MONTHLY WRAP-UP: GOODBYE TO MAY!

may 24 another look at the patio

It is that time again!  The end of a month that seems to have flown by, but which brought a number of engaging books to read and review.  Click my titles to see my reviews.

Join Kathryn, at Book Date, in linking up to see what others are sharing in their monthly wrap-ups.

My total was lower than last month’s, but I still feel as though I had a good month.  I had a nice mix of contemporary fiction, nonfiction, psychological thrillers, and literary fiction.  A good month.

What did yours look like? 

 

 

MAY 2016:

1.  Better Off Without Him (e-book), by Dee Ernst – 348 pages – (contemporary romance) – 5/27/16

2.   Born with Teeth:  A Memoir, by Kate Mulgrew – 302 pages – (nonfiction) – 5/23/16

3.   Breakdown (e-book), by Jonathan Kellerman – 350 pages – (murder mystery) – 5/26/16

4.  Children, The (e-book), by Ann Leary – 256 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/11/16 – (NetGalley – 5/24)

5. Don’t You Cry (e-book), by Mary Kubica – 384 pages – (psychological thriller) – 5/4/17 (NetGalley – 5/17)

6.  Girls in the Garden, The (e-book), by Lisa Jewell – 432 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/29/16 (NetGalley – 6/7)

7.   Ink and Bone (e-book), by Lisa Unger – 352 pages – (thriller) – 5/31/16 – (NetGalley – 6/7)

8.  Lies & Other Acts of Love (e-book), Kristy Woodson Harvey – 322 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/1/16

9.   My Name Is Lucy Barton (e-book), by Elizabeth Strout – 209 pages – (literary fiction) – 5/10/16

10.  Other Typist, The (e-book), by Suzanne Rindell – 354 pages – (psychological thriller) – 5/16/16

11.   Ramblers, The (e-book), by Aidan Donnelley Rowley – 385 pages – (literary fiction) – 5/20/16

12 . What We Find (e-book), by Robyn Carr – 352 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/9/16

***

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ IN MAY 2016:     12

NUMBER OF PAGES READ IN MAY 2016:    4,046

BOOKS READ YTD:                                                       71

FAVORITE FICTION BOOK IN MAY 2016:   Don’t You Cry, by Mary Kubica

***

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! REVIEWING OCTOBER — OCT. 31

 

 

October was a cozy month, but I didn’t read as many books as usual.  However, there were several 400 + page books, so that might account for some of it.

In picking favorites this month, I faced a challenge.  There were so many contenders!

Here’s October in Review:

 

OCTOBER 2012:

1.    Afterwards – Rosamund Lupton – 383 pages – (suspense/family drama) – 10/30/12

2.    An Order of Coffee and Tears (e-book) – Brian Spangler – 280 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 10/23/12

3.   Barbra:  The Way She Is – Christopher Andersen – 412 pages – (nonfiction) – 10/4/12

4.   Blackberry Winter – Sarah Jio – 286 pages – (romantic suspense) – 10/19/12

5.   Bodyguard, The (e-book) – Christy Tillery French – 316 pages – (romantic suspense) – 10/27/12

6.   Curiosity Killed the Kat (e-book) – Elizabeth Nelson – 122 pages – (suspense thriller) – 10/17/12 (Review will be posted on 11/13 during blog tour)

7.   Dangerous Affairs Diana Miller – 361 pages – (romantic suspense) – 10/11/12

8.    Dead on Ice – Lauren Carr – 226 pages – (romantic suspense) – 10/28/12

9.   Heir, The – Barbara Taylor Bradford – 464 pages – (historical fiction) – 10/14/12

10.  More Than You Know (e-book) – Penny Vincenzi – 608 pages – (historical fiction) – 10/9/12

11. Probable Future, The – Alice Hoffman – 322 pages – (contemporary/historical fiction) – 10/2/12

12. Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan – 321 pages – (literary fiction) – 10/17/12

