Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
By Paula Hawkins
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594633669, January 2015, 336pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

A nosy woman on the train witnesses something odd and decides to look into it further.

The Rest of It:

This book is a lot of fun. Lots of page turning, plenty of twists and a classic unreliable narrator. Good stuff.

Rachel is an alcoholic and has lost her job. She rides the train all day to keep her roommate from knowing that she’s now unemployed. Her train happens to pass by the house she once owned with her husband, Tom. Tom is now married to Anna and they live happily in what was once her home. Rachel’s train ride through London is often spent tipping a bottle back. Seeing her old home and sometimes even catching a glimpse of the other woman, is enough to make her drink and drink she does. So much so, that what she sees is often not remembered later.

That memory thing becomes a problem early on.

Yes. It. Does.

Rachel’s daily observances include a couple that she’s come to know as Jess and Jason, names she’s made up to give them substance. She watches them interacting on the balcony of their apartment, and she’s dreamed up a back story for them. But when Jess does something out of character for her, and then a crime is committed, Rachel takes it upon herself to investigate.

As you can imagine, things get out of hand. Rachel sticks her nose into their lives and in the process, ends up involving her ex-husband and his wife. Both, really want nothing to do with Rachel but out of obligation, aware of Rachel’s raging alcoholism, Tom tries to look out for her when he can, which infuriates Anna.

Tension mounts as the story unfolds and when you get to those last few chapters, you can’t help but turn the kids away, let your dinner burn, etc. The ending needs to be read uninterrupted. Don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you.

But, honestly, Rachel’s antics were a little tiring. Just when I started to grow bored with her, some critical piece of info would surface and then I’d be flipping pages again. I suppose that’s a sign of true suspense because there was no way I was going to put the book down. I knew that from the start. Does it deserve the hype? Yes, I think so. If you pick it up for pure fun, you will enjoy it quite a bit. If you pick it apart and compare it to other books, you might find fault with some of it but really, who has the time for that?

Read it, because it’s fun and it’s a great distraction from all the crap going on in the world today.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Her

HerHer
By Harriet Lane
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316369879, January 5, 2015, 272pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

Two women at different stages in their lives, form an unlikely friendship that eventually leads to something darker.

The Rest of It:

Emma and Nina are close to one-another in age, but that is where the similarity stops. Nina is an accomplished artist with a teen-aged daughter while Emma is the mother of a toddler and a young baby. Nina is polished & sophisticated. Emma on the other hand, is riddled by the daily reminders of motherhood, the cluttered house, the unkempt hair, the dishes in the sink, and the boredom that fills her hours while other women are out having lunch with friends. The two women could not be more different, but when Nina recognizes Emma one day, she sets out to insert herself into Emma’s world and the two form an unlikely friendship with one another.

The story alternates between Emma and Nina and from the very first pages, I just knew that Nina was up to no good. That is actually made very clear from the start and that fact keeps the tension running high as you read about these women. And Emma, who is in awe of Nina and the sophistication she embodies is constantly trying to remember who she was before the kids. When Nina provides her with a much-needed break, Emma has this to say about herself:

I used to know this person, I used to understand her; maybe I’ll get to know her again.

Emma’s need to know Nina is tangible. She’s happily married, but trapped by the day-to-day routine and Nina’s friendship reminds her that there is a life outside of child rearing. But Nina’s motives aren’t entirely clear and so the reader is led along, knowing that something horrible is about to happen…or not.

Lane nails motherhood and that feeling you have when the baby spits up on your clean shirt and you decide to go to Target anyway. Some moms handle motherhood well and others do not. Emma falls between the two. She’s a good mom but tired and has let herself go. She misses her other self, the one that worked 9-5, had interesting conversations and could “do” lunch at a moment’s notice.

The last few pages of this book will make you angry. VERY angry. I won’t give it away but when I first read the ending, I wanted to hurl the book across the room. Now, after sitting on it for a day or two, I appreciate the ending a little more but I suspect that many of you will be angry with the book just because of the ending. Don’t ignore this book just because of the ending because it’s actually quite good and even, dare I say it, brilliant.

I don’t know what else Lane has written but I’d read her again.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Net Galley
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: West of Sunset

West of SunsetWest of Sunset
By Stewart O’Nan
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670785957, January 13, 2015, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

The glitter and sparkle of the Jazz Age is not present in this novel. Instead, we are given the gritty bits of a struggling F. Scott Fitzgerald as he tries to make it in Hollywood while, poor Zelda languishes away in a sanitarium.

