The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

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Thank you to the publisher, Flatiron Books, for a free finished book to review. All opinions are my own.

Oh, what to say about this monstrosity of a book…

When I walked down the aisle to marry my husband, all I could see in my future were rainbows and butterflies and unicorns. There was no room for storm clouds or thunder or lightening – only good and happy thoughts surrounded by pure love. I was walking towards my “happily ever after”! Years and many, many challenges later, our love has been tested over and over again. We have wondered if it would be easier to give up and go our separate ways. We have wondered if we gave up too much of ourselves in order to chase that dream of unity. We, luckily, have always been able to find our way back to each other and have never given up on each other at the same time. Our love and desire to make it work has always won out.

In The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, Joan is a woman who doesn’t have the desire to settle down, get married, or have children. When Martin proposes marriage to her, she accepts but makes him promise that children will never, ever be part of their deal. He agrees but it isn’t long before Joan finds herself pregnant with their first child, Daniel. While she isn’t immediately smitten with motherhood, Joan does find an unexpected connection to Daniel; both have an incredible talent for creative writing. She finds herself favoring Daniel over her other son, Eric, who she doesn’t understand or connect with at all. Throughout the book, Joan muses about her life before she decided to get married and have children. She was a very successful author and the demands of motherhood make it difficult for her to find the time to write. She misses being immersed in her creative life and fantasizes about the days when she will no longer be so tightly bound to her familial duties. (Read the official synopsis here.)

There’s a real beauty to Joan’s honesty and rawness. She doesn’t fall head-over-heels-in-love with motherhood; it takes her awhile to warm up to the idea at all. She sacrifices her career and ambitions while her husband’s career takes off and sends him traveling all around the world to advance his medical techniques even though they agreed that her writing would always come first. The only thing that keeps her grounded is the fact that she begins writing in secret – something her husband never even realizes. The disconnect in their marriage made my heart hurt for Joan – she’s sacrificed everything while he obliviously continues on with his own life. She is under-appreciated, ignored, and taken for granted by everyone in her life.

When it all comes to a head by a betrayal I never saw coming (no, it’s not what you think!), I was actually surprised how calm, cool, and collected Joan remained. Considering she had to have been like a pressure cooker at this point, I would have lost it! I would have gone down in a blaze of glory – not quietly booking a ticket to fly halfway around the world.

I admired Joan’s resilience and quiet strength. In the end, she handled the betrayal with such grace and I loved how she redeemed her life and found peace by the end of the book. I definitely lived vicariously through her because it’s not within my character to do some of the things she did; however, I think that made me cheer for her even harder!

I did not enjoy the short stories interspersed throughout the novel and felt it would have made it stronger (and shorter!) without the distraction. Maybe I’m not smart enough to find the hidden meanings in the passages (because I’m sure they’re there), but I found I had to force myself to actually read them instead of skimming over them. I just wanted to get back to the story of Joan!

Overall, I liked the book, but it won’t be making my All-Time Favorites List. It’s just too long and, at times, whiny (#sorrynotsorry for saying it). It requires a strong commitment from the reader because it’s so character-driven and dense that most people (besides serious book lovers) wouldn’t find themselves able to slog through. I believe the reader is rewarded in the end for that commitment, I’m just not sure how many people will care to stick it out.

 

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Cicada Summer

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Thank you to the author, Maureen Leurck, for a free finished copy to review. All opinions are my own.

“Some people don’t believe that houses have souls, but I know they’re wrong. Every person who lives in a house leaves an imprint on it, like a ghost that won’t ever leave. The tears, laughter, and smiles are all soaked into the surfaces of a house. The wood, the tile, the paint, all absorb the energy of those who live there. The house is forever witness to the peaks and valleys of those who live there. It knows the deepest sadness and the greatest pleasures of a family, and will always keep their secrets.”

When Alex buys a house in need of some serious repair, she may have gotten more than she bargained for. One thing after another continues to go wrong and before long it seems as if she’s bought the ultimate Money Pit. But her love for the house runs deep and she can’t give up on her vision of the finished product.

