Review: A Sudden Light

A Sudden LightA Sudden Light
By Garth Stein
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781439187036, September 2014, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

It feels so good to pick-up a book and immediately know after just a few pages, that it’s going to be a good story.

The Rest of It:

My “book picker” is finely tuned this year. I’ve read some interesting and fun books and I have to say, that this year seems to be the year for atmospheric reads because I have read so many and used that word so many times to describe what I am reading that I think I may need to come up with a new word.

A Sudden Light, is no exception. Fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are on the outs. His father, Jones Riddell, takes him back to his family’s home which is infamously referred to as Riddell House. Situated on the edge of a forest and overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound, it’s massive and full of secrets. The Riddells of the past ran a timber company which produced quite a bit of wealth but Jones and his sister Serena want to sell the house and property so they can build their nest eggs elsewhere. Their only problem is convincing the grandfather, who is battling dementia, that selling the property is the right thing to do.

I really enjoyed this book. There is a slight supernatural element, a lot of family history and secrets, hidden rooms and well-drawn characters. The family dynamic is touching and Trevor is such a great kid. They are all so consumed by this house and what it stands for, that they often can’t see the forest for the trees. Pun intended. Nature lovers will find this book especially appealing because there is a conservation thread to the story that is skillfully woven in.

This book is a little different from The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein’s runaway bestseller, but I really got caught-up in the story and look at that cover!

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

Review & Tour: Casebook

Casebook
Casebook
By Mona Simpson
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385351416, April 15, 2014, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

A little bit of mystery and a lovable protagonist add a special something to an otherwise familiar story.

The Rest of It:

After his parents split, Miles Adler spends his days eavesdropping on his mathematician mother, Irene. Although his father visits frequently and Irene is still good friends with him, Miles fears that she’s lonely and a little depressed. When she meets Eli Lee, Miles sees a different side to his mom, a happy side. Her laughter and the easy breezy way she has about her when Eli is around, makes the days that much easier. But when Miles begins to suspect that Eli is too good to be true, he employs the help of his best friend Hector, to find out the truth.

The setting of this novel is both Santa Monica and Pasadena, Ca. Two places very local to me and for that reason alone, I decided to accept this novel for review. It’s fun to read a book and discover that yes, that is exactly how those neighborhoods are and that was absolutely the case here. I love when I can relate to a character through setting.

The setting wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. I loved the characters, too. Miles, when we first meet him, is an awkward teen. He’s not a ladies man but is okay with it. He hangs out with his best friend Hector, and they spend their days cooking up business deals to make a few bucks. Selling snacks at lunch or providing re-location services for problem pets, Miles and Hector seem to do alright. When Miles begins to suspect that Eli is not being truthful with his mother, Miles and Hector tap her phone and look into Eli’s personal life to get a feel for the kind of guy he is. This is difficult for a couple of reasons, one…that Miles has grown to like Eli, and two…that his mom is so happy around him. Does he really want to know the truth?

I loved this book and was so sorry to see the story end.

Miles is such a sweet kid. Hector, too. I loved their friendship. It really reminded me of my teen years. How all you wanted to do all summer long was hang with your best friend. I spent many summers at my friend’s house, on her floor, gazing at the ceiling or out the window. It was okay to just BE and that’s how it is with Miles and Hector. The added mystery of Eli and who he really is just adds to the story.

As a mystery, it’s pretty tame. But as a coming-of-age story about friendship and family, it hit the ball out of the park. It just hit me in all the right places. It was sweet, funny and reminded me that there is goodness in the world. I highly recommend it.

 

Mona Simpson

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

Review: The Last Days of California

The Last Days of California
The Last Days of California
By Mary Miller
(Liveright Publishing Corporation, Hardcover, 9780871405883, January 2014, 256pp.)

The Short of It:

Probably one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve read in a long while.

The Rest of It:

Fourteen-year-old Jess and her family, including her older, pregnant sister Elise, set out from Alabama to California right before the Rapture. Their mission? To save as many souls along the way as possible. As they travel from town to town, handing out their pamphlets to anyone who will take them, it becomes obvious to the girls that their father has lost his job (again) and that there really isn’t money for a trip across the country. Plus, the parents are clueless about their own daughter’s pregnancy and Jess finds herself in a position to protect her sister’s secret for as long as possible.

I loved this family. For all of their faults, they are a family in the biggest sense of the word. As they head out on this road trip, it’s clear that things are at stake. Life, as they know it could be changed forever after the Rapture but Jess and Elise are not convinced of that. They want to believe, but at the same time, they have their doubts.

Because of these doubts, they test the waters a bit. Hanging out with boys, drinking and smoking and basically experimenting as kids are known to do. But what makes it different for them is that they don’t know if the world will exist by the time they get to California. Will they be one of the saved ones? As they stop along the way, they meet people and have experiences that change who they are and in the process, they come to terms with their beliefs.

