Friday, July 6, 2018

the sky is falling, the sky is falling!

Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Genre: science fiction
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Review: Isabel has some serious wounds, but then there's a big fight, so she just has to power through.  Then the ceiling falls in (literally), but the ghost helps her.  Then she's even more wounded, but there's another big fight, so she continues to power through.  Then the ceiling falls in, again (literally - Isabel's in a network of underground tunnels), but the ghost helps her again.  Then she and the ghost are both in trouble, but the gears click in her mind and she figures out a solution, which is totally risky and probably won't work, but it's their only chance... annnnd it works, and they live to have the ceiling fall in on them again (literally).  Meanwhile, there's like a mystery, and some feelings, and Isabel keeps falling into the ghost-place and no-one knows why, and people fighting aboveground too, and it's really just a big mess.  But Isabel is undaunted - actually, that's a lie, she's totally daunted, but she knows the fate of ... everything? ... is at stake.

There, now you don't have to read the book.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

sexy and sweet

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: What would you do if you were a very well-off and well-respected professional woman who was terrified of dating and sex because you had Asperger's?  Perhaps you would hire an escort to help you become more comfortable with those interpersonal areas of your life.  And what would you do if you were a man who had mountains of debt and responsibilities, but had been told you had a particular talent for sex?  You'd become an escort, naturally.  Thus, the basis for 2018's greatest love story.  Michael and Stella are both characters you root for, to be able to overcome their own shortcomings and power through the things that challenge them.  It gives nothing away to say that they end up together, but the process, oh, the process.  Very steamy and very sweet.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Friday, June 22, 2018

the hazards of wealth

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: From the outside, Nina has everything she could ever want.  She has a successful (and rich husband), a son on his way to Princeton, a beautiful home, and time to charity work.  But that's not really who Nina is, as she finds out when scandal strikes, in the form of a picture of a nearly nude girl that her son snapchats to a few friends.  The repurcussions of that force Nina to really examine her life and whether it reflects her values.  Her introspection forms one theme of the story, and the did-he-didn't-he question of who actually sent the picture and what the consequences will be, form another.  Add to that Lyla, the girl in the photo, who has her own story to tell, and her father, and you get a complex, layered book that explores issues of privilige, complicity, and redemption.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

from whimsy to the deep

The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: This book has a whimsical feel right from the beginning.  From before the beginning, actually: from the seating chart at the front.  That whimsy quickly gets deep, though, as we meet the people around the table.  The bride and groom, their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other assorted friends and relations who have gathered to celebrate the nuptials scheduled for the following day, all have their own dramas going on.  In that way, this reads more like a series of intersecting short stories, as each individual or small group of characters is really pursuing their own storyline.  Infidelities are revealed, mortality is contemplated, and both love and passion flower.  So, no, this is not a whimsical story, but it is a good one, and full of feeling.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Friday, May 25, 2018

sometimes it takes a while to find yourself

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Willa is a very bland, sort of get-along-with-everyone character.  She goes from being dominated by her mother, who has some kind of anger management issue, or is possibly bipolar, or something, to being dominated by her both her first and second husbands, both of whom definitely have anger management issues.  She's got skills (I was shocked about 2/3 of the way through the book when she mentions that she speaks 5 languages) but recently gave her job teaching ESL to follow her second husband into retirement in Arizona, where she identifies most with the lone saguaro cactus in front of her house.

When she gets a call that her son's ex-girlfriend (who she never met) has been shot and needs help, she gets on a plane and heads to Baltimore to take care of her and her 9-year-old daughter.  Some may think it odd to fly 2000 miles across the country to care for a woman you've never met (and her daughter), but Willa has always been open to suggestion, not to mention that she's totally bored.  But in Baltimore, she finally finds a purpose, people who need her, and a community.  The only question is whether she also finds the strength to break from her former go-along-to-get-along life and stay in the place and with the people who actually make her happy.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

crisis of faith

Southernmost by Silas House
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: In an editorial in today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne writes that "[m]any young people [have come] to regard religion as 'judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical and too political.'"  Asher Sharp couldn't agree more.  He's a Holy Roller pastor who's having a crisis of faith.  He's been harboring some long-standing guilt about how he and his mother treated his brother when he came out as gay, and when he's forced to turn away a gay couple seeking shelter in a flood, his crisis comes to a head.  In trying to accept the two men into his church, he loses his pulpit, and in trying to bring his more liberal thinking into his own home, he loses his wife and son.

Faced with a protracted custody battle, Asher kidnaps his son, Justin, and spirits him away to Key West to find Asher's long-estranged brother, Luke.  What follows is... not much.  Justin and Asher find a home at a small resort hotel on the island, and Asher works as a general handyman.  But neither of them do much, except think deep thoughts about God, and faith, and the church, and judgment, and holiness.  This is a very introspective, slow-moving, but beautifully written book.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

one-two punch

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: YA, fiction
Review:  Noah's last name isn't Hypnotik (it's Oakman), but he does have strange fascinations.  That's his own name for them, taken unashamedly from David Bowie's book.  They are: a YouTube video featuring a woman aging day by day; the man with an enormous goiter Noah passes every day on his way to school; a picture dropped by a singer; and uncovering the hidden messages in his favorite author's works.  When Noah is hypnotized (or something - he's not actually sure what happened), and he starts to notice subtle changes in the world around him, his strange fascinations remain constant.  Convinced that the answers lie in uncovering the secrets behind his fascinations, he begins a somewhat obsessive quest to get to the bottom of things.

But then, well, let's just say that I did not see that coming.  Or the other thing.  It was quite the double-whammy, and very well done.  But what really pulled me through the book was wondering whether Noah would ever figure out how to go back to being a good friend.  His two best friends, twins Alan and Val, are fantastic supporting characters and add a lot of depth to Noah's story.

FTC Disclaimer: A received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.