As she goes through the renovation pains of the house, she is also healing the pains of divorce within herself. Her husband, Matt, and her have been divorced for five years, yet every time they see each other to exchange their daughter, Abby, there still seems to be something there. As the house blossoms into it’s original beauty, will their love also rekindle? (Read official synopsis here.)

I thought this was a great beach read – it’s engaging, quick, and makes you feel good when you’re finished. It gives the reader hope that everything always works out just exactly as it’s supposed to. It makes the reader believe in love – even in circumstances that don’t deserve a second chance.

“Things and decisions are never as simple as they appear from a distance.”

And for all of those same reasons, the book didn’t work that great for me. I’m not always a fan of stories that can be perfectly packaged up in a pretty red bow. Yes, I want to believe in the fairy tale and the happy ending. But I hardly ever find them to be that realistic. This story was just too simplistic and predictable for me. I thought the characters and their interrelationships were flat and it didn’t make me care about a single one of them. I knew early on that Alex and Matt were going to end back up together, but it wasn’t in a redemptive sort of way. Honestly, how many women are going to still be pining after their ex-husband five years after they cheated on them? And if they are, it’s just not a character I can relate to in any quality sort of way.

If you’re a fan of Nicholas Sparks (I, generally, am not), this is the perfect book for you! It’s the beautiful story that proves true love can conquer and overcome all obstacles. Some people enjoy that plot, but as I get older and continue to get to know myself better, I’m realizing that I like the conflict and growth of characters more than I like the happy ending.

How about you? Do you want books to wrap up perfectly by the end, or are you ok with messy and difficult endings?

Fierce Kingdom

I didn’t know a single thing about this book when I picked it up. I assumed (based on the title, the cover, and #bookstagram) that it was an intense story that took place in a zoo (so far so good). But I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought it was a mother and her child (wasn’t sure if it was a boy or girl) trying to hide from animals that had somehow gotten out of their cages and were wreaking havoc on the visitors (umm…nope. Way, way off!). Read the synopsis here if you don’t want to be seriously confused like I was…

I found my heart pounding and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough during the first third of the book. Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, are just leaving the zoo when an active shooter situation arises. She immediately grabs Lincoln and takes off running in the opposite direction where she finds refuge for them in an exhibit that is currently empty. I couldn’t imagine the terror Joan must have felt as she had to try and keep her son calm and quiet. I instantly thought about my own children, years ago when they were that same age, and my mama heartstrings were tugged. Joan had to find the perfect balance between telling the child just enough that he understood the severity of the situation while also not telling him too much and causing him to freak out and start crying and/or screaming.

Sadly, as the story continued, it quickly began losing steam for me. I became irritated at several of the decisions Joan made and caught myself literally rolling my eyes at her. As soon as I lost that connection with Joan, the rest of the story just really didn’t matter to me anymore.

I know that I am an outlier on this one; many of my friends have loved this book! I appreciated it for the quick read that it was as that was exactly what I needed. I thought the author, Gin Phillips, did a great job of portraying the terrifying concerns a mother would have in that given situation (more so in the beginning of the book). Personally, I just thought the intensity waned quite a bit and I lost interest as it went on.

**Note: This contains serious trigger warnings. If you have anxiety of any sort when it comes to active shooter situations or with gun violence, please be aware before picking this book up!

The Roanoke Girls

Before I even begin a review, I want to say that this book is surrounded in controversy because of the main theme of the story. There are severe triggers for some people, so please be aware of those before reading this book! Even if the topic isn’t a trigger for you personally, please know that it may still invoke some extremely uncomfortable reactions. (Read the official synopsis here.)

It’s honestly pretty tough to give a good review of this book without spoilers. Basically, the Roanoke girls come from a complicated – disturbing – past that finally catches up to them. When Allegra goes missing, Lane returns to the haunted house she fled from so many years ago and confronts the truth once and for all.

“You can’t outrun what’s inside of you. You can only acknowledge it, work around it, try and turn it into something better. I may not know exactly where I’m headed, but this time I’m choosing my own destiny.”

