Book Review: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

Title: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

Author: Anissa Gray

Format: Advance Reader Copy Paperback

Published: 2019

TheCareandFeedingofRavenouslyHungryGirls

This is the debut novel from Anissa Gray which was recently released on Tuesday, February 19, 2019.  Thank you to Berkley Publishing for the advance reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is an emotional, raw read.  We meet the Butler family, all of whom have to been to hell and back, and get a glimpse into the life of an American family.  The eldest sister, Althea, and her husband, Proctor, get arrested for running a charity scheme where they were taking the money and using it on themselves.  Their own daughter turns them in.  Yikes.

Althea goes on a personal journey while she is in jail and I can’t help but feel heartbroken for this broken woman.  While she is on the inside, her sisters Lillian and Viola are left to pick up the pieces with their twin daughters.  Lillian is doing all she can but can’t reach them and desperately needs Viola.  Each sister is facing ghosts from their past and through the book they work through them.  Just when you thought no one was there for you, your family ends up being what you need.

I felt so much emotion while reading this book, yet, I felt something different for each character.  Sometimes I was angry and sometimes I was sad.  After finishing this book I had to just breathe for the day before I picked up another.  I don’t feel it is a heavy read, however, it does pull at the heartstrings.  I really liked how Gray ended the book.  

We see the internal problems each character have become resolved in a manner that is absolutely appropriate for the book.  Loose, flowing ends are tied up into an appropriate bow. **I would like to note that there is no clear cut problem with a resolve, it is a story that just flows.  If you are looking for a clear cut beginning, middle, and an end with conflict resolution of an issue, this is not the book for you.  If you enjoy a book that flows and tells a tale and is a book you can reflect upon, read it!**

4 star read for me.  The vernacular used on the characters in this book was also so spot on I felt like I was transformed from my living room into theirs.  There is the use of some foul language so if you are easily offended this may not be the book for you, however, it is absolutely appropriate in each setting it is used in.  If you enjoy stories about families and the struggles they face, this book is for you!

Book Review: The Innocent

Title: The Innocent

Author: David Baldacci

Format: Paperback

Published: 2012

theinnocent

I would like to note that I read his book The Hit first, not realizing it was part of a series.  I am glad I read this book next so I could get a little background on some of the characters that were present in that book.  But on to this amazing read!

This is the book where we first meet agency employee Will Robie.  He gets called out to make a kill and when he walks in to an apartment where it’s a young mother, he freezes and can’t do it.  Something seems off.  Bullets fly through the window, killing the mother and her child, and threatening Robie’s life.  It turns out Robie’s gut feeling was right and the young mother should have never been killed.  Now Robie is being hunted by someone in his own agency to be taken out.

Who went rogue within his agency?  This book takes us on a twisty, turny tale to find out.  Along the way Robie ends up helping a 14 year old, Julie, who has just lost both of her parents.  He notices a man about to kill her on a bus and when he intervenes, saves her life.  They both get off the bus and as soon they do it explodes, killing everyone on board except them.  What is going on?

I was highly intrigued the whole story.  It was interesting to see how various events intertwined together and how Robie and Julie end up needing each other.  It was thrilling, intoxicating, and a joy ride that I did not want to see end.  It was action packed

Overall I am giving this book 5 stars.  When I read a book and go, “just one more chapter,” for 5 or so extra chapters, it’s a great read.  I enjoyed how Robie and Julie worked together and the ending was one I did not see coming.  Not even from a mile away.  It just came out of left field for me.  Wow.  It also left any loose ends tied up and made me smile.  I cannot wait to read the 3rd book in this series!  Any fellow David Baldacci fans out there?

Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Format: Hardcover

Published: 2017

 

A co-worker lent me this book and I am so glad she did!  This is not a book I would pick up on my own if a trusted colleague told me this was a good read, I am taking their word for it…and this book drew out a few tears from me!