Books can be such a personal thing but I LOVED this book. I loved the family, the girls (with all of their faults) and the road trip, yes… I love road trips and reading this book was like jumping in the car and taking off for an adventure. I could easily have been their long-lost cousin hiding in the trunk. I FELT as if I was with them every time they stopped for gas and horribly processed snack foods. And every time they jumped into a motel pool, I could literally smell the chlorine.

This was such a great read. It gave me a lot to think about and it took me out of my world and right into theirs. I read it in just a couple of sittings and if you are worried about the religious parts, don’t. It’s not heavy-handed in any way. As Jess contemplates life, you can’t help but fall in love with her as a person.

To truly appreciate it, you must read it for yourself. I’m sure it will be on my list of favorites for 2014.

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

Review: After Her

After Her

After Her
By Joyce Maynard
(William Morrow & Company, Hardcover, 9780062257390, August 2013, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

Touching, poignant and moving. A beautifully written novel by one of my favorite authors.

The Rest of It:

In the late 1970’s, Marin County, California was rocked by the murders of several young women in the area. The killer, known as the “Trailside Killer”, preyed on women hiking Mount Tamalpais. The detective working on the case at the time, Detective Gaddini, had two young daughters of his own, so the continued loss of life hit him hard knowing that these young women would never return home. After Her is loosely based on the details of this real-life case.

Maynard’s book, follows sisters Rachel and Patty Torricelli as their father, Detective Anthony Torricelli investigates the murders of female hikers in the area. The area in question just happens to be the mountain behind their home but even with the added danger and their father’s orders to stay off the mountain, the girls continue to spend their days there.

When the killings continue without any significant leads, the community becomes restless over the investigation’s lack of progress. Rachel. fiercely loyal to her father, takes matters into her own hands.

Oh, what a gem of a book!

I’ve only read one other book by Maynard (Labor Day, soon to be a movie!) but what impressed me so much with that one is what impresses me here. Her sense of place and her knack for creating honest, likable but flawed characters is what immediately attracted me to the story. I loved these girls! Rachel and Patty are what you and I envision sisterhood to be. Rachel, the older of the two, adores Patty. Patty, is often the more sensible of the two, yet Rachel’s imagination is what makes living on the mountain what it is. After their parent’s divorce and the obvious withdrawal of their mother, they are left to fend for themselves. What could be a depressing, dire situation becomes opportunities for adventure.

I loved the simple love and admiration displayed by these sisters. Without a TV in the house, they spend their evenings camped out in backyards, hoping to catch something good on their neighbor’s TV. They play games, shoot baskets and talk about boys. But when the mountain becomes the center of the investigation, staying off of it is close to impossible. Their innocence, given their proximity to the case is endearing. If you long for simpler times, as I do, this book will leave you with a heavy sense of nostalgia.

When the killer makes himself known, I could not help but be angry. As much as they struggle to keep the mountain pure and untouched, there’s no denying that it’s changed for them. And seeing the changes in their father, as he struggles to put the pieces together is enough to almost break them.

Oh, and their father! Anthony Torricelli’s love for his daughters literally leaps off the page. I ADORED him, which is how most women in the story feel about him even with his tendency to be a bit too friendly with the ladies. His tireless efforts to catch the killer, and his remorse over how things ended with his ex-wife lend a sympathetic air to the situation.

Another blogger noted that at page 150, not much was going on but now that I’ve finished the book, I understand what she meant. This book is about many things, but most of all, I found it to be a book about family and what it means to be a family and Maynard’s decision to spend so much time on the girls and the relationship with their father is what makes this story so endearing and heartbreaking. Against the backdrop of the serial killings, the backstory of these characters is like a gentle reminder of all things good.

Lately, readers have been asking me if a book I’ve reviewed is too dark or violent so I do want to mention that although there is mention of rape, the details of the murders themselves are largely left up to your imagination. And given the subject matter, I did not find this book to be dark or depressing.

It’s a mystery, a love story, a coming of age novel and a scrapbook (of sorts) of what it was like to be a kid in that decade. It’s charming, heartbreaking and at times funny. I loved it and highly recommend it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss

Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns
By Elizabeth Kelly
(Liveright Publishing Corporation, Hardcover, 9780871403407, June 2013, 383pp.)

The Short of It:

Money, greed, power and a young girl by the name of Riddle.

The Rest of It:

It’s 1972 and twelve-year-old Riddle James is not at all pleased over what the summer holds for her. Her father Godfrey, affectionately called Camp, is running for Congress and her mother Greer, a once famous actress, is the all too present figure in Riddle’s world of horses and fox hunts. With the pressure of running for office, Riddle’s father finds himself consumed with the process, and Riddle’s mother Greer spends her days being Greer. This includes open criticism of her daughter, Riddle and anyone she comes in contact with. What Riddle doesn’t  anticipate, is witnessing a murder. Cape Cod’s idyllic location is literally shattered by what she witnesses and her decision to keep it to herself is even more shocking.

