Reviews are so important to writers, but since becoming one, I’ve discovered just how vital they are. Having read maybe thousands of books over my life, I’ll admit that I rarely posted reviews either. Again, now that I’m a writer, that lapse will change.
In an effort to up my reading quotient which I’ve found to be a lifesaving pastime, I’ve decided to read more, but not singularly from the well of familiar friends—my go-to authors—but from fresh faces–authors whom I’ve never read. The selection process is organic, incited by something I see that interests my mood, landing in my over-flowing email from marketing sources.
I purchased this book because the playful cover was so pretty with beautiful turquoise water, the title too lured me with a promise of being whisked away to somewhere warm and lovely, it had buckets of glowing reviews, and the first few words on the description were compliments of “delicious” and “richly riveting.” I should have read on. It was an impulse purchase.
Emma Straub is an excellent writer, and while I really hate throwing shade on her creative work, I need to give my real opinion. I didn’t enjoy the read. It was a downer. I didn’t want to go on vacation with unlikeable characters who were all depressed. And it wasn’t funny. About halfway through, I longed for something significant to happen, but it just never came.
As a metaphor for the entire experience, I give you a line from the book: “There was little noise except chewing and clinking of forks and knives.”
I was bored.
Spoiler alert for the rest and questions for those of you who have read it: Why was Jim fired from his job of 30 years for having an affair with an adult, consenting female? There was no sexual harassment on Jim’s part. The advances began with the woman, but we never learned her fate! Was she fired too? I get that office relationships are often not tolerated, but it seemed a harsh sentence for Jim. And poor Carmen was just dumped on by the entire family. None of them gave a crap about her. Franny was needy and in a deeply weird relationship with Charles. On the super persnickety side, there was one stupid thing that bugged me when Franny purchased anchovies at the store (the author listed the purchases) but then Franny came home and opened capers. She didn’t buy capers! They are not the same as anchovies.
The point of view and head-hopping between paragraphs was jarring at times, but for whatever reason, Emma Straub chose to do it. Like I said, she’s definitely a good writer, but for me, the story was not interesting.
I chose to read this book because I thought it would be a clever tongue-in-cheek hat tip to Downton Abbey during a Covid-like crisis. And it was.
I’m a huge fan of the Downton Abbey series and Ms. Cowan-Erskine brought me into that world for the first time in print with a fictitious family who was completely dysfunctional, arrogant, and absurd. Having a firm grasp on the subtle humor and characters from the show made it easy to step into this kind of dystopian alter-world and the book made me smile and laugh.
The plot was securely in place and the end brought twists and a very satisfying conclusion. If I had complaints, it was about the writing technique and the point of view and head hopping the author did. There were loads and loads of characters with the upstairs-downstairs thing and while I could kind of understand why Cowan-Erskine chose to do this, it was startling and difficult to get into. With no warning, she would change character point of view not only between paragraphs but sometimes within them. Often jarring, I eventually got in the rhythm and once I settled, the book felt like a nice cup of tea with a slice of cake.
I missed reading this book while I was growing up and again when my daughter read it for school. Curious, I proposed it as a selection for my book club, and here we are.
Reading it as an adult rather than as a youth or child no doubt made a difference in how I received it. As an adult, I thought the story easy to read, beautifully written, interesting, imaginative, wildly creative, and thought-provoking. If I’d been a young person, I think I might have added frightened to the list. The darkness and pain of time travel, the danger of going toward IT at Central Central might have given me nightmares. Like the hallway scene in the Wizard of Oz as the brave heroes shakingly march down the echoing chamber to meet the great and powerful Oz. IT was way worse, though. And creepy. But hey, heroes gotta be brave!
The book also screams for a young person to understand the benefits and beauty of being different. And to appreciate a world where individuality and freedom of choice are priceless.
There are lots of religious themes in the book, but ultimately, it is a book about love.
So give it up for all those timeless, wonderful messages. I’m glad I read it. Now I gotta watch the movie with Oprah.
It honestly escaped my notice that this was a book 2 in a series. I wish I had known that going in and read book 1 first – A Bad Day for Sunshine. And while A Good Day for Chardonnay could definitely be read as a stand-alone, there may have been helpful backstory in the first. I don’t know.
