Powered By Blogger

Monday, April 30, 2018

Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling

Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling
Published by Twelve ISBN 9781455541898
Trade paperback $13.99, 256 pages

Joanne Serling's novel Neighbors is set in a leafy suburb of Boston, where we meet four families, all in their forties. Their kids play together, they share dinners and parties and gossip and friendship.

The story is told through the point of view of Nicole, who is married to Jay, a man who loves to talk about the looming economic doom facing the world. Nela works long hours as a corporate attorney while her husband Drew, who owns a baseball card store, handles most of the socializing. Lorraine is a divorced mom of two, who dresses impeccably, loves tennis and likes to boss everyone around. She always knows the scoop.

Paige is unpredictable. She likes to run all the gatherings, has a spectacular home, and at a Leftovers Day celebration after Thanksgiving, announces that she and her husband Gene are adopting a four year-old Russian girl. Everyone is surprised, but happy for them.

When Paige and Gene bring Winnie home after a month in Russia, Nicole, Nela and Lorraine stop by their house bearing gifts. Winnie is a lovely, shy little girl, but when they arrive home, Paige seems very uptight. She has a lot of rules for interactions with little Winnie- don't say "real parents", say "biological parents". Don't say that Winnie was "given away". Don't talk about her lazy eye.

Nicole is delighted to meet Winnie, but soon it becomes apparent that there are problems. Paige tells odd tales of their time in Russia. She is short-tempered with Winnie, screaming at her for small things, correcting her behavior rudely in front of everyone.

Gene takes time off from work to spend time with Winnie, whom he clearly adores. But things go downhill quickly. Paige interacts less and less with Winnie, spending more time at yoga or shopping. She doesn't bring Winnie to the neighborhood gatherings, then fires her longtime nanny.

Soon Paige stops interacting with her friends. She locks herself and Winnie up in the house and refuses to speak to anyone. Nicole, Lorraine and Nela become worried for Winnie and Paige.

Since the story is told from Nicole's point of view, we also get a glimpse of Nicole's dysfunctional family. Her sister Penny is an alcoholic, and she calls Nicole crying about her life and asking for money. Nicole's mother calls and complains about Penny, and berates Nicole for not being a better daughter.

I found Nicole's family story very compelling, and wished there had been more about it. Nicole feels guilty for not being there for her mother and sister, but what she is doing is not helping their situation either.

Fans of Lianne Moriarty's Big Little Lies will enjoy Good Neighbors. Reading it made me feel like I was in the neighborhood, peeking out of my curtains watching this group of friends try to figure out what is happening to their friend.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Joanne Serling's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Review Tour:

Monday, April 16th: Novel Mom Blog and @novelmombooks
Tuesday, April 17th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, April 18th: @readingandranunculus
Thursday, April 19th: 5 Minutes for Books
Friday, April 20th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, April 23rd: Clues and Reviews
Tuesday, April 24th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, April 25th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Thursday, April 26th: The Sketchy Reader
Monday, April 30th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, May 1st: Eliot’s Eats
Wednesday, May 2nd: Novel Gossip
Thursday, May 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, May 7th: Books & Spoons
Tuesday, May 8th: Jessicamap Reviews and @jessicamap
Thursday, May 10th: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Two Great Spring Titles

