their mother tell the “fairytale” that has been a recurring theme in their childhood and their only family tradition…their mother’s story of a peasant girl and a prince in Leningrad, and to listen to it to the very end. Implied in this request is that somehow, this story has never yet been fully told and will somehow explain their mother and change their relationships to her and to each other.

But after the death, it is all that the sisters can do to manage their own lives. Meredith, the older sister, has always been the responsible one, holding the business together and taking care of everyone else. Yet she seems unable to prevent her mother’s grief-stricken downward spiral. Meanwhile, Nina, the photojournalist, is off somewhere doing what she does.

The mother, Anya, seemingly finds peace only in her winter garden—a place as icy as her personality—and when one day, Anya seems like a threat to her own safety, Meredith places her in convalescent care.

When Nina returns and abruptly brings their mother home again, the sisters battle things out. And then something happens that changes everything for all of them. Anya begins to tell the fairytale.

What secrets will be revealed by this story, and what does it have to do with any of their lives? Will the telling of the story free them all?

This was a haunting and provocative story that will be in my thoughts for a long time. A surprise twist at the end stunned me, even as I realized that it was the kind of conclusion we can always hope for in such a tale.

Winter Garden seems to epitomize the iciness of secrets, betrayals, and disconnectedness that inform the lives of our characters, and in this story, we also learn much about the strength of the human condition and how surviving loss can add to that strength.

QUIRKY AND UNIQUE CHARACTERS — A Review of “Noah’s Compass”

Liam Pennywell is one of those quirky characters that compel us to root for him. Nothing in his life seems to be very special, and then when he loses a job he’s held for many years, he doesn’t even fight it. It’s like he expects life to dish out nothing but disappointment.

He moves into a downsized space, to accommodate his shrinking resources, but on the first night in the new home, something happens that turns his life upside down.

Has he lost his direction now, as well as his job? Obsessing over the events only seems to isolate him further.

But then he meets a strange young woman who intrigues him, and before he knows it, this unexpected detour changes everything for him.

I love Anne Tyler’s characters, and this one was so intriguing that I started and finished this book within the day. I think I enjoyed Liam as much as the characters in The Accidental Tourist: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle). They are flawed, unique, and sometimes frustrating individuals who totally capture our hearts.

I am definitely giving Noah’s Compass five stars!

POOR CHOICES, ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY — A Review of “Not My Daughter”

What constitutes a good mother? How much responsibility must a mother take for her daughter’s poor choices?

These are the issues at the root of Not My Daughter. Susan Tate is a single mom to her seventeen-year-old daughter Lily. She had her own daughter at seventeen, her parents threw her out, and she has had to struggle alone for all these years. She has made something of her life and stubbornly clings to the hard-won control over her life. She is the principal at her daughter’s school. At age thirty-five, she is the youngest principal to ever lead here.

But then she is blindsided by her daughter, pregnant at seventeen. Within weeks, her two best friends are also pregnant and a “pact” is revealed.

Suddenly fingers are pointing, questions are raised, a media storm is brewing…and Susan fears that her job will be terminated.

Her own best friends (whose daughters are also pregnant) are seemingly her only support system.

But in the weeks and months that follow, she discovers untapped strength—something she must draw on when more unexpected disasters loom.

What will Susan discover about herself and what she needs during this trying time? Will she finally be able to share her burdens with Lily’s father and her own mother Ellen? What will she learn about herself and about “mothering”?

A very dramatic and somewhat unsettling story unfolds as we reach the conclusion and the answers to these questions. Definitely five stars from me!

SECRETS IN AN ALL-GIRLS SCHOOL — A Review of “Unfinished Desires”

An elderly retired nun, formerly headmistress at an all-girls’ school in the mountains of North Carolina, has taken on an important task.  Although nearly blind, Mother Suzanne Ravenal is dictating tapes in order to write a memoir.

She first came to Mount St. Gabriel’s as a student, considering a “vocation.”  Her best friend Antonia is also considering becoming a nun, but at the last minute, something happened between the two girls that resulted in Suzanne’s early admission and a rift between the two.  Soon Antonia is no longer in the picture.

Subsequently, Antonia marries Henry Vick, an architect, but on their honeymoon, a tragic accident takes her life.

What transpired between the two girls forms the crux of this tale of secrets, betrayals, and future events with students in one fateful year dubbed “the toxic year.”

That year—1951—ninth graders in attendance at the school where Ravenal is now the headmistress have formed alliances.  First there is Tildy Stratton, whose mother Cornelia is Antonia’s twin sister; then there is Chloe Varnes, niece of Henry Vick and daughter of now deceased Agnes, who also attended this school.  Then comes Maud Norton, whose once-tight friendship with Tildy is now defunct.

All is set up for melodrama, which ensues rather quickly.  But it is only at the end of ninth grade that something happens while the girls are performing a play—a traditional play—and everything crumbles.

What secret has set the tone for this “toxic year”?  What relationships and alliances have threatened Mother Ravenal so much that she takes drastic steps?  And what will be the aftermath of these events?

This rather lengthy tome was intriguing, and at times, I almost gave up on it.  But it was fascinating enough that I kept plugging away.  The author very skillfully weaves the past and present, but at times, this task seemed unwieldy.  And, despite the artful literary nature of this book, I found it tedious, which led to awarding it 4 stars.  Perhaps 4.5.

A GOLDEN ERA

It was a memorable time in history—the 1980s in America—and dreams of financial success seemed within reach.

But sometimes dreams turn into nightmares, and after riding high, the crash is even harder.

Such are the lessons learned by Joe Stratford and friends, in this wonderful novel by the incomparable Jane Smiley, Good Faith.

This one was not technically part of my TBR stacks, as I got it and “The House on Tradd Street” from the library.

 

WHEN WALLS CAN TALK — A Review of “The House on Tradd Street”

When realtor Melanie Middleton visits an elderly man to list his house on the market, she learns some strangely disconcerting news. First, her grandfather and the old man were close friends; and secondly, the old man’s mother left him at a very young age, just as Melanie’s own mother had done. Then when her client, Nevin Vanderhorst, dies within days of her visit, she is further surprised that he has left his property to her. The house on Tradd Street becomes hers—all she has to do is live in it for one year. Money for restoration is included in her legacy.

But Melanie knows that ghostly visitors will be joining her, because she has this “gift” of seeing spirits, a gift she’s had since childhood. In fact, she saw some of them lurking about during her visit. So she is not looking forward to her tenancy in this new property.

Not to mention the fact that the house is literally falling down around her.

Melanie and her friends, who are assisting in the renovations, are soon caught up in a rollicking suspense tale, as the ghosts attempt to communicate some secrets that are hidden in the house—secrets that have been there for many generations. Melanie and a writer friend Jack Trenholm work together to uncover the mysteries, and in the process, they become close.

Are the ways in which Melanie’s family and the Vanderhorsts connected a coincidence, or is there a hidden meaning to it all? Will she finally discover why her own mother “abandoned” her at the age of seven? And what will she learn about the mysterious disappearance of Nevin Vanderhorst’s mother?

This suspenseful and dramatic tale,The House on Tradd Street, kept me enthralled until the last page, earning five stars from me.