Argh, what did I think of this book? I hate throwing shade on such an overall creatively astounding work, but I will. First, though, I’ll tell you what I loved. The two central characters of Sunshine and her daughter Auri were wonderful! I fell in love with both of them. And Sunshine’s parents. And Quincy too. But mostly the mother-daughter relationship between Sunshine and Auri and then each of these characters as individuals.
I also loved Darynda Jones’s writing style and her incredible sense of humor. She’s ridiculously clever and made me literally laugh out loud several times. So I had those moments of smiling and thinking the book was great, but there were also lots of moments where I was confused and frustrated too. As much as adored the clever wit, comebacks, absurdity, and hilarious banter, there were times I wanted it to stop. When every character in the story is supremely quick-witted, (not to mention incredibly beautiful), it becomes too much. Levity, stabbing, levity, rape, levity, murder, levity, abduction, levity, danger, levity, kidnapping. Fresh out of surgery? Dying? Just killed someone? On the run for your life? You keep that sense of humor! Everyone is in a good mood. Cue the Indiana Jones theme music and run for the mine.
There may have been an over-abundance of plot lines to follow too. Sometimes the flips from one issue to the next made me shake my head to clear it. I forgot about a couple of them too, and when they would re-appear, I almost wouldn’t care and wanted to stick with the other ten irons in the fire. Also, this was supposed to be set in a small town, but there are times when it seemed big. You can get anywhere in about 3-4 minutes, but they had all kinds of businesses and services and schools. . . and shit tons of crime! The town should be in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
These next paragraphs are spoilers. . . Why the hell wasn’t it a problem/criminal matter that Mrs. Fairborn killed her husband and buried him in the backyard? It would be if I did that. Instead, they/cops just took sweet Mrs. Fairborn’s word that the guy was a serial killer and held her hands tearfully proud that she had dispatched him. But, hey? You think your husband killed 23 people? Did you ask him where the bodies are buried? Any thoughts? That seems like a lot! Was he a big man? What was his problem? Can we dig up your backyard? And during those decades (?)—where he killed 23 people—you didn’t suspect him and you never told anyone? That’s okay, we love you. We’ll let the teenaged Auri work on the case in the next book.
Hey, Levi. . . why do you insist on never seeking medical treatment? Sighing a bit at the machismo. The superhero thing was a lot. And Cruz, you just got stabbed several times in the gut and you’re fresh out of ICU, are there really so few lingering medical issues you can just walk out of the hospital and grab an Uber? Super smart move with no consequences I’m sure and hey, you left so you could do a noble thing, but where did all the hundreds of people holding candles come from? Who coordinated that when no one was 100% sure where you were? Nice timing for the small town to come out by the hundreds all at the same time in case you were going to go to xxx. Did Levi poke his head up over the hill? How was he involved? And how did Grandma and Grandpa sneak up on that hike?
Also, Sunshine never slept. And I find it super hard to believe that no one looked inside (Mrs. Fairborn, Auri) the necklace. Those old-fashioned cameo types almost always opened. It seems obvious. But also, how big was that piece of paper that was stuck inside with a will? It’s a necklace.
Oh! And maybe I read this wrong, but while Sunshine was taking a shower in the hospital, Levi comes into the bathroom and holds her while she finishes shampooing her hair. . . which would mean she was naked. No mention of this big heart-pounding sexy moment was made. Did I read that wrong? For all the chemistry and yearning between these two characters, this might have been a thing—he saw/held her naked. (Kindle reading issue here—I can’t go back and find it. If I were reading this in paperback I could. Argh.)
I could go on listing my issues, but I won’t. Because I’m mad at myself for even making the list. My inability to look the other way when something isn’t logical is part of my downfall. It prevents me sometimes from just shutting off my mind and enjoying the pleasure of the journey.
Because all in all, it was a nice read.
Familiar Friend – John Grisham – Camino Island
As an author myself, I was intrigued by the premise of a big Princeton library-based heist, somehow involving a young novelist and a bookstore owner. Bada-bing, Bada-boom. Let’s go.
