LaRose

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Louise Erdrich is a gifted writer who brings life to stories, particularly stories about Native Americans. Her novel, The Round House, was one of the best recent novels I read, so I was excited when LaRose was available through my local library.

The writing was exceptional as always, but the story moved slowly for me. I have also been struggling to find time to read, so that was probably a factor as well.

LaRose is the youngest child of Landreaux and Emmaline Iron. After Landreaux accidentally kills a neighbor’s son LaRose becomes the who becomes the peace offering. Peter and Nola Ravich are devastated by the death of their son, Dusty, and out of desperation accept LaRose. LaRose then becomes the healer, which he has actually been destined to do as one of a long line of LaRoses endowed with power and spiritual qualities. LaRose becomes the protector of Nola who is suicidal after her son’s death, he becomes the bridge between his new “sister” Maggie and her parents and he remains the little brother in his own biological family, splitting time between the Iron and Ravich homes.

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There are many other characters who you learn about throughout the novel, but it is the generations of LaRoses that are the most interesting and compelling.

In some of the other reviews, it was noted that the novel is set in 1999. I didn’t really notice when it was set. I knew it was in “modern times,” but the story isn’t tied to a year or a time period.

If you like Louise Erdich, I think you will like LaRose, however if you are new to her, I would recommend Round House.

Note: I finished this book on March 20th. I was just a little slow in finishing and posting my review.

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The Sunshine Sisters

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Thanks to Net Galley, I was able to read an advanced copy of this novel which will be published in June.

Jane Green is an author I have been reading for many years. Her stories are lighthearted chick lit and The Sunshine Sisters follows the vein of chick-lit, but her subject matter has gotten a little heavier. Luckily, everything works out in the end – as one would expect in a Jane Green novel.

The Sunshine sisters – Nell, Meredith and Lizzy – grew up with an actress mother, Ronni Sunshine, who was self-centered, materialistic and who could be cruel, especially to her daughters. After their difficult childhoods, they each move away from their mother and their sisters. Suddenly, they are all summoned back to their mother’s home and shockingly, they all go.

While there, they learn that their mother is dying and that she wants to connect the three of them in her last days before an assisted suicide. The sisters all go through grief and anger, but also seem to grow and reflect on the mistakes they have each made in their relationships and lives.

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Nell was a young mother who has never opened herself up to romance and works hard to maintain the farm she worked at and eventually inherited.

Meredith is an accountant in London who has buried her artistic talents and is engaged to the dull and controlling Derek.

Lizzy a successful entrepreneur who is married to James and has a young son, but who has also been having an affair with her business partner.

By the time the novel ends and Ronni Sunshine decides to end her life on her terms, the sisters have re-bonded and face their uncertain futures together.

 

This Is How It Always Is

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel reads like an easy beach read, but with a deeper subject and, in my opinion, better written.

Penn and Rosie are the parents of five boys. They are busy, quirky and present parents. Rosie is a doctor, Penn is forever working on his damn novel. Their kids are happy and free to express their own individual personality. Their world gets turned upside down when, Claude, their youngest, starts to show that he identifies as a girl. Penn and Rosie try to do their best for Claude, allowing him/her to wear dresses and eventually socially transition to Poppy.

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However, as well-meaning and seemingly supportive as Rosie and Penn try to be, there are still missteps and misunderstandings as they try to support their youngest child. They put her needs above their other children’s, Rosie leaves a position she loves to live in a more accepting city.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It was easy and the inclusion of Penn’s nightly fairy tale was a fun literary device. I appreciated that a story of an ordinary family trying their best to help their transgender child live a happy life could be a mainstream novel.

 

Difficult Women

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My introduction to Roxane Gay was through her novel Untamed State which my book club read and which has stayed with me since I read it. I then read her essays in Bad Feminist and began to follow her on Twitter. I saw her speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia last month when I had started, but not finished her latest offering, a collection of short stories titled Difficult Women. Given that I’ve read a lot of what she has published, I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan.

The stories in Difficult Women run the gamut, from humorous to thought-provoking to unsettling. The thread that ties them together is the grit and “I don’t give any fucks” attitudes of at least one woman in each story. Some of the stories verged on the edge of disturbing, but that lead to me to question why and included a little examination into my own ideas, experiences and beliefs. As always, Gay pushes us to think outside the box of our limited, first-person experiences.

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Her last two stories are probably the strongest. In Noble Things, the penultimate story, she imagines an America divided (again) into North and South by a fence with Florida, Texas and parts of the Midwest seceded from the Union. Given today’s political environment, that feels closer than ever to reality.

In Strange Gods she explores the story of a young woman who has been hurt by men from a young age and the impact that has on her ability to trust and expect from a partner. It is raw and like Untamed State, I think will be the story that stays with me the longest.

Like she is on Twitter, I don’t think her stories are for everyone, but if you are looking for thoughtful, provoking stories, look no further.