The basic synopsis of the story is based off a true life scandal which is absolutely heart wrenching.  Five siblings are living on the river with their parents.  Their mother is pregnant and goes to the hospital with their father and while they are gone, people come and take the kids, saying their parents sent for them.  They take the children into a home and place them for adoption with wealthy families.

Yes, these people stole children, ended up finding the parents and having them sign over their rights, and then sold the children to make a profit.  Disgusting.  We follow their lives through the adoption agency (where they aren’t treated nicely) and when they get adopted out (and what eventually happens to the agency).

The book is told from 2 perspectives; 12 year old Rill going through the process of being stolen and adopted in the late 1930s/early 1940s and present day Avery Stafford, a born into wealth and privilege woman with a budding career in politics.  Avery starts to suspect something may be off with her grandmother and starts to do some investigative work.  I don’t want to say much more because that will ruin the surprise of the story.

I will add there is the perfect touch of romance in this story.

This is a 4 star read for me.   It is a gut punching, sad, true life read that you can’t help but end up smiling at the end.  Despite the horrible events that happen surrounding children, it still makes you feel good with the present day ending.  Some family secrets are scandalous, and this certainly is one, but, in the end it is one of pure happiness.  You won’t regret picking this book up for yourself!

 

Book Review: It Ends With Her

Title: It Ends With Her

Author: Brianna Labuskes

Format: Kindle Edition

Published: 2018

I hate to admit it, but, I am really starting to love reading books on the Kindle app.  Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE the feel and smell of books in my hand, however, Kindle is allowing me to have exposure to books I would never pick up in a book store myself.  Dare I say I even want to buy my own Kindle now?  Oh the person I have become…on to It Ends With Her!

This book will be released to the public on May 1st, but, I have the honor of being an Amazon Prime member and gained early first read access, YES!  This was a fantastically written thriller that I had read in 2 days.

We start out by meeting Clark Sinclair, special agent.  We then quickly meet her partner, Sam.  They are on the case of a serial killer, a serial killer who mocks them.  This serial killer always sends out clues and gives them a chance to find him and his hostage before he kills them.  They have failed three times and now he has sent clues again which means he has his fourth victim with him.

Clarke had moved to a desk job in a field office and was brought back when the killer left the message, “Catch me if you can, Clarke. Don’t worry, I won’t be gone for long.”  It took some convincing of Sam to get her back on the case but he was successful and here she is, hunting down this killer.

Clarke is really taking this case personal and is determined by any means necessary to stop this insane killer.  She goes and picks up a package in a small Texas town and is then greeted by a cell phone, from the killer, in her hotel room.  She has an assistant look up information about the cell phone and fails to tell Sam about where she went when she got the package and then again about having the phone.

Without giving too much again they eventually start to figure out more clues and end up in Pennsylvania.  They appear to be the same town as the killer and are up around the clock trying to decipher clues.  The ending caught me by surprise.  I thoroughly enjoyed the twist that someone who probably only reads thrillers would have been able to guess, but, for the casual thriller reader, was a complete surprise!

Overall, I give this book a 4.  It was solid and kept me turning the pages!  This book also provided interesting perspective as we saw things from Clarke’s perspective, the killer’s past, and the hostage’s perspective.  All together it made for an interesting thriller which left me on the edge of my seat!  If you plan to read this book or have already read it, let me know what you think!  Next week I will be reviewing my advance copy of Allison Pearson’s How Hard Can It Be, see you in a week!

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Format: Paperback

Published: 2014

 

I came across this book thanks to eBay.  Living in Las Vegas I miss out on Mom & Pop bookstores and nothing beats browsing a good used book store, so I resort to doing this digitally.  Although after I purchased this book I noticed a new, used store opened up a few miles away from me, so I will have to check them out!

This book starts off with saying Lydia is dead, but they don’t know it yet.  Ok, I’m in.  The teenage daughter in this family of 5 goes missing and is eventually found after a few days, dead.  This book goes into secrets within a family that they have never told each other.  The secrets have been keeping the family together (unhappily) and then tear them apart when they start to become told.