13. Things That Matter, The – Nate Berkus – 315 pages – (nonfiction) – 10/15/12

14.  Tuesday’s Gone – Nicci French – 448 pages – (suspense thriller) – 10/21/12

***

TOTAL BOOKS READ THIS MONTH:  14

TOTAL PAGES READ THIS MONTH:  4,864

TOTAL BOOKS READ YTD:                        160

FAVORITE FICTION BOOK:  Blackberry Winter, Sarah Jio

FAVORITE NONFICTION BOOK:  The Things That Matter, Nate Berkus

***

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

A REUNION & A DO OVER — REVIEW OF “OCEAN BEACH” — JUNE 15

Madeline, Avery, and Nicole are back!  After renovating Bella Flora, the home they inherited at Ten Beach Road, their efforts have paid off in another way.  They’ve been offered a gig that could further seal their futures in a positive way.

A chance to renovate a home in South Beach for a TV pilot called Do Over.  And if the show is picked up by the network, they could be on their way at last.

Arriving at the designated location, each of them has mixed emotions about the task ahead.  Not only is the house badly in need of a major overhaul, but they see that the network crew is already there, ready to snap their reactions, their every move, almost as if they, not the renovations, are the show.

When it dawns upon them that a reality show is what the network really has in mind, and that their personal lives, with all their warts, is fair game, the ugly truth almost makes them turn and run.

Slogging through the detritus of what was once a lovely example of Streamline Moderne architecture, the women know that the weeks ahead are going to be tough ones.

But little do they know that the task will be the least of it.

What unexpected events will threaten their peace of mind and the project itself?  What mystery from the past will grab their attention and motivate them even more?  And how will another man’s quest for vengeance stun them, with disastrous results?

Each character immediately grabbed me, as if I were reuniting with old friends.  Sometimes they frustrated me, especially Kyra, who seemingly made one bad choice after another.  I rooted for Avery and her mother Deirdre to finally reach a place of forgiveness.  And I couldn’t help but enjoy the growing love matches between a couple of the characters.

As Ocean Beach came to an end, I desperately wanted to see what would happen to the characters next.  I was totally invested in them.  Five stars.

***

A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, Wendy read voraciously as a child, was a regular at her local library, and became fast friends with Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. Her love affairs with language and storytelling paid off beginning with her first shift at the campus radio station while studying journalism at the University of Georgia.

After returning to her home state and graduating from the University of South Florida she worked for the Tampa PBS affiliate, WEDU-TV, behind and in front of the camera. Her resume includes on air work, voiceovers and production of a variety of commercial projects and several feature films. She may be best known in the Tampa Bay area as the host of Desperate & Dateless, a radio matchmaking program that aired on WDAE radio, and nationally as host of The Home Front, a magazine format show that aired on PBS affiliates across the country.

For more information, visit her at http://www.authorwendywax.com/

A JOURNEY TOWARD REDISCOVERY — A REVIEW

Three women from very different circumstances have one thing in common.  They have all suffered financial ruin at the hands of a financial manager, and they all now share ownership in a ramshackle beachfront property in Florida.

When they meet to assess their property, they come to a seemingly untenable decision.  They will restore the historic home back to its original beauty, and then sell it.  But they must achieve this in a record amount of time and by doing the work themselves, under the guidance of a local contractor.

The journey brings out all the strengths they weren’t sure they had and forges friendships that will bring more than they could have bargained for.  What happens during the course of this amazing journey will be totally unexpected, with some sad and some victorious moments.

Avery, Nicole, and Madeline will end up with something else they hadn’t expected.  They will discover untapped resources inside themselves that they will carry with them into the future.  But what disasters and obstacles will befall them before they’ve reached their goal?  And what will sustain them in the days, weeks, and months ahead?