But now that I’m done, I must say I had a few issues. I was a bit angry when I finished the book, and a little frustrated now that I can’t rant about the problems that irritated me at the end without doing spoilers. How do I say this in code? I threw a bunch of questions at the air, asking things like what about this, or what about that, why didn’t they do this and why that? Argh. You’ll need to read it for yourself.
I’d read almost all of Grisham’s books over the years but had taken a break. That said, I consider his story-telling abilities some of the best I’ve read. And A Painted House, (among others, I suppose, now that I think about it), is an all-time favorite read.
Overall, the story was well told, but I did get a bit bored with the main character, Mercer. Her sadness over her life and issues was somewhat annoying, too. She wasn’t a high energy kind of gal, didn’t really have any friends, wasn’t close with her family. But the plot was great, and I went along for the ride.
As a superfan of Grisham, I’ve got a shelf load of expensive hardbacks and the credit card receipts to prove it. I dove into Camino Island expecting to be fully entertained, but also stumbled somewhat early on, when the MC (main character) recaps her own writing, book tour, and publication failures with a. . . Yes, dammit, I made it to the Olympics but I-didn’t-win-the-gold stomping of the foot. MC/Mercer found an agent and publisher in her early 20’s, was published, (but sigh, only 8,000 hardback copies in the first printing, double that in paperback. . . it was deemed “respectable”), became a small phenom, was nominated for more than one major literary prize, and was a critical success. “The Times chose it as one of the ten best books of the year.” But those accolades were poo-poohed, trumped by the unattended book signings which left a mark on her abilities and ego. . . more on that later.
By some standards, those first efforts might be considered a valuable contribution, a writing, if not a publishing, success. But not by the MC. . . or was this Grisham’s view? It puzzled me by whose yardstick we were working from, but not overly concerned, I read on.
The tiny island of Camino was apparently a mecca for successful authors. The place was crawling with them, and they liked nothing better than to bitch about other authors, and wait for it. . . especially the smelly, and generally unworthy, self-published kind.
“They crank ‘em out, post ‘em online, call themselves writers.”
Disparagements go further, calling them pains in the ass, and, as a self-published author, I was again brought up short. Were these the MCs opinions, or Grishams?
Also, maybe I’ve run in the wrong circles, but I’ve never personally experienced authors being anything other than supportive with one another. In the book though, they trash talk about one another’s “really awful crap” behind their backs. Maybe, because the characters have all won the lottery and been discovered by agents and landed publication deals, they get to bitch about others who are “in the club” too.
“With the internet everybody is a now a published author…”
The self-published books go on a table at the back of the store referred to as the “slush pile”.
After a pattern for super-harsh trashing of self-published authors was established, I began to wonder if Mr. Grisham recalled when he was peddling his first book, A Time to Kill, reportedly rejected 28 times. Let’s harken back to how the world looked for him in 1988. Home computers were just becoming a thing, the long-tone dial up to AOL began in 1985, and Amazon didn’t exist until 1994. Had he the option of a self-publication experience back then, would he have taken it?
Lastly, I would mention to Mr. Grisham that self-published or not, writers are almost all, great lovers of books. They are your audience, too, and hold dear a special tale like no other.
I just had to say all this, in case it was Grisham, rather than the MC, who was looking down the nose forgetting he came from the same pen-in-hand, ass-in-chair position as his fellow writers who are only trying to find their own way, on their own path, toward creative fulfillment and publication.
Will I read Grisham again? Of course I will. But I’m not as happy with him as I was before. Now that I write and read, the world looks different, and I don’t like my self-publication choices being ridiculed by the king. Even if it is fictionalized.
Maybe Grisham’s next storyline can be about registered nurses bitching about LSNs being unworthy creatures. Or about the cliched snobbery of the Ivy-leaguers feeling superior to all other college goers. “They’re so cute for trying.”
Hmm, maybe I’m taking this too personally, but then, my life is rather personal to me. This review is obviously from my own personal perspective, but I’ll stop now.
Rant over. The end. I wish Grisham well.