The Rest of It:

The Great Gatsby is a novel that I love more and more as time passes, but I was not a fan of it when I first read it. Turns out, many did not care for Gatsby when it was first released. Written in 1925,the book did not sell well and was widely unpopular with many. Unable to match the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald found himself if a bit of a predicament. Zelda, his wife, was losing her mind and living full-time in a sanitarium and his daughter, Scottie, was attending a rather expensive boarding school which frankly, he could not afford. To make ends meet, he moves to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter for MGM. West of Sunset is a fictionalized account of his life in Hollywood and his long-time affair with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham.

I should tell you that this book has received very mixed reviews but I adored it. I knew little about Fitzgerald’s life in Hollywood and I found it all very fascinating to read about. Far from being a Golden Boy, he struggled to turn out quality work and many of his film projects were shelved but his daily interactions, his attempt to participate actively in an affair with Graham while taking care of his wife and daughter, wore him down quickly.

As in real life, the Fitzgerald we read about in West of Sunset is weak and chronically ill and being an alcoholic doesn’t help matters. Graham is constantly coming to his aid to nurse him back to health. The long weekends at the beach house, spent wiping his brow and tending to his every need. As a reader, you can’t help but wonder why a successful woman like Graham puts up with it, but love is a funny thing and although the falls from grace continue to plague them, she remains in his corner through all of it.

In between the long periods of illness, there is a lot of writing and lunches with Hollywood execs and interactions with big stars like Joan Crawford. The Hollywood that O’Nan writes about is the old Hollywood that’s we’ve all come to know. There is glamour, but not the type of glamour Fitzgerald participates in or contributes to. His world is colored by his need for drink which lends a darkness to an otherwise exciting time.

I found myself fascinated with all of it. After finishing the book, I wanted to re-read Gatsby or pick-up one of his other books. I am a big fan of O’Nan’s work and West of Sunset is no exception. Just know going in, that it’s not the glittery, feel-good book that you might expect from its cover.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: TransAtlantic

Transatlantic
TransAtlantic

By Colum McCann
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780812981926, May 2014, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Non-fiction elements mingle with fiction in this Irish-American tale which begins in 1919 with the first nonstop transatlantic flight.

The Rest of It:

If you’ve read McCann’s work before, you may recognize the format of this novel, which feels like a collection of interconnected stories. The story opens with Alcock and Brown’s first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to County Galway. Their mission is riddled with challenges, of which, eventually lead to a crash landing. From the title, you’d think that the book is about this trip alone but no, after just a short section on the flight itself, McCann moves on with his story which focuses on Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland just as the Great Famine begins to fully take its hold. From there, we meet Lily Duggan, a maid who is inspired to create a new life for herself in America.

This story spans many years and goes back and forth as it’s told and I know for some, including myself, this doesn’t always work for me. In fact, as soon as I realized I’d be jumping back and forth in time, I audibly groaned. But honestly, McCann’s handles it so well, that it never seemed to bother me at all and his style of writing, which consists of short, clipped, sentences made the reading experience quite a pleasant one. His writing creates a sense of urgency which gives the story that “unputdownable” quality that so many of us look for in a book.

There’s a little bit of history, which prompted many in my book club to look up additional information and the fictional parts were well-done and engaging. I read it in just one sitting, which is not something I often do but the story is constructed in such a way that it’s hard to find a good place to set the book down. A good problem to have, if you ask me.

Have you read Transatlantic? It came out some time ago and I immediately added it to my Kindle after reading Let The Great World Spin, but for some reason it just sat there, unread.  Such a shame because I really enjoyed it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: It Was Me All Along (A Memoir)

It Was Me All Along
It Was Me All Along (A Memoir)

By Andie Mitchell
(Clarkson Potter, Hardcover, 9780770433246, January 6, 2015, 240pp.)

The Short of It:

A warm, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking novel about a young girl trying to find herself.

The Rest of It:

Yes, folks! It’s a memoir. I know I don’t read them often but this was written by a blogger I’ve been following for the better part of a year and a half. Andie Mitchell’s blog, Can You Stay For Dinner? chronicles her weight loss journey, which truly began when she was in college, but it’s really about so much more than that and although the blog alludes to certain periods in her life, the book goes into them in detail.

Raised in a loving family but one battling the effects of alcoholism, Andie learned at a very young age that food could be comforting. Her love of food is both a blessing and a curse, and all the while her story is told with the utmost honesty, tinged with a great deal of shame.

There was a decade, back in the 90’s I want to say, where weight loss memoirs were a dime a dozen. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve read one, but this one really has a different tone to it. Yes, it focuses on food and weight loss but it’s more about a young woman trying to find her place in the world. Mitchell’s struggle for acceptance, her bouts of isolation and shame, are things that we can all relate to, regardless of weight.