Each character was someone I could relate to, even though none of them had experiences I’d enjoyed.  Avery, an architect who had been reduced to a “Vanna White-like” role on the HGTV show she co-hosted with her ex-husband, is frustrated and full of anger; Nicole has a very successful matchmaking business to high-end clients, but something is missing from her life; and Madeline has been a homemaker all of her life, but her current empty nest has her seeking something new to do with her life.

In many ways, they are each ripe for the picking when fate throws them a few curves.  Isn’t it true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?  Each of them is forced to find out the truth of that on their new journey.  I loved that each of the women began to reach out to one another, despite the secrets they tried to hold tight within.  I felt emotionally drawn to them when obstacles popped up, as inevitably they would in such a situation.  None of the women has been trained to do an “extreme makeover” like the one they face.

The contractor, Andrew, is an old family friend to Avery, but the way he seemingly condescends to her, calling her “Vanna” repeatedly, raised my ire.  I could identify with the plight of being diminished by a man who is in a position of power.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Madeline came into her own as the leader and go-to person for organizational skills.

As I turned the pages of Ten Beach Road, I didn’t want the story to end.  Even though I wanted to see what would happen, that satisfaction would come at the price of losing these friendships.  For by this time, I felt as though these women were part of my own friendship circle.  This book earned five stars from me.

****

Check out the Q & A With Wendy Wax

Author Bio:

WENDY WAX


“All of my class pictures from Sunshine Elementary School are displayed at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum on Pass-a-Grille,” says Wendy Wax, speaking about her childhood in St. Pete Beach, Florida. “Fish Broil was the big event every fall and the best days were when we had recess or art class on the beach, but what I remember best is running loose with my friends and exploring every inch of the beach we called our own. Is it any surprise it’s still one of my favorite places in the world? Or that it ended up as the setting in one of my books? It was bound to happen someday.”

Someday came when Wendy began reading about how the lives of so many people, from so many different walks of life, changed dramatically as a result of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. It wasn’t long before she was imagining a scenario in which three women face bankruptcy at the hands of an unscrupulous money manager. At the end of the day, these three strangers discover that all that’s left of their savings is shared ownership of a once-glorious beachfront mansion. They’re faced with a choice. They can cut their losses and sell for whatever amount of money they can get, or—in a bid for solvency—accept the backing of a local contractor in order to restore the historic property themselves, bit-by-backbreaking bit.

The basics of her plot and the themes Wendy imagined—women facing adversity, making choices, redefining themselves and discovering the strength of friendship—gave her a wide range of possible settings for TEN BEACH ROAD. When it came time to embrace ambiance, architectural styles, and local color, she chose a
place she knows well, her hometown of St. Pete Beach. It was right for so many reasons. Its tropical climate, dual
cultures of vacationers and residents, and even the current real estate market fit her story well, and presented
challenges her characters might not have faced elsewhere. Of course, it also gave Wendy an opportunity to indulge in researching the Mediterranean-Revival architectural style she so admires and the history of the area, as well as to share her pleasure in magnificent Gulf sunsets and some of her favorite spots in Historic Pass-a-Grille.

Among her fondest memories are visits to her local library. Wendy read voraciously as a child, becoming fast friends with Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. Her love affairs with language and storytelling paid off beginning with her first shift at the campus radio station while studying journalism at the University of Georgia.

Wendy returned home, graduated from the University of South Florida and then worked for the Tampa PBS
affiliate, WEDU-TV, behind and in front of the camera. Her resume includes on air work, voiceovers and production work on a variety of commercial projects and several feature films. She was best-known in the Tampa Bay area as the host of Desperate & Dateless, a radio matchmaking program that aired on WDAE radio, and nationally as host of The Home Front, a magazine format show that aired on PBS affiliates across the country.

The mother of a toddler and an infant when she decided to change careers, Wendy admits it may not have been the best timing in terms of productivity. “I’m still not certain why I felt so compelled to write my first novel at that particular time,” she says, “but that first book took forever.” Since then she’s written six others, including
Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist; The Accidental Bestseller and Single in Suburbia. Her novel 7 Days and 7 Nights was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has been sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Wendy lives in Atlanta, which she has called home for 14 years. A former broadcaster, she spends much of her non-writing time speaking to writer’s groups and book clubs, enjoying time with her husband and sons, and visiting her family in St. Pete. She continues to devour books.