Fresh Face – Guy Gavriel Kay – Under Heaven
A required read from my book club, I was initially concerned about the length of the book—592 pages in print—but I shouldn’t have worried. It wasn’t a burden to get through it, it was mostly a delight. I couldn’t wait to finish to find out how it would end, and then hand it off to my husband who I knew would enjoy it too.
Criteria I use to judge a book worthy of my husband’s time would be a great, well-written tale with depth of character and world building. Terrific plot arcs, too. I check-marked all those boxes and knew he would be as swept away as I was. It was languid reading and written like a long, often beautiful, sometimes violet, magical fable.
And the thing is, if I were to grumble over something so well-researched and built, it might reflect an unappreciation of the wonderful work. I think both irritation and wonderment can be true at the same time. I found inconsistencies that bothered me. Questions about events that seem overly far-fetched—and I’m not even talking about magic. I didn’t understand the significance of one blond character in a brothel. I kept waiting for her to reappear or for the author to make his reason for giving her a point of view known. It did not happen. Was she someone who would come into book 2 and the author is supposing we will remember? The book was sometimes tedious and redundant going over and over the philosophy of thinking. While originally tickled and charmed, I began to get annoyed and really just wanted the book to end. Stick to the plot! About three quarters in, the author begins to voice the drama from a more omniscient point of view with constant portends beginning with . . . “Long years after. . .”, or “He would remember that day. . . .” But then he goes back to the character’s point of view and the action and the story continues. Since I could see that the book had a ways to go, I was irritated with the denouement-type lingo. And broad statements like if Tai hadn’t met Roshan on the road stuff. I couldn’t make that math work. Also, 250 horses? Um, anyone got 250 arrows handy during war? Horses are not bullet-proof, right? I could go on. I made notes. Often, those notes had exclamation points. Some of the loose ends were managed in the epilogue, some not.
Another—presumably strictly personal—bad part came when I began humming the theme from Mulan in my head about halfway through the read. “Let’s get down to business. . . “, the song was relentless like an earworm I couldn’t shake.I also flashed on my time with Memoirs of a Geisha and Shōgun with the samurais, and oddly, the little kids dressed as ninjas that Andy controlled in Parks and Recreation while in the character Johnny Karate.
Those weird bits aside, I’d never read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay and was interested that there was a Book 2 in this saga. River of Stars will probably be read. After all, nothing is better than a good story that doesn’t end.
Full disclosure, I’ve been a superfan of Lee Child for as long as I can remember and have read every single Reacher book he has written. And, I will continue to purchase and read about that character until Mr. Child stops writing about him. These books are good versus evil, and I don’t believe I spoil anything when I say good always wins. It’s the reason I go back to this somewhat formulaic and enjoyable experience. I adore Jack Reacher. Except for the casting of Tom Cruise. Whyyyyy, Hollywood. Reacher is 6’5” and 250, and. . . never mind.
I’d taken a break from reading because of my hectic schedule and because I was fully immersed, writing my own novels. Other writers and I often joke that writing and editing can ruin your reading enjoyment. You look at books through a different lens and are constantly critiquing the words, style, plot, character development, etc. That said, reading has been one of the most enjoyable and life-saving pastimes in my life, and I am determined to recapture that part of my joy. Picking up a Reacher book, I thought, would surely bring the love back.
But. . . the plot problems with this one rankled me. Going in, I knew there would be leaps of faith required because Jack Reacher is an almost magical kind of guy with superhuman-like skills, and circumstances and fate always fall in line for him as he battles evil.
As a writer though, my eyes were popping wide, re-reading sections, not understanding why Lee Child gets away with so many plot issues. Like I said, it had been quite a while since I picked up a Reacher book, but did the other Reacher books have so many of them?
Potential spoilers here. . . where the hell are all the street cameras? The police will look at all kinds of videos later, and maybe Reacher won’t be found (because he is always in the wind at the end), but the other conveniently-placed, unquestioning, and capable superheroes who live in the town who Reacher happened to meet, live there. Consequences? Hey, you need a character who can speak five languages? No problem – he’s down the street and can come right over. He’ll put his life on the line too and won’t ask many annoying questions.