This book also tackles the subject of mixed relationships in a time where they were looked down upon.  The wife is a white woman and the husband is Chinese. They have three children; Nathan, Lydia, and Hannah.  The amount of secrets and feelings this family hides from each other is unreal.  I just want to take everyone and put them in therapy so they talk to each other!

The book takes us on a journey where all the secrets are pieced together to understand everyone’s actions and reactions.  Many of the family members assumed family members felt a certain way and that is what led them to do the things they did.  In the end once everyone grasps the fact that Lydia died, they start to turn around.  It unfortunately took a death to turn it that way.

We get an insight on a struggling family who not only is dealing with being “different” from everyone else, but, having the same issues that many American families tend to have.  The secrets have been causing pain to the individual who has kept them, and then once they are told they cause pain to others.

In the beginning of the book I was hooked.  My interest started to wane.  I kept reading because I was invested and was curious to know how she died.  The chapters went on forever (in the 292 pages there are only 12 chapters).  This is not a book you can pick up quickly and read a chapter or two at a time; you need to make sure you have dedicated time to read a chapter.  I felt forced to continue to read this book until the end when my interest picked back up.  You start to see the family come together instead of being lonely and apart and I had been screaming for that the entire time.  I am happy that Ng lets us know exactly how Lydia dies in the end of the book.  There would have been a huge void without it.

Overall, I give this book a 3.  I forgot a lot of the middle part of the book which highlighted the past of the parents which they swore they would never bring up.  Side note: bring them up in your own relationship or you’ll end up like this family in which it had to take a tragedy to truly bring them together. If you have read this book let me know your thoughts, it received high praise from The New York Times, I just did not have the same opinion as them.  Next week I will be reviewing an advance copy of It Ends With Her by Brianna Labuskes thanks to Amazon First Reads!  Catch you next Thursday!

Book Review–The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

Title: The Shell Seekers

Author: Rosamund Pilcher

Format: Electronic

Written: 1984

Published: 2013 [Date of Kindle release]

 

This is a classic book; it invariably shows up on Top 100 lists and if you mention it to a woman who is older than 35 you’ll likely get a breathlessly enthusiastic recommendation.   “Oh! The Shell Seekers! That’s one of my favourites!”

When it was released for Kindle earlier this month I decided I’d download it and give it a re-read.   I’d read it in the distant past and didn’t remember much about it at all.  I DID know that I’d given it one star on GoodReads but had no written review.  I decided to see what I had so disliked previously and if I still disliked it now.

A Rosamund Pilcher book is famously hard to describe simply because nothing very earth shattering ever happens.  You watch people go about their lives in a plodding manner.   Cozy cottages and delicious meals are described in detail and tiny conversations happen throughout.   A true Rosamund Pilcher book is somewhat like being dropped wholly clothed but invisible into the everyday lives of a group of British people.

The folk at the center of this story are the family and friends of Penelope Keeling, a woman who is just released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack when the book opens.    Penelope is the daughter of noted painter Lawrence Stern and has inherited a few works of his that have gone up in value considerably.   The book takes its title from his last and most personal painting, The Shell Seekers.

The story itself covers the whole of Penelope’s life in a time-shifting narrative structure that illuminates her life for the reader.   It focuses primarily on the idyll of Britain between the two world wars, the changing life in Britain during the late 1970s/early 1980s and the evolution of life in Britain during World War II.   Pilcher’s style of story-telling makes these eras and the people in them come alive.

My difficulty as a reviewer is in giving the book a particular score.   If I evaluate the story purely on its technical merits there is little doubt that I’d have to give it at least a 4.5.   I found myself unable to put the book down, always wanting to know what happens next to Penelope and her family.   The fact is, however, that Penelope and her family are some of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met in a work of fiction, and that includes a body of reading which covers a lot of books with serial killers, spies, dark wizards and tyrants.   As loathsome as Voldemort, Ed Gein and Hitler are they really have nothing on the general disgustingness of Penelope and her children.    All of them are materialistic to a fault, valuing things either for their monetary worth or their bohemian cache.  Penelope dislikes her children and fobs her eldest daughter off on a housemate to raise yet characterises that same daughter as selfish and materialistic.