 

Love Warrior

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Wow. Just wow. I just finished Love Warrior and I am left speechless.  Love Warrior is a memoir from Glennon Doyle Melton detailing her life and marriage, but it is so much more than just a memoir. It is a song to every woman who has struggled with a feeling of not being enough and for those who have accepted the voice of society telling us to stay small.

I had followed Melton’s blog (Momastery)  for a long time and on the periphery I knew her story — the story that her marriage crumbled, that she went back on forth on staying or leaving and that so many of her followers felt it was their right to tell her what to do. And all the while, I saw a woman struggling with making the right choice for herself and her family with grace and openness in the spotlight. With Love Warrior she opens the door even wider to talk about what she learned about herself through that experience and the process of  reuniting her mind, body and spirit. She talks about the journey that lead her to her marriage to Craig and the “representative” self she shows to the world because early she received the message that her true self was too messy for the world.

Her honesty and willingness to share her individual experience as a way of helping all women is commendable. She does it all with amazing eloquence and golden nuggets of advice.29215173

Take the starting lines of three paragraphs in one section:

“My imagination is a jack-in-the-box”

“My depression is a dark, dense fog.”

“My grief is a solid brick wall in front of me.”

Or this:

“Growing up is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until her I am, still and naked and unashamed before God, stripped down to my real identity.”

This book would benefit many women and there are so many facets of the story that even if you don’t like one particular part, you are sure to find something else that resonates.

 

The Light of Paris

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It is no secret that Paris is one of my favorite places in the world. I dreamed of going to the city of lights from the time I was 12 until I was able to go in 2001 and I have returned two more times since then. Needless to say, books set in Paris are always of interest to me. 27833796

I picked up Eleanor Brown’s The Light of Paris with curiosity and joy and when I put it down I felt fulfilled and satisfied. The novel alternates between Madeleine in 1999 and her grandmother, Margie, in 1924. There are similarities in both women. They are stuck in archaic and bourgeois notions of what a woman’s role should be and feel suffocated by their reality and dream of escape. Both do not fit the mold of the women they are told they should aspire to be (thin, perfectly coifed, elegantly dressed, with no thoughts other than being good wives) and are instead awkward artistic women – Madeleine a painter and Margie a writer.  Margie gets the opportunity to escort a wily cousin to Europe in 1924, but when the plan goes awry she chooses to stay in Paris against her parent’s consent and wishes. Margie finds a job and falls in love with the city and a painter and I fell in love with Paris all over again with her.

Reading through her grandmother’s notebooks, Madeleine becomes inspired by her story and decides that it isn’t worth crushing herself into the mold of the luncheon ladies and begins to imagine and create a different future for herself.

Given that yesterday I was at the Women’s March in Philadelphia, finishing the story felt particularly poignant. It reminded me of how far women have come and yet the continued need to be able to create our own stories and follow our own dreams.

The Light of Paris isn’t a terribly heavy book, but it was an enjoyable and quick read. A final note – if you enjoyed The Help, you will enjoy The Light of Paris.

 

Commonwealth

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We all have authors that we love and when they publish a book there is a great excitement to see what they have to offer. But then we might read some reviews and some of those reviews might claim that the latest offering is not as good as the proceeding novels, leading us to put off reading it and worrying that the reviews will be right. Ann Patchett is one of those authors for me and yet, I found Commonwealth to be a well-written novel with well-developed characters and a plot that kept me reading late into the night.

No, it wasn’t as shocking and dramatic as Bel Canto, but Patchett is not the same writer she was when she wrote Bel Canto nor am I the same reader. But Commonwealth is just as good, if not a better, a novel than her more recent offerings. (Looking back at my past reviews of her work, I note that I compare all Patchett’s books to Bel Cant0)

What I liked about Commonwealth was the exploration of family relationships complicated by divorce and remarriage and the experiences that bind those relationships that are both intimate and distant often influenced on changing external factors. 28214365
Commonwealth centers on the Cousins and Keating children. Four Cousins (two boys and two girls) and two Keating children (two girls) are thrown together for most of their childhood summers after Mr. Cousins and the formerly Mrs. Keating marry and move to Virginia from LA. Time jumps from their childhood summers into their twenties and forties, as we track the six children along with their four parents. They deal with romantic relationships, illnesses and deaths, births and the rest of life’s moments both large and mundane in the shadow of what happened one particular summer. What is most interesting is tracking the relationships that are maintained and how the assumptions of the past fade and change.

I think readers who enjoy interesting, almost human characters and a compelling story would enjoy Commonwealth, especially if they leave any expectations at the door and just enjoy this well-written novel.