What about the noise from the gunfire? Sometimes this is addressed, sometimes conveniently not. What about neighbors? Sometimes they look out their windows fast when the plot calls for it, sometimes they’re non-existent like when a couple of characters need to drag dead bodies out to a car parked on the street in the middle of the day and put them in the trunk. Where are all the pedestrians in this busy town with high-rise buildings while the bodies are flying through the air? It’s like the wild west, and the action scenes take place in broad daylight while humans are either asleep or in the saloon. (Reacher also never changed clothes in this one – but that’s a trivial bit.)
The most rankling, upsetting part was at the very end. There were two characters – two bad guys – and while one is beautifully, wonderfully, fulfillingly (don’t care this is not a word) dealt with, the character other completely drops out. He’s just gone. No mention of him standing in the room, no mention of what happens to him. It’s a loose end, I screamed at the page. No! Did I get it right? I went back and searched three times. Yup. Lee Child just dropped him like he never existed.
All I’m saying is that other authors wouldn’t get away with what Lee Child can. It’s a paradox. The writer has built a fan base that is willing to look the other way. And Mr. Child has earned it. But damn, the end was really upsetting. Lee Child is a superb writer; it didn’t need to happen.
I just finished binge-watching. . . I mean binge-reading this book. But the binge-watch thing was kind of how I felt. I just couldn’t stop. Honestly though, I was getting a bit jumpy with the pace through the first half as I suffered through all the toying Ms. Chance was doing to me. She cast her line s-l-o-w-l-y and patiently, giving glimpses of things to come, each scene ending with tidbits of “If only I’d known. . .” stuff. It was maddening, in a kind of a good way, but I may have eaten too many Tootsie Rolls while the tension built. Damn you, Megan!
And then, quite suddenly. . . Boom. We were there. Megan delivered. Yup. The hook for the book, “. . . a young woman’s rise and revenge set against the backdrop of the devasting 1906 San Francisco earthquake,” was the line that sucked me in to read it. And I’m very glad I took the bait and did.
A Splendid Ruin is wonderfully written, deeply drawn, and will whisk you into another world of old San Francisco glamour, but also one of wretched pain and horrible devastation.
And revenge. Let’s not forget that. It was handily served, and oh my, Ms. Chance, you did it beautifully.
I’ve read all of the books in the All Souls Trilogy. It’s a wonderful series, and before diving into this new book, I’m glad that I’d read them.
In my opinion, Time’s Convert is not a standalone. It had been a while since I’d read the other enjoyable books in the series. During those journeys, I recall feeling almost overwhelmed with the details. . . sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Entire paragraphs deserved their own place on the history shelves, the prose was wonderful, the characters well-drawn, the plots tight. Sometimes I felt the books extremely intellectual, but I had bravely plowed forward reading hoping that some of the knowledge might stick in my wee brain.
My highly anticipated journey with Time’s Convert ended with mixed feelings. The good news first. This book earns five stars for its intense research. I’m positive Ms. Harkness did her homework and worked her ass off getting the details of the timing, settings, events, and real-life historical characters correct. I felt in safe hands and not misguided into a complete fantasy world. Vampire, witches, and daemons aside, of course. Characters like Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, and Lafayette, for example, all have dialogue, but fictitious though that may be, I felt good that the author wasn’t leading me too far astray and plucking stuff out of the air solely for entertainment. (Unlike The Crown on Netflix which I really truly thought was not wholly fiction. Is it? Angry here and digressing).
To the tougher part of my review, even though I’m American, the sections on the Revolutionary War did not interest me. During these scenes, primarily the middle section of the book, the plot felt tossed aside and the read lagged. There were so many characters, names, towns, homes, events dropped, I needed a chart. Some of those characters had their own arcs and I found I just did not care.
