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Girl Well Read

Developmental Editor by day, Book Blogger by night.

Conversations with God Book 4 Awaken the Species, A New and Unexpected Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch

Conversations with God: Awaken the Species, A New and Unexpected Dialogue, Book 4 - Neale Donald Walsch

A special thank you to NetGalley and Watkins Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

The previous three books in the series were so well done.  I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobooks, and I got a lot out of them.  I encourage you to pick them up or give them a listen.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same for this book.  Maybe it's just me, or perhaps I'm just not on the same page (pardon the pun) spiritually as this book, but I simply just didn't "get" it and it didn't resonate the same way as the others did.  

 

What I did like was the question and answer section, there was value there, it was well executed, and tied the books nicely together.  There were some interesting and thought-provoking sections, but there was a lot that was just lost on me, and I felt like it was out just of my reach.   

 

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy - Tracy Chevalier

A special thank you to NetGalley, Penguin Random House, and Knopf Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Set in 1970s Washington, D.C., and spanning a school day, New Boy explores jealousy, love, friendship, and racism.  

 

Osei Kokote, a diplomat's son, is staring at his fourth school in six years.  The attention given to his colour is surpassed only by the attention that his relationship with the most popular girl at the all-white school garners.  This is where the trouble really begins.  Not everyone is as intrigued and impressed with O as Dee is, and one boy in particular makes it his mission to destroy the relationship.  By the end of the day, the school and its students will be left reeling, and will never be the same.       

 

I've been enamoured with Chevalier's work since Girl With a Pearl Earring and have been waiting for her to deliver something just as captivating and she does just this with New Boy.  Chevalier doesn't shy away from the huge undertaking/responsibility of retelling Shakespeare's Othello—her compact version delivers a sucker punch and I encourage you to pick it up.  

My Life as a Bench by Jaq Hazell

My Life as a Bench - Jaq Hazell

A special thank you to NetGalley and Nowness Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

I wasn't sure what to expect given the premise for this book.  Lauren "Ren" Miller has died at the age of seventeen, yet her consciousness lives on by inhabiting a bench that was purchased by her father in her memory.  The bench faces the River Thames in London and is situated beside Lionel, a father-figure of sorts, who encourages Ren to break through and talk to the living in order to reveal the truth about her harrowing end.

 

Hazell definitely takes a different vantage point for a narrator, but is a risk that doesn't quite pay off in my opinion.  Although unique in concept, it is the story itself that feels constrained by the bench, the choppy flashbacks, and by the main character herself.  Her relationship with Gabriel sounds incredibly needy and I honestly feel that this is a disservice to young girls when the protagonist's happiness seems to hinge on a boy. 

 

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Breakdown - B. A. Paris

After reading Paris' debut Behind Closed Doors, I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Breakdown. A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Driving home in the rain, Cass decides to take a shortcut through the woods against her husband Matthew's wishes that she stick to the main roads. She is surprised to see another car on the road in such poor weather. She pulls in front of the car, but is too scared to get out thinking this may be a trap set to entice her out of her own vehicle. When the female driver does not approach, Cass figures help is on the way and drives off. 

The next day, Cass hears on the news that the driver she passed was murdered. She is incredibly distraught and guilt-ridden thinking she could've done something. The guilt begins to eat away at her, especially after she learns the identity of the woman, and she was someone that Cass recently met. Her emotional state is smothering. On top of this, she is growing increasingly paranoid and forgetful—she is certain that she is suffering from early onset dementia, the same condition that her mother had—and therefore is not credible. She is convinced the murderer knows her identity and is responsible for the silent phone calls she has been receiving. But with her family history of dementia, and her mental state, who is going to believe her? 

Paris brings nothing new to the realm of the suspense/thriller genre, in fact, there was nothing really that was overly shocking by way of plot twists, and Cass' inner dialogue was often repetitive. So why read this book? It is a page-turner and hooks you plain and simple. The novel is perfectly timed and flawlessly executed. Given the main character's paranoia and hysteria, the denouement could have been obvious and trite, but it wasn't because of the way she developed her unreliable narrator—this was the perfect angle from which to tell the story.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The Last Neanderthal: A Novel - Claire  Cameron

A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada and Doubleday Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Being a Canadian, I always like to read and review Canadian authors.  I read Cameron's The Bear for a book club selection, I didn't love it, but I was eager to give her another chance.  