The bulk of the book’s driving action is of this family as it schemes and plots to get the valuable artworks sold and divvy up the money.   So it’s a technically brilliant story focusing on an absolutely horrible group of people.

How does one rate a book like that?    In the past I’d rated it one star.  On reflection I think that I have to herein give this novel a rating of 4.   It’s a trick, I think, for an author to be able to tell a story so compelling that I read it in spite of the characters involved.   It’s an even greater trick for an author to have used a time-shifting narrative to get her reader to understand how her characters evolved into the people they became.  The fact that I ended the book with tears in my eyes speaks to Pilcher’s fantastic skill as an author.   Still and all, I can’t give this one a 5 just because those hateful people really detract.

4 bookworms

Book Review–Six Years by Harlan Coben

Title: Six Years
Author: 
Harlan Coben 
Format: 
Electronic / Kindle 
Published:  2013

 

Harlan Coben writes three types of fiction now.  He has his ongoing mystery/thriller series with protagonist Myron Bolitar which chug along in a workmanlike fashion.  He’s recently jumped on the “I want that money too!” bandwagon of Young Adult fiction by creating a series around Bolitar’s nephew.

Six Years is one of the third type of Coben book; a stand-alone suspense thriller.   I first became aware of Coben a decade ago when his third stand-alone novel (Tell No One)  topped the charts.     Since then I’ve read all of his stand-alone books and enjoyed them.     Six Years  would probably fall in about the middle, quality- and enjoyment-wise.

The book’s protagonist, Jacob Fisher, tells the story in first person past-tense.  You spend the entire book riding alongside him while the events unfold.  As with most other stand-alone Coben thrillers, it’s a tale of an average guy with some sort of heartbreak in his past.  In this case, Fisher’s soul mate Natalie dumped him suddenly to marry her previous lover, extracting a promise from Fisher on her wedding day that he never try to find her and her husband again.   Six years later (hence the title) Fisher sees an obituary for Natalie’s husband on his employer’s alumni website.    He attends the funeral hoping to see Natalie again.

When the widow at the graveside service is not Natalie but another woman altogether we fall down the rabbit hole with Fisher, looking for Natalie and looking for answers to a rapidly mounting pile of questions.

The thrill of these types of novels comes from the high curiosity factor.  I plow ahead to find out what happens next and what on earth is behind it all.   That means that the more transparent the mystery the less of a thrill the book is.      Unlike Coben’s best works, the mystery is fairly easily sorted midway through. But it does take a bit longer to suss out than the simplistic webs of his lesser works, so I’d say all in all Six Years is a strong middle entry.

What to rate it?  Well, that’s where things get as complicated as a suspense thriller plot.  I’d honestly give this book two seperate ratings.

If you are just reading it around home or on lunch breaks in dribs and drabs I’d give it three bookworms.

3bookworms

However…

Let’s say you’re on an airplane for five or six hours, in a chair on a beach under an umbrella or in the waiting room of a hospital while a loved one is having outpatient surgery.   In THAT case this is definitely a four bookworm book.    This is the kind of thing that works well for reading in those scenarios where you want to have your attention completely focused on something that compells you and takes your mind off the tedium but doesn’t require a huge lot of brainpower.
4 bookworms

Book Review–The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy & Hard Times

Title: The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy & Hard Times
Author: 
Jennifer Worth
Format: 
Electronic / Kindle 
Written:  2009

Published:  2009

This memoir may seem like an odd choice for a book review on Easter Sunday.  I was looking through the books I’ve  read recently and trying to decide which one should receive the treatment this week.   I considered the many fictionalised accounts of the Life of Christ I’d read over the years.  I considered some of the books focusing on the Spring fertility rites of non-Christian religions.  I considered a couple of books dealing with Passover.   So how, exactly, did I end up with this title?