I understand why so many people are upset with the content of the story, but it didn’t deter me from wanting to read it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but by the time I fully understood what was going on, I was already hooked. I had to know what happened! The author, Amy Engel, doesn’t sensationalize the misconduct; instead, she offers it as an explanation for the behavior of the Roanoke family members.

“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

The story is dark and twisted. While it is somewhat predictable, I found I couldn’t put this page turner down and read it just one sitting. As the familial patterns revealed themselves, I wanted Allegra and Lane to escape the horrendous lives they knew in rural Kansas and reinvent new lives for themselves. I found that I was rooting for these final two girls in hopes that the cycle would finally be broken and that they would finally know what true love and happiness means. While my wish was halfway granted, the journey to find out what happened with Allegra provided Lane the final push she needed to do better for herself and her life. I was filled with hope for her as the book came to a close.

 

A Saint for All Occasions

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As my children approach their teenage years, I’ve often wondered how they will view their childhoods once they’ve grown up; specifically, when they begin their own journeys through parenthood. As a mother, my intention is to make the best decisions I can with the information I’ve got in the moment. I, like all mothers, want the very best for my children – new experiences to open new possibilities, happy days filled with fond memories, and the knowledge that they had unconditional love every single day of their lives. Do we look like that picture-perfect, happy family every day? No. Do I lose my cool and yell at them? Yes, sometimes. But I strive to do my best every day, whether or not they know (or understand) my motives and intentions.

In the book, Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan, Nora’s mother died when she was young, leaving her feeling like she was responsible for raising her younger sister, Theresa. Because of her early role as ‘mother’, Nora was often the mature and responsible one while Theresa was much more carefree and wild. When Nora’s fiance sent for her from America, she and Theresa journeyed across the ocean to begin their new lives in Boston. (Read the full synopsis here.) What follows begins a long, and complicated, family drama that captured my heart.

As a mother – shoot, as a human being – there are so many layers and depths to us as individuals that no one else could possibly know. We bury secrets – good and bad – deep in our souls and only visit them when triggered. But there are choices made based on experiences that may have happened long ago, yet remain buried deep within ourselves, continuing to drive our decisions. As a mother, how do these past experiences drive our parenting choices? When taken out of context, do those choices look silly, controlling, or ridiculous? Yet when understood from all points, do they suddenly make perfect sense?

This story made me wonder what kind of things my children would question about my parenting choices, yet if given the full context, they’d suddenly see with a new perspective. As a rule, I’m very open and honest with my children, but I’m sure there are many things that make me ‘me’ without my conscious thought. Things that happened over the course of my life that have rooted themselves to my personality and influence the choices I make, not only as an adult, but as a person as well. There isn’t some giant secret I’m hiding like Nora and Theresa, but it still made me wonder how much you truly ever know someone. I believe it’s impossible to know every single detail that makes a person whole, yet I’m fascinated with the intricacies of those defining details.

The writing of Saints for All Occasions was beautiful and I found so many passages that I’d have to stop and read again – then underline – then re-read again. A few that made me wipe a tear from my eye. When I finished the book, I just sat on the couch, clutching it to my chest, and thought about all the complicated layers that make up a life. The story is a gorgeous depiction of life – marriage, motherhood, family, sacrifice, and grief. It was a book I couldn’t put down, yet I also found that I made myself intentionally slow down while reading it so I could savor every single detail.

 

 

The Orphan’s Tale

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When my grandma was just a young teenager, her family fled the war-torn lands of Europe for the more hope-filled promises of America. She saw and did things that are unfathomable to me, even as an adult! As my own children now approach the age she was when she walked out of her home and away from everything she’d ever known for the last time, I’m in awe of her strength, determination, and bravery. I sympathize with my great-grandma and the fear she must have felt at leading her children through unknown trials – knowing they very well may meet a fate she had no control over. How could she protect her four children and get them across an ocean to eventual safety? I believe this is where faith must come in – a belief in the unknown to have a hand of protection over yourself and your loved ones. And in fact, they were some of the lucky ones. Every one of their family members made it safely to America where they each went on to live happy and full lives.