 

An interesting premise—Cameron juxtaposes the last Neanderthal family against a parallel modern-day storyline.  Initially I was unsure, Neanderthals?  After finishing The Last Neanderthal, I'm glad that I requested something that normally I wouldn't be attracted to.  

 

40,000 years in the past, the last Neanderthals are fighting for survival after a hard-fought winter.  Their numbers are low, but Girl is coming of age and her family are determined to make the trek to the annual meeting place in hopes of securing her a mate to carry on their species.  The small family's existence is further threatened by the elements and nature and Girl is left to care for Runt, a small foundling of unknown descent.  Once again, Girl and Runt must face the winter and risk their survival.

 

In modern-day France, we meet archaeologist Rosamund Gale who has just learned that she is pregnant and worried about the repercussions of having a baby.  The site that Rose is working at contains the remains of a female Neanderthal that appears to be embracing a Homo Sapiens male—were they lovers?  This startling discovery has scientists reevaluating what they believed were our origins.  With a race against impending motherhood, Rose does not want to give up her work after making incredible strides in a male-dominated field of study.  She often has to defend her position simply because she is a woman.  Rose begins to feel an incredible amount of pressure as the project in jeopardy of losing funding, and she has just learned that she is the sole bread winner after her partner Simon loses his teaching position.  

 

Rose and Girl are linked through time by their pregnancies and experiences of what it means to be a woman, a mother, and to survive.

 

Primal, raw, and unique, this was an interesting read.

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar

Everybody's Son: A Novel - Thrity Umrigar

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Harper for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Thrity Umrigar is a beautiful writer who capitalizes on human emotion in her latest novel about two families that couldn't be more different.  

 

During a terrible heatwave in 1991, ten-year-old Anton has been locked in his mother's apartment in the projects.  After being by himself for seven days without any air-conditioning, or fan, with the windows nailed shut, and no electricity, Anton breaks a window and climbs out.  He is bleeding from a wound in his leg when the police find him.  All-the-while, his mother, Juanita is discovered unconscious and half-naked in a crack house less than three blocks away.  When she comes to, she immediately asks for her "baby boy" insisting she only left for a quick hit, but that her drug dealer kept her high while repeatedly raping her.  Anton is placed with child services when his mother is sent to jail.  

 

David Coleman is the son of a US senator and a white Harvard-educated judge.  After the death of his only high-school-aged son, Coleman is desperate for a home with a child again.  David and his wife, Delores, foster Anton and quickly grow attached to the bright boy.  Despite Anton's mother's existence, Coleman uses his power, connections, and white privilege to keep his foster son.  

 

Anton follows in his adoptive father's footsteps and seems to have a knack for politics that is complimented by his charm.  On the cusp of greatness, Anton learns the truth about his mother and the lengths Coleman went to to keep him as his very own.  He begins to question who he really is—he is nobody's son, yet everybody's son.  

 

Umrigar explores class, race, power, privilege, and morals in this emotional heart-wrenching story that will stay with the reader long after it is finished.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth Strout

A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Strout is simply a gift.  Her writing is breathtaking, gorgeous, and heartbreaking.  Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton, Strout draws on the small-town characters that Lucy and her mother talked about—we are given insight into their lives and learn how their stories are woven together in this work of fiction that reads more like a novel than a compilation of stories.

In My Name Is Lucy Barton, the work speaks to the reader on a different level in that it was more about the nuances and what was left unsaid.  This book is more character driven, examining the human condition, stories of love, loss, and hope. 

The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner

The Twilight Wife - Lisa A. Banner

A special thank you to Goodreads First Reads and Touchstone/Simon & Schuster for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Kyra Winthrop, a thirty-four-year-old marine biologist, is recovering from a head injury she sustained in a diving accident.  She has no memory of the accident.  Her most recent years come to her in flashes; she is completely dependent upon those around her to fill in the gaps, most notably her doting and patient husband, Jacob.  Because of the extent of her injury, Jacob tells her the same stories over and over, and answers the same questions again and again.  He compiles pictures in a ‘memory’ book for her to assist with her recovery.  Sounds like the perfect husband…so then why is she remembering another man, Aiden Finlay?  Did she have an affair?    