Much like Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs (reviewed by me here), this is a memoir that gave birth to a popular British television drama–in this case BBC1’s hit Call The Midwife.   I binge-watched Series 1 on Neflix Instant and found myself craving more.  I wanted to read the stories behind the stories and so I downloaded this first in a trilogy to my trusty Kindle.

The book is Jennifer Worth’s recounting of her time as a nurse-midwife attached to, but not a practicing  member of, a convent of Anglican Nuns in 1950s East London.   Babies are born, not born, made and unmade in these pages and the stories of those births are captivating in their own right.  But Worth takes the book a step further and introduces the reader to the poorest of the poor huddled in the capital city of one of the wealthiest empires in history.    We come to know the byways of the impoverished East End.  We find our way bicycling past bomb sites that are piles of rubble a decade after the blitz and  now home to addicts and prostitutes.  We meet the living dead refugees from the cruel and inhumane workhouses who are left to fight to live their remaining years amidst the squalor of condemned buildings.

Through all of this we see the nuns responding with grace and the hearts of servants.  Each Sister has her own personality uniquely suited to the challenges of midwifery among the poor.

So that’s why I chose this book for Easter.  It’s as good a picture of the purpose of Easter as I can think, watching how the nuns of Nonnatus House and the nurse-midwives they train respond to the stuff of life.    It is grace in action.  It is new life–the story of springtime and Eostre.  It is a living picture of the Hearth Goddesses.  It is an example of death passing over a people.

In other words, it’s the  perfect book for anyone to read in celebration of this season.

I’m giving it a 5.

3bookworms2bookworms

Book Review–Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Title: Pope Joan
Author: Donna Woolfolk Cross
Format: Electronic
Written: 1996
Published: 2009

The Popes have been in the news a lot in recent weeks; all the news channels were infatuated with all things Papal as they waited on the white smoke.  I get it, being kind of a Papal junkie myself.    A few years ago I went on a binge of Pope books–there are a surprising number of fictional accounts of various people becoming the Holy Father.   It’s sort of like winning the religious lottery and I’m a fan of lottery-winner books.*  Oddly enough, I missed this particular Pope story in that last whipround and when someone mentioned it in passing a couple of weeks ago I knew that I had to read this book.  

I mean, what’s not to love?  It’s got feminism, religion, medieval medicine, romance and animals.   In fact, it was eerily like someone sat down with a checklist of Katherine Coble’s Favourite Literary Tropes and penned a novel against it.  You’d think, of course, that I’d just be delighted and rapturously raving about it.

Sadly, that isn’t going to happen.

Pope Joan is a novel based on the legend of the only woman to hold the office of Pope in the Roman Catholic church.   The legend is routinely denounced by the Vatican; it’s dismissed as Protestant propaganda and an attempt to undercut the church by showing the Pope as a mockery.   Whenever they say that, however, I’m bemused.   Frankly the idea of a woman disguising herself as a man and dedicating her life to the service of God isn’t something I’m inclined to mock.  In fact I’m pretty much of the mind that that is one of the coolest things ever–barring, of course, the fact that she had to choose between her God and her genitalia.

The novel takes the few facts which are known about the woman who lived as John Anglicus in the mid-ninth century and embroiders upon them.   It started out compellingly, with a prologue as gripping as any I’ve ever read.   From that opening scene with Joan’s bloody birth into freezing England the book moves briskly through her childhood and follows each turn of events that shapes the unloved youngest child of a craven priest and his Saxon mistress into the devout scholar.