AUTHOR WENDY WAX WEBSITE

TEN BEACH ROAD/Berkley/Trade Paperback
On Sale May 3, 2011/$15.00 ($17.50 Canada)/0-425-24086-X . 978-0-425-24086-1
Includes the Readers Guide
.
MAGNOLIA WEDNESDAYS/Jove Books/Mass Market/Reprint
On Sale April 26, 2011/$7.99/0-515-14984-5 . 978-0-515-15984-5
Contact: Joan Schulhafer, joan@joanschulhafer.com, 973-338-7428

or Erin Galloway, erin.galloway@us.penguingroup.com

WHAT YOU SEE ISN’T ALWAYS WHAT YOU GET — A REVIEW

Tess Monaghan, a Baltimore private investigator, has been relegated, in the third trimester of her pregnancy, to bed rest in her sunroom. She has an active imagination, and has always been a fan of the movie “Rear Window,” so when she notices the routine of a young woman in a green raincoat, she is fascinated. The woman is walking her dog, who wears a matching coat. Everyday, she sees them walking alongside the park.

But then one day, the woman has seemingly disappeared, leaving behind a frantic dog. In her quest to discover what has happened, Tess makes phone calls, and then, when the police seem unfazed by her report, she turns to her laptop to search through the records. She discovers that the woman is Carole Massinger, who was married to Don Epstein, and that this wealthy man has lost previous spouses and a girlfriend to mysterious deaths.

Is Carole dead or is she missing? And is her disappearance connected to the deaths of the other Epstein spouses?

Tess enlists the assistance of best friend Whitney, along with colleague Mrs. Blossom. Then she discovers other intriguing facts about the deceased wives…they were all fairly isolated, and nobody seems to really “miss” them or push for answers to the seemingly obvious questions. A few other facts she uncovers seem suspicious and worrisome.

But what Tess learns next will completely throw her theories out that rear window. Will her discoveries lead to her unfortunate demise? What, if anything, can she do to save herself and her unborn daughter?

A compelling mystery with humor and colorful characters that the reader will want to connect with over and over, The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel, was definitely a five star read for me. It was a quick read with great descriptions and dialogue. I would like to follow Tess in more of her adventures.

SELF-DISCOVERY IN AN UNEXPECTED SITUATION — A REVIEW

No-nonsense Alice Thrift is a workaholic surgical intern, whose social ineptness places her in vulnerable positions: at work and personally.

But her platonic roommate Leo Frawley has taken her under his wing, and she is beginning to develop a few skills. They have settled into a comfortable routine when, after a consultation with a would-be patient, Alice realizes that the man, Ray Russo, is apparently pursuing her. At first, she seems to resist his attentions, but maybe for someone like Alice, any kind of attention seems wonderful.

At any rate, this widowed chocolate fudge salesman, who seemingly has lots of time on his hands, shows up with just the right kind of attention: little gifts, food, and lots of charming words.

A woman more practiced in social skills might see red flags everywhere, but not Alice. Then, suddenly, after a social event with her friend Leo and a neighbor Sylvie, Alice feels vulnerable and more lonely than usual. And agrees to marry Ray.

What happens over the next few weeks will tell the tale. What do we discover next? And what will those in Alice’s immediate circle conclude when a big post-wedding celebration is underway? Will Alice finally discover what she needs and wants?

Great characterizations and humorous situations set this novel apart from the average “chick lit” tale. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift carries the reader along in a journey toward a greater understanding of the inner strength of a character who seems fragile. Discovering her own strength is Alice’s most notable achievement.

Five stars.