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Spring is always an exciting time of year for readers. Publishers release some of their best books, and this year is certainly no exception. There are two authors who have a long body of outstanding work, and their newest books top the list of the best reads of the season.
March is the month for a new book in the popular Maisie Dobbs series by British author Jacqueline Winspear. Readers first met Maisie Dobbs as World War I had just broken out, and Maisie becomes a nurse on the front lines in France, where she is severely injured. 
She returns home to London and studies under her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, a private investigator and psychologist. Maisie eventually opens up her own agency, and we meet several of her family, friends and coworkers in each successive book.
In the 14th book of the series, To Die But Once, Maisie is back in 1940 London as Britain is getting pulled into World War II. A family who owns the local pub has hired Maisie to find their son, who was last seen working for a company that uses flame-retardant paint on buildings to protect them in case they get bombed by the Germans.
Maisie and her team must discover what happened to the young man. At the same time, Maisie is in the process of finalizing the adoption of young Anna, an orphan from Spain who is currently in the care of Maisie’s father and stepmother. As Maisie is a widow, the powers-that-be are reluctant to allow the adoption.
The young men in the story — the two sons of Maisie’s investigator, Billy, and the two sons of her best friend, Priscilla — are of age to fight in the war. That frightens everyone who lived through the horrors of World War I.
The rescue of the British soldiers at Dunkirk plays out in the story. Priscilla’s son and his best friend take a boat to join the armada of British fishing boats and pleasure boats to help, and they are in danger.
Winspear always does a great deal of research for each of her books, and her father’s story of painting flame retardant to buildings inspired the main story. To Die But Once is vintage Maisie Dobbs, and it’s great to see Maisie interacting with Billy and Priscilla after the last few outings took her alone to Germany and Spain. We missed all of her old friends. Fans of historical mysteries and strong female characters will love this one.
Anna Quindlen writes contemporary fiction, and her latest is Alternate Side. Nora, her husband, Charlie, and their twin children, Rachel and Oliver, live in a lovely home on a rare dead-end street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 
Charlie is in finance, but the time has passed when he will become top-tier in his world. Nora is the director of a small museum of jewelry, and the twins are seniors away at college.
The most exciting thing to happen to Charlie is that he has finally been awarded a coveted parking spot in the small outdoor lot on their street. All of the men on the street want a spot there, and those that have one have a certain level of prestige.
One of the neighbors, George, takes it upon himself to be the mayor of the street, dropping off missives at everyone’s home with instructions on everything from parking to what kind of flowers to plant. Nora and most of the other women can’t stand him.
Ricky is the handyman on the street, taking care of everything from a clogged drain to a furnace that needs to be replaced. George and another man frequently yell at Ricky when he parks his van on the street, partially blocking the entrance to the parking lot.
After an incident with Ricky, things spiral out of control. Sides are taken, with neighbor against neighbor, and even husband against wife.
Quindlen’s story is relevant in today’s world. We see how Nora’s interactions with Ricky, her housekeeper, Charity, and Phil, the not-really-homeless guy outside her office, reflect her conflict with the haves versus the have-nots in society. Charlie does not share her concerns, and that causes problems in their marriage.
Alternate Side is one of Quindlen’s best novels. Her commentary on marriage, parenting, identity and privilege are thought-provoking and insightful, and you feel that you could run into her characters on any street on the Upper West Side of New York.

If you read

COST: Hardcover, $27.99
LENGTH: 336 pages

PUBLISHER: Random House
COST: Hardcover, $28

LENGTH: 288 pages
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at laruediane2000@yahoo.com.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Beauty in the Broken Places by Allison Pataki

Beauty in the Broken Places by Allison Pataki
Published by Random House ISBN 9780399591655 (Publication date- May 1st)
Hardcover, $26, 244 pages

Allison Pataki's moving memoir Beauty in the Broken Places opens with a foreward by Lee Woodruff, a writer whose journalist husband Bob Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury covering the Iraq War. Woodruff has experienced what Pataki is about to recount in her book- her life changing in an instant.

Dave and Allison are heading out for a lovely Hawaiian vacation four months before Allison is set to give birth to their baby. Dave has a grueling schedule as a third year resident, and Alli is preparing for the publication of her new historical novel.

While in flight, Dave turns to Allison and says he can't see out of his right eye. She sees that his pupil is severely dialated, and Dave has a stroke right there on the plane. Three medical professionals assist Dave, and the pilot lands the plane in Fargo, ND where Dave is rushed to a hospital.

Allison takes us on the frightening whirlwind of calling his parents, brothers and then her family. She spends the night alone watching as her strong, vibrant husband lies hooked up to machines keeping him alive, praying he will live.

Dave has suffered a severe stroke, and his road to recovery will be long and difficult. In addition to his physical impairments (she has to feed him, shave him, he has to learn to walk), he has short term memory loss.

He goes from a long stay at the hospital to a rehabilitation home, and finally home to the new apartment they had rented for when the baby came. Allison's family and friends were there for her, unpacking for her, shopping, and most importantly, praying for and with her, but most of the responsibility for helping Dave rests on her shoulders.

Allison's strong faith, a touchstone for her since childhood, plays a large role in the book. Her faith guides her, and when she sends out an email asking people to pray for her, she can feel the strength that those prayers gave her and Dave.

She also wrote a series of letters titled "Dear Dave" to her husband, detailing everything that was happening and everything that she was feeling. As a writer, this was how she coped.

When their baby Lilly is born, now Allison has to take care of Lilly and Dave. The strain is incredible, and Allison takes the reader along with her on this difficult journey. Her feelings of being overwhelmed leap off the page.

Allison also takes the reader through her and Dave's courtship in college, and they were only married for eighteen months when they were tested by Dave's stroke. It takes a strong, loving relationship to make it through such a trial.

One thing that I found particularly relatable- Allison said she always felt so lucky in her life, that she was waiting for the shoe to drop. I think many people probably feel that way.

I read Beauty in the Broken Places through teary eyes for much of the first few chapters.  It is hard not to feel her fear and pain. Pataki is a wonderful writer, and after reading this emotional story of the resilience of the human spirit, I will be looking to read her fiction next.

Allison Pataki's website is here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

You All Grow Up and Leave Me by Piper Weiss

You All Grow Up and Leave Me by Piper Weiss
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062456571
Hardcover, $25.99, 352 pages
I don't remember much about the 1993 true story told in Piper Weiss's memoir You All Grow Up and Leave Me. Weiss grew up in the wealthy enclave of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and although her family did not come from money, she and her older sister attended one of the tony private girls' schools that dot that section of New York City.