 

 

 

Fall Mysteries

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Whenever life gets overwhelming or I have a lot on my mind, I tend to fall back on reading mysteries. Maybe it’s because everything gets solved in 300 pages or because the plot will keep my mind from wandering. I’ve read three mysteries in the past few weeks and overdue for some reviews. In this post I’ll review Missing, PresumedThese Shallow Graves and The Girls in the Garden.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner was highly recommended in a number of reviews and seemed to have all the right ingredients for a great mystery — female detective, missing young woman, case with few leads, England in mid-December. But even with the right ingredients, the way it all gets pulled together is also an important factor and this book just didn’t have it. I really enjoyed Sergeant Detective Manon Bradshaw and her messy life, online dating, strong friendships and desire to help an at risk boy after his older brother and protector dies. However, the case was too Gone Girl-esque for my taste. I’m wondering if this will be a start of a series featuring SD Bradshaw and I’d be willing to give the author another shot, but hoping the crime can be less trite with a less self-centered victim.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly was $1.99 on Kindle and I figured what did I have to lose. These Shallow Graves is a historical mystery set in New York City and I found out later is really meant for the young adult category. Jo Montfort is a pretty girl from a wealthy and socially prominent family, but she aspires to greater things then parties and arranged marriages. She is drawn by the work of Nellie Bly and wants to be a journalist just like her. When her father dies suddenly, Jo is convinced there is more to the story than “an accident” and she begins to follow the trail of lies and deceit. Along the way, she hooks up with a young reporter, named Eddie, and a band of street kids who end up helping her solve the mystery. Overall it was a fun mystery, but a little long.

The Girls in the Garden was by far my favorite of the three mysteries I read. I have always been a fan of Lisa Jewell and was curious about what this mystery would be. Luckily, it still had all the tell-tale features of a Lisa Jewell novel along with an interesting “what the hell happened” (not truly a “whodunit”). Clare and her two adolescent daughters, Grace and Pip, move into a home in London that backs up to a private park for the residents surrounding the park. The park is both an oasis and a microcosm filled with age-old resentments and secrets. At the start of the novel, Pip finds Grace unconscious and bleeding after a summer party and the story begins to trace back the families move to the park and the mystery surrounding what happened to Grace.

After moving in, Grace quickly immerses herself with three home-schooled sisters along with Tyler, a troubled young girl with an absent mother, and Dylan who becomes Grace’s boyfriend. The three sisters have seemingly wonderful parents in Adele and Leo, but everyone seems either in love with or slightly wary of Leo, which makes him a frequent suspect along the way. Pip remains on the periphery as she doesn’t seem to trust this clique of kids. We also learn that the family moved to the park because their father had burned down their home during a psychotic episode and he is now hospitalized for treatment. Mix in the mysterious death of Phoebe 20 years earlier when Leo and Tyler’s mother, Cecelia, were young, and suspicions quickly arise.  I thought Lisa Jewell was at her best in this novel. The multi-layers of characters, the assumptions and slight crushes of both the adolescents and the adults made it a fun read. I don’t know that I’d necessarily categorize it as a mystery, but more of a novel with a mystery within it.

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The Woman in Cabin 10

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I love a good mystery, but hate this new spate of “mysteries” which include narcissistic characters and become hyped best-sellers (yes, I’m talking about Gone Girl and its ilk. See my review here: https://whatwouldjoannaread.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/why-i-hate-gone-girl/ )

When I heard about The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware and saw it compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I wasn’t sure I would read it (sidebar: what’s with the titles of these novels including girl or woman?). I consulted my friend, an avid reader of mysteries, who suggested I download the sample and see what I thought. I took that advice and liked the first bit enough to buy the whole book.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is an enjoyable and fun British mystery. The main character, Lo, is suffering from a bit of bad luck – her flat was burgled while she was home and while not terribly hurt, this leads to a serious of bad choices. Lo is due to leave in a few days to cover the maiden voyage of the Aurora a high end, boutique cruise ship through the Norwegian seas. Lo is a journalist working for a travel magazine and this is her chance to enjoy a perk trip518wwd6sorl-_sx329_bo1204203200_.

We quickly learn that Lo is kind of a disaster – drinks too much, is insecure, possibly screwed up her relationship with her boyfriend back in London before leaving, has anxiety and tends to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I kept thinking of Lo as a sort of Bridget Jones type, well-meaning and nice overall, but quite a disaster.

The mystery ensues when Lo borrows mascara from the woman in the cabin adjacent to hers (cabin 10) and later hears a loud noise in the early hours leading her to go out onto her veranda and see a woman being thrown overboard. Lo sounds the alarms, but the ship staff doesn’t believe her — for Cabin 10 was never occupied. As her head gets fuzzier with lack of sleep and too many cocktails, Lo receives messages to back off and stop digging. Interspersed in the chapters, we learn that Lo has not been in contact with her boyfriend or family and they begin to believe that she is missing.

Ware does an excellent job of building suspense and leading you down the path of trying to figure out what is really going on. Is Lo hallucinating in some horrible PTSD response after the burglary? Is Lo’s life in danger from digging? Who was the woman in cabin 10 and who killed her?

The story takes twists and turns and is enjoyable through the end. I recommend The Woman in Cabin 10 to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, especially a good British mystery.

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