Because of my grandma’s history, I have always been drawn to any book set in the WWII era. I buy them – regardless of their plot lines just wanting to soak up pieces of that life my grandma once knew. I bought The Orphan’s Tale (by Pam Jenoff) quite some time ago and it has sat on my shelf, beckoning me, yet the timing just never seemed quite right. When it was picked by my local book club, I was excited to finally make the time to read it.

As I mentioned, I didn’t read the synopsis so I was quite surprised to find out what the book actually was about. (If you don’t want to be like me, you can read the full synopsis here.) This story’s plot largely revolves around the circus – which I wasn’t expecting at all.

(Sidenote: I mean, call me crazy, but I was almost certain it was about an orphan! And it was, but Theo (the orphan) was not the main theme of the book…Noa and Astrid were.)

Noa and Astrid both find refuge in the circus that continues to travel across Europe while the Nazis are further advancing their agenda across the same parts of the country. The Nazis allow it because it provides a distraction from what they’re doing and allows the spectators to forget ‘real life’ for just a little while. What isn’t known is that the circus’ ringleader is knowingly hiding and protecting some Jews from the Nazis within his company. This puts all of the circus members in danger as they travel to towns that are increasingly hostile and unsafe to Jews. Both hiding secrets of their own, Noa and Astrid form a quick alliance and eventually put everything on the line for one another. It’s a beautiful friendship that is given the ultimate test.

The plot is engaging and interesting and I found myself very attached and concerned for the characters. I was rooting for a happy ending for all of them! The ending wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was beautifully tragic. Overall, I enjoyed the story and I’m glad I finally got a chance to read it!

The Golden House

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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a free digital review copy – all opinions are my own!

Nero Golden is a powerfully rich man who lives in New York with his three sons. No one is really sure where they came from or what their backstories are. Their neighbor, Rene, is interested in film production and he quickly becomes intrigued with uncovering the secrets surrounding the Golden family in hopes of creating a film that tells their story. (Full synopsis here.)

I went into the story blind; I’d barely read the synopsis and I have never read any other works by Rushdie. From the very beginning, I could tell this author was setting up a very slow burn (reminiscent of The Gentleman in Moscow). The reader must be very patient and, in the end, that patience will be rewarded. The reader is required to do a lot of work in the meantime – dredge through long, very detailed paragraphs, keep separate (but connected) storylines straight, and continue to pick up the book when it feels difficult to do.

In all honesty, if this hadn’t been a free copy to review, I most likely would have marked it as a DNF (did not finish) and moved onto a new book. But sometimes, the fact that I feel obligated to finish a book is a good thing! (I felt the EXACT same way with The Gentleman in Moscow, but was sooooo happy when I had finished it because I ended up loving it!)

The Golden House felt much the same for me. I didn’t love it for most of the book, but I did like it very much once the book had wrapped it all up. It had very strong characters and the writing is excellent. The depth and detail show a true commitment level by Rushdie to give his audience a lot of bang for their buck. However, I do feel he could have accomplished the same goal with a little less density and length. By the end of the book, I was just glad it was over.

In conclusion, I think this was a good book. I ended up appreciating the slow burn and thought it was a great read for those that like a really good family drama. I think Rushdie is incredibly talented in character development and that aspect alone made the story worth reading! Since finishing the book, I have found myself thinking about the Goldens off and on. Interspersed throughout the story were events that were happening around the world, specifically New York City, during the 2000s and that made the story fun because it was reminiscent of those events (i.e.: the election of Barack Obama).

If you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(FULL DISCLOSURE: This reading experience may have felt much different for me had I had an actual book in my hand. I am starting to realize that I have a very difficult time connecting to books when I read them digitally – again, this was the same situation for me with The Gentleman in Moscow. I’m thinking I may have to stop reading review books on my iPad or Kindle because I’m not totally sure I’m being fair to them. Am I the only one with this problem, or do you feel it too?)