Piper was not tall and blonde like most of the girls; she was barely five feet tall, and her wild curly hair stood out from the crowd of stick straight hairstyles of her classmates. Piper's mom wanted her to have something to give her confidence, like her sister, who studied acting. When a popular local tennis coach agreed to give Piper private tennis lessons because he thought she was a good tennis player, Piper's mom was excited.

The coach was Gary Wilensky, who taught tennis at the prestigious Brearley School, and gave private lessons to girls whom he thought had potential to go professional. This was the era of Monica Seles and Stefi Graf, and Wilensky wanted to coach a girl who could be that good.

Wilensky worked hard to get the girls and their families to like him. He would take the girls out to lunch after Saturday lessons, sent them Valentine's cards, and ingratiated himself to their families.

He was also argumentative, and high school friends recalled that his girlfriends sometimes had unexplained bruises. He was fired from several jobs, including from tennis camps in the Catskills. He was an odd, lonely, unmarried 50 year-old man who longed to have a family of his own.

In 2016, Piper Weiss is a journalist, and she decides to investigate Gary's 1993 death and the incident that preceded his death. It involved two women- a teenage girl he coached and her mother. Slowly, Weiss reveals more information about the incident, until the end, when she describes in detail what happened. It is heart-pounding.

You All Grow Up Without Me is also about Piper in 1993, and how difficult her teenage years were for her. I think most women can relate to her insecurities and anxieties she talks about. One incident when a boy she likes calls her for date only to discover that he called the wrong girl is heartbreaking, and again, something relatable to all.

Weiss writes honestly and from the heart, and she looks for answers as to why Gary Wilensky ended up the way he did as well as to why she, at age 38, is still unmarried with no children. I live near the neighborhood where this story took place, so I had an added level of interest here, but people who like true crime and coming-of-age memoirs should put You All Grow Up and Leave Me on your to-be-read list. I can also guarantee that you will Google Gary Wilensky to discover more about him.

Piper Weiss' website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Piper Weiss' tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, April 10th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, April 11th: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, April 12th: bookchickdi
Friday, April 13th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Friday, April 13th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Monday, April 16th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, April 17th: Jessicamap Reviews
Thursday, April 19th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Monday, April 23rd: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, April 24th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, April 25th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 26th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Friday, April 27th: Instagram: @happiestwhenreading
Monday, April 30th: Openly Bookish

Thursday, April 5, 2018

That's What She Said by Kimothy Joy

That's What She Said by Kimothy Joy
Published by Harper Wave ISBN 9780062796769
Hardcover, $21.99, 103 pages

March was Women's History Month, and I had the opportunity to review Karen Karbo's In Praise of Difficult Women, (my review here) profiling 29 women who made broke the rules and contributed to society.

This month, I had the chance to review Kimothy Joy's That What She Said- Wise Words From Influential Woman, which is a wonderful companion piece to In Praise of Difficult Women. Joy is an artist and social activist, whose signature style combines watercolor and ink pen with hand lettering.

That's What She Said perfectly combines Joy's art with her social activism. In the introduction, Foy credits her mother, the oldest of eight children born to a Mexican-American family. Her mother was the first in her family to go to college and earn a master's degree. She was an entrepreneur, a schoolteacher and a spiritual leader, and she imbued her daughter with the idea that women's "strength and resilience are limitless".

Joy profiles dozens of strong, resilient women in her book. Each woman gets two pages- one a very brief profile of her accomplishments, and the other a vibrant drawing by Joy, accompanied by a quote from that woman.

There are the usual suspects here- Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and some that may be new to the reader- Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, mathematician and computer scientist Grace Hopper, young German student Sophie Scholl who led a German Nazi resistance group, and British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

A few of my favorite quotes here are:

  • "I only move forwards, never backwards, darling."- Grace Jones
  • "I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other." - Harriet Tubman
  • "I am building a fire, and every day I train I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match."- Mia Hamm
  • "Do we have to know who's gay and who's straight? Can't we just love everybody and judge them by the car they drive?"- Ellen DeGeneres 
At the end of this beautifully designed book, there is a place to write about a woman who inspired you, making this a perfect book to give as a gift to your Mom for Mother's Day or a graduation gift for a young lady you'd like to inspire and encourage. It would be great to see some of these drawings and quotes made as posters for sale. I could see them on many a dorm room wall.
Kimothy Joy's website is here, where you can see a video about the creation of the book.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Kimothy Joy's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, April 3rd: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, April 4th: G. Jacks Writes
Thursday, April 5th: bookchickdi
Friday, April 6th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Monday, April 9th: Instagram: @jackiereadsbooks
Tuesday, April 10th: Leigh Kramer
Wednesday, April 11th: Literary Quicksand
Thursday, April 12th: Instagram: @thats_what_she_read
Wednesday, April 18th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, April 19th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, April 20th: Staircase Wit