CREATING FAMILIES — FLAWS AND JOYS

In Portland, Oregon, the (fictional) Chosen Child adoption agency operates with a specific mission in mind: families can be created. To the social workers who work there, including Chloe Pinter who directs the domestic adoption program, the mission is one that almost supersedes everything else in their lives. Their hours are unpredictable, interrupting many moments of personal interaction. Chloe’s relationship with her fiancé Dan is precarious at times because of the demands of the job.

But Chloe forges ahead, connecting birth parents to adoptive ones with a zeal that seemingly consumes her.

In this tale about creating families, the alternating chapters focus on individual characters, from Chloe, to individual birth parents, and to a couple that once tried to adopt, but now has a birth child.

Each exploration reveals the emotional drains as well as the eager anticipation of each character, whether that character is one waiting for an adoptive child or is a birth parent struggling with the pain of giving up a child. We come to empathize with the pain, the struggles, and finally the joy that comes when everyone achieves his/her goal.

But the story does not end with the “chosen family” riding off into the sunset. We also see the regrets of the birth parents, the struggles of new parenthood for the adoptive ones, and even a case of postpartum depression that almost leads to disaster.

Hoffman’s portrayal of the birth/adoption process was realistic, delving into the flaws of all the characters with sensitivity. Social workers, as well as birth parents, are human and subject to errors in judgment. These insights added depth to Chosen: A Novel, which resulted in a five-star review from this reader.

A SINGLE MOM’S PLIGHT AND CHALLENGES

Single mom Marta Zinsser and her nine-year-old daughter Eva have moved from Manhattan to a Seattle suburb. Marta’s new advertising agency is one she can run out of her backyard guesthouse, and she hopes that she’ll be able to “have it all”—business, parenthood, and being a supportive daughter to her ailing mother who lives nearby.

What Marta didn’t count on in this new life is that daughter Eva wants to be popular, and she wants her mom to be “normal.” In some ways, Eva has taken on the role of “mother” and tries to prod Marta into belonging. But Marta prefers to wear combat boots, ride her motorcycle, and live by her own rules.

However, Marta finally agrees to sign up to volunteer for school room mother and other activities. But she has to confront, on a regular basis, what she considers the snotty attitude of the “perfect” moms whose role in life is to stay home and focus all of their energy on the parenting game.

When Eva becomes increasingly critical of everything Marta does and blames her for her own problems, Marta is reminded of how she felt when her own “perfect” mother tried to turn her into a debutante. Squeezed between the two generations, Marta is conflicted and stressed.

And then the unexpected happens—she meets a gorgeous hunk of a man named Luke who sweeps her off her feet. But can she give in and trust in what the two of them can build? Or should she run the other way? And should she reassess everything about the way she has perceived her world and her role in it?

Odd Mom Out was compelling on so many levels. The characters were so richly developed that I felt I knew them. When Marta struggled, I felt her pain. When the snooty people played their games, I wanted to smack them. And in the gorgeous Seattle settings, I felt as though I, too, was riding the ferry or gazing at the Space Needle.

I’ve been to Seattle several times and love it there; reading this book swept me back into that world and I was an armchair traveler enjoying the ride.

Five stars was the highest number I could award, but I would give more if I could. I really loved this book.

DECONSTRUCTING A LIFE

Susie and Jonah Gersten have the perfect life…and perfect marriage. He is a renowned plastic surgeon and she is a floral designer and mother to their four-year-old triplets. They live in a gorgeous home in Shorehaven, Long Island.

At least that’s how Susie sees her world. But then one day, Jonah doesn’t come home from work. And after several days, during which police detectives and private investigators are consulted, the police arrive at her door to announce that her husband Jonah is dead. Murdered. In the East Side apartment of one Dorinda Dillon, a call girl.