It was during this middle section where I found myself wondering what the book was even about. Where was Ms. Harkness going? It felt like a bunch of separate stories that bumped into one another for no purpose. Eventually I realized that the book was about the tale of Phoebe and Marcus and their vampire becomings. Phoebe’s transition was in real time, and Marcus, because he is an old vampire, is told in flashback. Interspersed between Phoebe’s grand awakening and difficulties, and Marcus’s really long backstory (how many towns did we follow him through during this book? How many years? Too many to count), there were the De Clermonts – the main family of vampires as well as the main witch character – Diana. But those wonderful characters were way secondary. They had plots and problems too, but they were side stories and led nowhere. And the thing was, I love those characters. Every single time Ysabeau enters a room I get excited. Diana’s magic is beyond cool. Baldwin is way interesting. I want to sail with Gallowglass, or at least drink with him. Had I not read the other books, I would have been totally lost on who all these people were and their relevance. I imagine Ms. Harkness had to decide about whom to write for, and she chose.
I have tremendous respect for this author and what she’s accomplished and will most likely read the next installment. Or anything else she writes, for that matter.
I’ve never read a novel by Joel Canfield, nor any of his Max Bowman series, but was intrigued by the synopsis. A CIA spy drugged and locked away in a weird community only to escape and find Trump as president and his previous, notorious life in shambles.
When I opened the book and began to read, Mr. Canfield had me at the dedication. Among other shout-outs, he thanks his friend Bruce in spite of the fact that Bruce refuses to leave an Amazon review for Red Earth because Joel made him leave a ball game early. Love it!
White Rain was a fast read. Gripping. Entertaining. Easy-to-read. Surprising. Carl Hiaasen-like complex and oddball characters abound. The plot is tight. There are twists. What more could you ask for? Oh, I know, it made me laugh out loud. I love it when I’m so engrossed in a book, the writer’s wit so clever, that he elicits such a hearty response. And I was smiling a lot too. Lots of smiles, not just barking laughter.
Thank you for the clever romp! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I’m a long-time fan and reader of Koontz books, but try to be selective about which ones I’ll read due to his ability to scare the crap out of me. I can count on a Koontz book to have heros I’ll love and villains I’ll hate, and there is usually supernatural or magical elements too which mean I can lose myself freely, taking a comfortable leap over logic and what I know is true.
Dogs, specifically Golden Retrievers, are often heros in a Koontz book too, and as a lover of this breed, I easily give my heart to any of his books featuring one of these golden beasts. And so, I chose Devoted.
Knowing I’d come across evil in his antagonist, I was still unprepared for the terror I felt during the read. Anxious and invested, however, I took breaks so I could make it through to the last to see how it would end, hoping for a good outcome. No spoilers here, but I will say there was one particular scene where evil meets the good guy that will haunt me. I’m dreaming about it. I want it out of my head. But… will I go back for more? Probably.
Koontz is a wonderful writer, no one is doubting that. He can suck you in and bring you on a ride, and whether you want to get off or not, you may not have a choice. That said, I sometimes found myself skimming some of the deeper passages, some redundancy where I felt the point had already been beautifully expressed and I didn’t need more of the same. I find myself nervous from the hubris of criticizing such a gifted author, but I’m just spitting out my truth. I’m giving it four out of five stars because of this.
I saw this fun jewel pop-up on sale at BookDoggy and after just having finished my latest Dean Koontz book, was definitely in the mood for something light and fun. I’ve read many cozies, but, I’d never read one with the paranormal element. I thought it was time to go for that ride.
Lynn Morrison writes well, the story moves along, the characters developed. The setting in Oxford was delightful to read and felt well-researched. Learning about the colleges was enjoyable. One of the primary characters – H – had a super fun accent. Every time this cat/wyvern spoke I smiled a bit, breaking down the dialect. I could hear it and felt amused.
I blew through the book during one rainy day – the perfect companion for my mood. I’d chosen this book from the thousands thrown my way because I related to a blog Lynn wrote about the writing. From Lynn:
“Writing this book saved my sanity. That is no exaggeration. I sat at home, day after day, writing my little heart out. I got an editor. I took my editorial beatings. I deleted, rewrote and rewrote again. I worked my butt off, and somewhere in those hours I rediscovered my creativity and value.”
As an author, I appreciated those words. Good book. The way it ended was bit surprising. I could recommend for all ages.