 

The couple live on a small island, cut off from civilization, and all is not what it seems.  Kyra’s visions become more recurrent, people are not who appear to be.  She stops taking her medication to try and make sense of memories, are they flashbacks, or were they told to her?  As her memories become more frequent, she feels like she can’t even trust herself so she starts to see a therapist in secret to help her make sense of things.  Through her continued therapy sessions, she begins to piece together events and dissect the foundations of her relationships.  The truth is in fact a nightmare and Jacob doesn’t want her regaining her memory. 
  

In the same vein as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, this page-turner has the reader questioning relationships and those who they trust.  A solid 3.5/5 stars.       

A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates

A Book of American Martyrs - Joyce Carol Oates

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Ecco for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

This was an incredible feat for both Joyce Carol Oates to write, and for me to finish.  The book is a huge undertaking, both ambitious in length and subject matter, and it left me confused.  I’m confused as to why it needed to be so long, and confused at some of the characters (more on that later).  What Oates does exceptionally well is write, but that doesn’t mean that the book needs to be as robust to showcase her talent.  It would have been more effective if it was trimmed because she loses readers in the minor events that don’t propel the story forward. 

 

The story opens with the reader inside the head of Luther Dunphy, a religious fanatic who thinks he is doing God’s work when he calls in late to work one day so that he can assassinate Dr. Gus Voorhees, an abortionist for the Broome County Women’s Center. 

 

Oates segues into Dunphy’s back story outlining his motivations and ideologies.  The story bogs out here, but push through it before you bottom out and abandon the book.  In his younger days, Dunphy is every bit the monster he is when he kills Voorhees–he sexually assaulted women, and exhibited extremely violent behaviour– only this later version of him thinks he is safe under the cloak of religion.  The reader also learns that he is father wrought with guilt over the death of a child, a husband who cannot fix his wife’s depression, and a hard worker that battles chronic pain to support his family.  The sadness and destitute Luther feels seeks solace in the righting of a wrong; it isn’t murder, he is the ‘chosen one’.    

 

In the later chapters, we see into Gus Voorhees’ life.  He is equally as driven as Dunphy, convinced with rightness for his cause.  

 

We come to know both men’s families: the liberal, well-educated Voorheeses juxtaposed against the devout, poor Dunphys.  The families are left devastated in the wake of tragedy, forever changed, yet leading similar lives.  Both wives pull away from their families, both sets of siblings experience a wedge of grief that drives them apart.  Speaking of wives, I mentioned earlier that I was confused by some of the characters, and Jenna (Voorhees’ widow) is one of them.  Why did she abandon her children?  Why did she disappear from the hotel after scattering her husband’s ashes?  Was this just deliberate of Oates to draw another parallel between the two families?  I felt that this wasn’t behaviour that was driven by grief, it was just plain out of character and was just there to inflict more pain and tragedy on the Voorhees children.  

 

The story shifts gears again and focuses on the men’s daughters: Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy.  Naomi chronicles her dad’s life, fronted as a documentary, but really she is trying to make sense of the tragedy and how it has shaped who she is.  Stemming from a vicious attack in school, Dawn becomes a professional boxer and this is how she exerts control of her life.  The two meet when Naomi feigns interest in Dawn as the subject matter for a documentary about female boxers.  This is where Oates shines–when she explores the complex relationships and facets of their lives, the last third of the book is the best part.

 

The Secret History of Us by Jessi Kirby

The Secret History of Us - Jessi Kirby

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Teen for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The opening of the book has some really solid writing with an instant hook.  The main character, Liv, is pulled from the water after the car she was in went off a bridge into the bay below.  She appears lifeless and is given CPR.   

When she awakes in the hospital, she can't remember any details of the accident.  Assuming that the amnesia is more of a side effect from being in a week-long coma, Liv tries to remember recent events only to discover she actually can't remember the last four years!  She doesn't remember high school, why she isn't friends with her former best friend, or her doting boyfriend, Matt.