Absorbing the shock and horror, Susie is numb. But then, after the initial few hours and days, she has questions. And not just about the fact that her husband was in a call girl’s apartment, or that he was murdered—but about her life and what she believed to be true about it. So Susie begins asking her own questions, much to the chagrin of her “proper” in-laws; she even enlists the help of her grandmother Ethel–who has been estranged from the family for years—and together they form a team of proactive investigators. For Susie is not at all sure of the facts, as the police lay them out, nor is she as convinced as they are that Dorinda, whom they arrested, is the perpetrator.

As Husbands Go: A Novel, by Susan Isaacs, is one of those perfect mixes of comedy, mystery, and thought-provoking social satire that kept me reading and reading. I loved the characters, finely drawn and true-to-life, especially Susie and Ethel. I didn’t care for Babs and Clive, the in-laws, but that was a natural reaction. This story was told in the first person narrative by Susie, so everything was viewed through her perspective.

Throughout this tale, I kept trying to piece the puzzle together, and I must admit that, in the end, I was quite surprised. But then again, the clues were there.

As much as I enjoyed this story, I didn’t find it nearly as compelling as some of this author’s other works, which is why I’m giving it four stars. But it is definitely a book I’d recommend for anyone who loves to laugh and try to figure out a mystery at the same time.

A LEGACY OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION

The time was the mid-seventies. Paul and Roz Mellow lived in a suburb called Wontaucket, and on a “normal” weekend, their four children are spending the day alone while their parents are off giving a lecture.

The second oldest child, Michael, discovers the mysterious tome on a top shelf, bookended by something innocuous, but he is curious. Something about the way it seems almost hidden….

From that point on, the story unfolds as the children discover what the book entails and secretly share its contents upstairs on the “children’s floor.” The children are Holly, the oldest; Michael; Dashiell and Claudia.

Their lives will never be the same again.

When Paul and Roz first met, he was studying psychoanalysis and Roz was his patient. They broke their first rules by getting involved with each other, which resulted in Paul’s removal from the program. Writing a bestselling “Joy of Sex” type book was not something they actually planned to do, and they were unprepared for the rousing success of this book…and surprised, somewhat, by how the book ultimately changed the shape of their lives.

The story is really about what happens after the book’s publication. How the family comes apart at some point, when Roz falls in love with someone else. In the thirty years after the book, we glimpse moments in the children’s complicated lives, with their conflicts and issues; we see the parents move on individually and then with other partners; and then, we watch and wonder when a publisher wants to reissue the book. That is when Michael goes to Florida (at his mother’s request) to try to persuade the reluctant Paul to agree—for Paul has been against the idea and is still bitter about the divorce.

The author’s portrayal of each of the characters, with their past and present moments, reveals how each of them struggle with the legacy of the book. Of all the children, Holly is the remote one, living in LA and refusing to share in any of the family gatherings. During her youth, we saw her submerse herself in drugs; now she cocoons with her husband and child.

Claudia has always felt inferior in many ways. Not pretty enough or talented enough, even though this is an incorrect appraisal. Dashiell comes to terms early with his homosexuality, and seems the happiest of the four children. Michael is successful, but is struggling with depression; an antidepressant he takes has negative sexual side effects.

In the end, there are celebratory moments after the second launch of the book, and everyone (except Holly) gathers for the occasion. In some ways, each family member has finally come to terms with the book—at last.

But what lingering foreshadowing hovers over each of them, even as they celebrate? What unexpected life-altering moments lie just ahead? Even as the story ended without answering some of these questions, there was a sense that somehow the characters would stumble along through whatever came next—because they had overcome the downside of their past.

The Position: A Novel was poignant and funny, with sharply drawn characters to which I could relate (except for Holly). Even though she is portrayed as the remote one, I believe that more could have been revealed about her. This omission left a cavernous hole in the canvas.

Coming of age in the seventies left its mark in various ways on those of us who had the opportunity (or curse!) to call that time our own. Wolitzer skillfully unlayers the facets of the sexual revolution and its impact on all who lived through it, and leaves the reader with the notion that family connections come in a variety of forms.

Four stars.