Things get  really juicy when Michael Devlin, a friend of Camp’s dating back  to their time fighting in WW II, threatens to uncover a secret that could jeopardize Camp’s campaign for office. The situation is especially touchy because Devlin was once engaged to Greer, which has always caused animosity between the two men so when Devlin’s son goes missing, Camp is the first person Devlin suspects in his son’s disappearance.

This book is all parties, glitz and glamour with a lot of nastiness thrown in. At first, I despised this family and could not remember a more miserable bunch since the time I read Wuthering Heights. At the half way point though, they started to intrigue me. Riddle is a great character. At twelve, she’s somewhat innocent to what is going on around her but at the same time, she possesses an edge. Probably due to the fact that she spends all of her time surrounded by adults and not kids her own age.

I can’t say that this is your typical summer read. Many might pick it up for its Cape Cod setting, thinking it’s an easy breezy read. It is definitely not that. But if you like being around wealth and all the joys and problems associated with it, then you’ll enjoy the setting as there is plenty to sink your teeth into. But what you’ll enjoy most is Riddle. She’s charming, wise beyond her years yet untainted by the idiocy around her. And dare I say it? You might enjoy the numerous jabs that Kelly takes at high society in general. The names of these characters were almost too much for me at one point, Greer, Gula, Godfrey and Gin? But in the end, they fit.

If you want something a little different to end the summer with, this might be a good choice for you. It’s a lot more complex than I thought it would be, and who can resist a Cape Cod setting? No one.

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

Review: The Adults

The Adults

The Adults
By Alison Espach
(Scribner, Paperback, 9781439191866, September 2011, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Sharp. Witty. Acerbic.

The Rest of It:

Fourteen-year-old Emily Vidal and her family host a cocktail party to celebrate her father’s 50th birthday. Everyone in the neighborhood is there despite the oppressive heat and as the guests float in and out of the house, it’s clear to Emily that being an adult is as droll as say… watching paint dry. That is, until she sees her father in a passionate embrace with their next door neighbor, Mrs. Resnick. That night, her parents tell her that they are getting a divorce. It’s said in a very straight-forward manner; a one-two punch to the gut delivered without hesitation. Emily is not surprised after what she’s seen.

Weeks later, Emily invites a group of insipid girls over for a sleepover and in the early morning hours, while getting a glass of water and gazing out her kitchen window, Emily witnesses the suicide of Mr. Resnick as he hangs himself from a tree next door. Her inability to react, to prevent what is about to happen is both alarming and expected. In shock, she drops a glass which shatters across the floor and screams for her father.

The title of this book alone is worthy of discussion. Who are the adults Espach is referring to? Is she talking about Emily’s parents? Her bitter mother, Gloria or her philandering father, Victor? Could she be referring to the Resnicks next door? Another broken family that finds its way into Emily’s immediate circle? Early in the story, I’d say yes. That as we get to know Emily and what makes her tick, we are also given unpleasant glimpses of the adults that form who she is.

With that, let’s talk about Emily. At fourteen, she is wise beyond her years but every now and then her naivety is displayed for all to see. She’s witty, smart and beautiful but at the same time childish and demanding but not in an obnoxious way. Not at all like the friends she hangs out with. They are living caricatures with big heads and a lot of unnecessary banter spewing forth from their mouths. They talk about sex and having sex with various members of the male population, including a teacher by the name of Jonathan.

Emily’s affair with Jonathan is both disturbing and logical. The fact that I just wrote that surprises me, but it’s true. Jonathan’s decision to hook-up with Emily is cringe-worthy but he’s also pretty good to her (if you can forget that he is molesting a child) and although she holds it together fairly well, she is devastated by her parent’s divorce and the distraction of a forbidden romance is what holds her together. But their time together is awkward. There is a lot of fumbling and a lot of sex and although it’s clear that Emily is young and inexperienced, Jonathan doesn’t really pick up on these clues so there are many pages of Emily questioning why he’s so hairy or why he sometimes loses his erection. Her best friend Janice claims to have also slept with Jonathan so it’s not like Emily can just go and ask her about things so she thinks out loud and figures stuff out along the way.

As Emily’s high school years come to a close, I expected the story to end but instead, Espach launches into Emily’s adult life. In college and living in Prague with her father and her half-sister Laura, Emily has once again hooked up with Jonathan and it’s weird. Very weird, because now she is of age, but Jonathan is much older and not nearly as attractive as he used to be. To me, I didn’t need to see Emily as an adult to understand her. Espach’s decision to take us into adulthood was a bold one, but it didn’t work. For one, Emily hasn’t grown all that much. She is essentially the same person and because of this, the relationship between her and Jonathan is even more awkward and forced.