Liv has to rely on other people to fill in the gaps.  She grows incredibly frustrated because she feels like things are being kept from her on purpose.  Desperate for answers, Liv turns to Walker, the guy who was responsible for saving her life the night of the accident.  Despite her seemingly perfect boyfriend, she can't ignore the growing feelings she has for Walker.  Olivia needs to find what her new normal is and where she belongs in a life she can't remember. 

Why I didn't rate this book higher was because the ending was rushed.  It was like Kirby was restricted by page count, or perhaps she has another story in the works?  Either way, it fizzled, which is too bad because the start of the book was some really great writing. 

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff

A special thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Canada MIRA for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

The story opens with a 90-year-old woman visiting a museum exhibit that transports her back in time to war-torn Europe in 1944.

 

After becoming pregnant by a Nazi solder at sixteen, Noa is forced to give up her baby and shunned by her family. She lives above a rail station that she cleans in order to earn her keep. A boxcar with dozens of Jewish infants stops at her station en route to its final destination, a concentration camp. Noa, in a moment of weakness and thinking of the child she lost, grabs one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

 

Astrid is a Jewish wife of a German officer that has been forced to divorce her. She has no papers and has lost the whereabouts of her family. Having grown up in the circus, she is able to fall back on her professional aerialist training and joins a German circus that will keep her secret.


Noa is rescued by a member of the same travelling circus that provided refuge for Astrid fourteen months earlier. In order to blend in, Noa must learn to be part of the flying trapeze act. The head aerialist, Astrid, is her teacher and mentor after finding herself demoted to catching the aerialist. The two women are thrown together–rivals at first, Noa and Astrid form an unlikely pairing and unbreakable bond.

 

Jenoff’s writing is superb, and she segues between voices/perspectives and time. Her relationships and struggles are believable with the exception of Noa and Luc. Their connection seems to have happen too quickly and felt forced. I didn’t believe that Noa would develop feelings as fast as she did and cause her to act so impulsively. This is where the book fell apart, Luc was not as developed as the other characters which made Noa’s attraction to him seem contrived.

 

Described as Water for Elephants meets The Nightingale, I was hesitant to request this book because both titles so unforgettable. As I’ve said before, this is often a marketing ploy that leads to disappointment for the reader. That being said, historical fiction is one of my go-to genres of late and I was intrigued. This book is a solid 3.5 stars for me, definitely not the same 5 star calibre as either book it claims to be a mash-up of, but a good read nonetheless.

Source: http://girlwellread.blogspot.ca/2017/01/the-orphans-tale-by-pam-jenoff.html

The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

The Reason You're Alive - Matthew Quick

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Harper for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

You may be familiar with Quick because of the success of The Silver Linings Playbook—isn't that such a great title?  I had not read anything of his and happily requested this book because The Silver Linings Playbook was such a fantastic movie, not just because of Bradley Cooper, but because of the story.

 

David Granger is a sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam vet that has crashed his BMW.  Upon further testing, it is revealed that he has a brain tumour that he attributes to his exposure to Agent Orange.  In the twilight from surgery, David repeats the name "Clayton Fire Bear" over and over.  Fire Bear a Native American soldier that Granger had the task of disciplining during the war, and his nemeses.  Granger stole something from him and decides that in order to make peace with his life, he must return it.  In search of closure, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery; this may save his sanity and help him deal with the loss of his beloved wife.

 

He is an incredibly multi-faceted character that is hanging on to his not so politically correct ideals in a changing world.  There is so much he doesn't understand, yet he ploughs forward, and stumbles his way through awkward social situations and modern American life with the help of his loved ones.  At times his behaviour is cringe-worthy, but under the surface is a kind, patriotic, honourable, and compassionate man.   

 

I loved the book and by the end I absolutely adored David, even with his many flaws.  His outspokenness was so comedic yet strangely endearing.  Pick this up, you'll be so glad you did!

Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

Never Let You Go - Chevy Stevens

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

 

Lindsey Nash escapes into the night with her young daughter to leave her abusive ex-husband.  With her ex behind bars, the two start a new life.  Fast forward eleven years and Lindsey and teenage Sophie have settled into their new life.  When Lindsey's ex-husband Andrew is released from prison, things start to unravel: her new boyfriend is threatened, her home and the home of her clients are invaded, and Sophie is followed.  Andrew claims he has changed and that Lindsey and Sophie are in danger.  

 

The book opens with the family on vacation.  Lindsey is doing everything in her power to keep Andrew's temper in check and her daughter unaware as to what is going on to protect her innocence.  She keeps her eyes averted to any males, and covers up as much of herself as possible when sunning on the beach—any wrong move will send Andrew into a jealous rage, especially when he is drinking,  and also increase his hold over Lindsey.  Stevens had me at the first page, like Lindsey, I was completely on edge.  The story is told   

 

This fast-paced ride was exactly what I was looking for and I devoured the book in one sitting.  Stevens' writing is gritty, suspenseful, raw, and haunting.  By far her best book to date.

 

Always: A Novel

Always: A Novel - Sarah Jio

A special thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Kailey Crane seems to have it all: a great job as a writer for the Herald, and a wonderful fiancé who looks like a Disney prince and is seemingly perfect. After enjoying a romantic dinner at one of Seattle's contemporary downtown restaurants, Kailey offers her leftovers to a homeless man and is stunned when she recognizes him. He is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.

The story alternates from present day to ten years earlier to explore Kailey and Cade's relationship. Their initial attraction was undeniable and intense. Kailey is swept up in their connection and is left heartbroken when the relationship suddenly ends and Cade disappears from her life. Present day Cade is a broken-down version of his former self—he may look similar, but he has suffered a brain injury. Is the man that Kailey once loved still in there? How did he go from being famous in the music industry to homeless?

Kailey takes on Cade's care and keeps it from her fiancé. She is desperate to piece together what has happened to him and in doing so, awakens her unresolved feelings and puts her into a compromising position where she must decide which man she will continue to love.

A fast read, enjoyable, but terribly predictable and there is a gaping plot hole—who prevented Cade from getting the medical care he needed and signed him out of the hospital? Would nobody really be looking for him? He was after all a famous producer and co-owned a record label. If you are a fan of this genre, you would definitely enjoy the book.

Property Of, The Drowning Season, Fortune's Daughter, and At Risk: Four Novels in One Collection

Property Of, The Drowning Season, Fortune's Daughter, and At Risk: Four Novels in One Collection - Alice Hoffman

A special thank you to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Those of you that actually read this blog, my online reviews, or follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or Pintrest would know that Alice Hoffman is my favourite author, so to be asked to review this collection was an absolute pleasure.

This eBook features four of Hoffman's early works: her first two novels (Property Of and The Drowning Season) as well as two from almost a decade later (Fortune's Daughter, and At Risk). It is a wonderful compilation of her stunning writing.

I would give this collection a 5/5. It is a must-read for any fan, and would be a brilliant introduction to Alice Hoffman for those who haven't yet lost themselves in the pages of one of her literary masterpieces.

Review of each book is on the blog. www.girlwellread.blogspot.com.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett - Chelsea Sedoti

A special thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Hawthorn, an awkward teenager, becomes obsessed with solving the disappearance of Lizzie Lovett, a girl who mysteriously vanished while on a camping trip with her boyfriend. Her overactive imagination invents a crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie and in order to prove it, Hawthorn inserts into Lizzie's life, including taking Lizzie's job and boyfriend.

Sedoti walks a fine line with such an unreliable narrator in Hawthorn. This coming-of-age story could come off as campy, but she pulls it off by giving Hawthorn some redeeming qualities that flesh out as the story progresses. It would be easy for the reader to assume that she is immature for her age, but in fact, it is simply lack of life experience given that she only has one friend and is therefore stunted when it comes to forming relationships.

Without giving away the ending, the writing is raw and encapsulates what it is like to be a misfit teenager, or anyone really who is trying to find their place in the world. Sedoti captures Hawthorn's angst and emotion through her solid writing. Her character is multi-faceted from her sarcastic wit to her vulnerable interior and this is why the story can move on from Hawthorn's juvenile theory into a moving story.