The book is entirely readable and I don’t want to discourage you from looking into it if you’re in the mood for some Dark Ages fiction.   But I will say that I’m not giving it any higher rating than three worms because of this:      The initial part of the story which focuses on Joan’s childhood with her family was so good.  I really came to care about her and wanted to keep knowing her.  But after spending hours of time with Joan I not only didn’t care one iota about her and was actually kind of sick of her in the end.   Past a certain point in the story it was as though Woolfolk-Cross stopped caring about writing a compelling character and just decided to stick in a bunch of stick figures that would let her pontificate (ooh! good topical pun, me!) about feminism, faith, doubt and all those weighty topics.

Hey.  I’m smart enough to want to pick up a book about history.  Let me be smart enough to intuit your message without stopping the action to give tortured paragraphs about how awfully women were regarded and treated  and how that made baby Pope Joan cry.   After awhile I really wanted to just skim because I couldn’t take going from three or four pages of decent story into a dead-end of repetitious rhetoric.

The other issue I had was the completely squickish love story.   I don’t want to get into too much spoiling detail but I found the central relationship between Joan and her Stock Love Interest to be incredibly disturbing.   That, I think, as much as the screediness of the latter half of the book is what detracted for me.

I suppose I would say that if you’re truly curious and truly into reading the religious version of a Cinderella story this book might be worth your time.   I’d definitely encourage you to borrow it from the library though.

Three bookworms it is.  3bookworms

*There are also a surprising number of those.

Book Review–Elimination Night by Anonymous

Title: Elimination Night
Author: Anonymous
Format: Electronic-Kindle
Written: 2012
Published: 2012

 

When books like this are written by “Anonymous” it feels exciting.   I automatically think “what’s so scandalous that the author is afraid to put her name on?!”  And of course if you’re anything like me that curiousity sends you between the covers lickety-split.

In this case the premise of the book is that it is a thinly-veiled roman ‘a clef about the behind the scenes world of American Idol.    That veil is VERY thin with this book; in spots it’s entirely see through.    Ryan Seacrest becomes ‘Wayne Shoreline”; that’s about the degree of creativity we’re dealing with here.

Since I haven’t really watched Idol in the last ten years, I had trouble deciphering some of the characters.   It took me three pages to realise that Joey Lovecraft was Steven Tyler; half a page to suss out Bibi Vasquez as the alter ego of Jennifer Lopez.   That right there is the most entertaining part of the book, trying to figure out who is allegorical with whom.

The rest of the book is an uneven journey.   In places it’s  over the top in so extreme a way that you feel you might be reading urban fantasy.   When I read that Joey Lovecraft survived a parachute-less  jump out of a plane over Manhattan, for instance, I don’t laugh.  I just roll my eyes at the trying-too-hardness of it.   In other places it’s downright insulting.  One extended scene that ostensibly plays for comedy has the Steven Tyler character in nervous-breakdown mode because he is terrified of “midgets” after a bad acid trip at the circus.    The word “midgets” is highly offensive to little people and its inclusion here does nothing to broaden the story but does everything to have me think far less of Anonymous.   But it does get to the core of the book, which is that the author seems to think that as long as she’s funny, nothing else matters.    Unfortunately she’s not that funny.

The book is narrated by a young woman named Sasha who is called “Bill” by everyone in the show since she’s filling in for her boss, Bill.   She’s supposed to be the Everyman with a front-row seat to the Crazytown shenanigans, but she’s as uninteresting as any of the other characters and at times borders on outright unlikable.  That leaves me as a reader with nobody to root for, which means the only reason to continue with the story is to get plummy gossip about the world of American Idol.

If you are a die-hard fan of American Idol or very into reality shows in general it’s possible that you may have a slightly more enjoyable reading experience simply because there are tidbits about the craft of making reality heightened for dramatic tension.    The book won’t be any funnier, the characters won’t be any more likeable.  But you’ll at least come away with some possibly passably interesting insights into how a karaoke competition becomes compelling television.

I found this to be a one worm read.  Die-hard Idol fans may get as many as two worms out of it.  But I’m sticking with ONE.bookworm

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