The difference between me loving this one and not loving it, is that jaunt into Emily’s adulthood. I don’t know. I guess I wanted to keep her young in my mind. Isn’t that how it is with high school anyway? You want to hold on to what’s dear and even though her relationship with a teacher was scandalous and perverted, to Emily… it was dear and because of that, I was okay with it. What could have been a great book, was in the end, just good.

Cover note: Don’t let the cover fool you. This paperback cover makes you think it’s for the Young Adult crowd but I’d argue against that. It really does not fall into that category at all.

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

Review, Tour & Giveaway: The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles
By Karen Thompson Walker
(Random House, Hardcover, 9780812992977, June 26, 2012, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

The languid nature of the writing and the exploration of what time means to us as a society was just enough to lure me in.

The Rest of It:

What would you do if you woke up one day, only to be told that the earth is slowing and that the days are getting longer? I can’t speak for everyone but this gal would toss the covers back and jump for joy! There are never enough hours in the day and wouldn’t a few more hours be wonderful? Well, not if you are at work but if you were home, wouldn’t that be great? Oh yeah, and not if you’re the type who has trouble sleeping through 48-hour stretches of sunlight. Oh, and then when it does get dark, it stays dark too long which makes the farmers a bit unhappy. Okay, I guess I see the issue here.

Julia lives in a quiet, California suburb. She experiences what any tween would experience at her age: isolation, awkwardness, and an overwhelming need to fit in. But Julia’s life if further complicated by the slowing because when everyone realizes that there isn’t a quick fix for their situation, people are forced to decide between “clock time” where schedules are adhered to regardless of whether or not there is light, or “real-time” which focuses on Circadian rhythms. Neighbors are divided. Friendships lost. It’s a lot for a young girl to deal with.

As wonderful as the premise is, and putting all science aside, I had many issues with this book which affected my overall enjoyment. Here are some items that stuck out:

Julia’s story takes place in a suburb in California, not in some small, sleepy little town out in the middle of nowhere. Californians would freak out!! Guns would be drawn, grocery stores would be looted and anyone coming within five feet of my collection of canned soup would be shot. I know this doesn’t put Californians in a good light, but it’s true. Too many people and food supplies questionable? Hope you’re wearing Kevlar.

* Julia’s angst is palpable but she is pretty even throughout the novel. I expected more from her in the way of growth and understanding. She is a bright kid, but doesn’t see the big picture or fully understand what her future holds. She seems almost unconcerned with everything going on around her. Her world is very narrow and because the story is told from her point of view, what we see as a reader is narrowed as well.

* Other relationships within the neighborhood are not explored. I was given brief glimpses of other people in the neighborhood, friends at school and the like, but I never got to know them and therefore, didn’t feel the sting when these relationships were severed. To me, so much more could have been done with the surrounding characters to demonstrate the utter loss that Julia felt.

* There is a lot of foreshadowing going on. The type where a character innocently drops a line about how it was the last time to do “such and such” but that she didn’t realize it at the time. This happened at least four times and each time, I felt it wasn’t needed.

What I did enjoy:

* The premise. Variations of it have been done before and with so many other books about the end-of-the-world, you sort of take it all with a grain of salt, but the whole idea of the earth slowing seemed possible to me.

* The exploration of “clock time” versus “real-time.” I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would live in that situation. I think I’d go the “real-time” route but if the rest of society went the other way, I’d be an outcast and always late for the party.

* The languid quality of the writing worked well in this story.

* Readability. Easy to read, albeit a tad slow. I can see lots of folks picking this one up this summer just to take them away from the day-to-day, even if only for a little while.

* The “un-pat” ending. I hate it when a book wraps-up too neatly so I was glad when this one didn’t. It allowed me to ponder the story for a bit more.

* The subtle encouragement to seriously consider sustainable farming. This message didn’t hit me over the head. It was subtle and injected effortlessly into the story but really made me think about food sources and the catastrophic effect something  like this would have on our food supply.

This is a debut novel for the author and although much of it didn’t work for me, I would give this author another try. Mainly because it’s a tough premise and I could see her not wanting to get too dark with it (pun intended) and waffling between a happy and not-so-happy ending. When it comes to end-of-the-world novels though, there can never be TOO much in my opinion and with this one, I just wanted a little more more of everything. More angst. More destruction. More panic.

But, if you’d like to read this book for yourself, enter to win your own copy. Details below.

Karen Thompson Walker

To visit The Age of Miracles website, click here.

To visit The Age of Miracles Facebook page, go here.

To view Karen’s other TLC tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of The Age of Miracles 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 June 17, 2012 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

To enter the giveaway, please click here. (THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED).

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

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