On her blog, she writes as if she’s talking to a close friend. The book has that same tone. It’s warm and inviting and even though I don’t know her personally, I feel as if I do. Plus, her story is inspirational. She lost over 135 lbs and at no point was it easy.

The other thing I really enjoyed is the way she writes about food. She’s a foodie, no doubt about it and any foodie will be drooling over her take of a perfect cupcake or pizza pie. Clearly, her love of food is still present but the way she views food is what’s changed.

I really enjoyed this one. If you’re looking for something different to break up your fiction pile, give this book a try.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review, Tour & Giveaway: A Matter of Mercy

A Matter of MercyA Matter of Mercy
By Lynne Hugo
(Blank Slate Press, Paperback, 9780985808617, 278pp.)

The Short of It:

Mistakes can destroy you or change you for the better, but the choice is yours.

The Rest of It:

One fateful night, while driving under the influence, Caroline Marcum crashes into another car, killing a special needs child. Sent to prison and filled with guilt, she serves her time quietly but once out, leaves her home of Wellfleet Harbor. Her marriage is over and all she can think of is leaving the past behind her. However, when her mother falls terminally ill, she is forced to return to the Cape to face all of the things she’s been avoiding for quite a long time.

This story will appeal to lots of readers for many reasons. The story is set in Cape Cod and centers not only around Caroline’s story but also the story of the local aquaculturists who make their living farming oysters. As Caroline tends to her mother, she is reacquainted with a friend from school, Ridley Neal who happens to be one of the oyster farmers farming the beach right below her mother’s home. There is a little bit of romance, a lot of strife, a touch of mystery and of course, the fascinating tidbits surrounding oyster farming and what it entails. I found these bits especially enjoyable.

What I noticed right away while reading, is how quickly I was pulled into the story. Knowing absolutely nothing about oyster farming, I had no problem picking up the terminology. However, there were two moments where I wasn’t sure which direction the author was going in. These two moments did take me out of the narrative a little, but not enough to make me like the book any less. One, involves a law suit against the aquaculturists (which happens to be inspired by a real-life lawsuit) and the other involves stalking and revenge. The latter seemed a little out-of-place to me.

Regardless, I was surprised at how absorbed I was while reading. I had a long stint over the holidays where I was unable to read anything and then here comes this book and I blow though it in just a couple of sittings. The main characters are riddled with flaws, which readers here know, makes my heart sing. The story wasn’t predictable, even though a couple of things seemed a little out-of-place and choosing to build a story around oyster farming…well, I’ve never read anything about oyster farming so that was very different and unique to me. I think I would have liked a little more redemption in the end but overall, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

If you like a book to be a lot of things, A Matter of Mercy would be a good choice for you. Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours, I have a copy to giveaway! See below for details.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of A Matter of Mercy and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on Friday, January 23, 2015 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address. The winner will have 5 days to respond or another winner will be chosen.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! (now closed)

Lynne Hugo

Lynne Hugo

For more information on the author, click here or visit her Facebook page.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Strange Library

The Strange Library

The Strange Library
By Haruki Murakami, Translater, Ted Goossen
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385354301, 96pp.)

The Short of It:

An experience, more than anything else.

The Rest of It:

In 2014, Murakami fans were graced with not one new book, but two! The Strange Library is really a novella, but quite different from anything he’s done before as far as format. The story itself is strange, which is a word I use a lot when describing Murakami’s stories, but it’s strange and mysterious in a good way.

The story is about a boy, imprisoned in a library. Not a normal library. A (wait for it) STRANGE library. This one has winding corridors, hidden rooms and a really strange guy dressed up like a sheep. While reading this part, I could not help but be reminded of another book by Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase. Ah, such memories.

The book comes shrink-wrapped and once opened, you must fold out flaps to get to its contents. It’s a strange design but kind of neat at the same time. The book is short (96 pages) and contains a lot of graphics to support the story visually. The pages are thick, very substantial. While reading, you feel as if you are holding something really special. I’m not sure you’d have the same feeling while reading an ebook version or listening to it on audio. Chip Kidd designed the book. He’s done some work for Murakami before. I really like what he does. If you are at all interested in book design, check out his Ted Talk. He’s quite a character!

The Strange Library Sample Page

Back to the book.

As a Murakami, there are a lot of familiar elements. If you handed this story to me on plain paper and left the author’s name off of it, I’d still be able to tell who wrote it but it’s just a small taste of what he can do. I liked the story a lot but I wanted to spend more time with it. I ripped that puppy open and before I knew it, the story was over.

It. Was. Too. Brief.

That is my one criticism.

But, it looks lovely on my shelf. Just lovely. Have you read it or tried Murakami yet? Because I am going to keep asking until you do. You know that, right?

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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