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Archive for the category “Book Reviews”

The Abbey by James Martin

The Abbey by James MartinFamed author and second most popular Jesuit in the world (after Pope Francis), James Martin ventures into new territory by penning his first novel.

Those of you familiar with Father Martin’s works already know he has a knack for making Jesuit spirituality down-to-earth and user-friendly for everyone. The question is can he successfully make the transition to storytelling?

The fictitious Abbey of Saints Philip and James is the setting for three intersecting tales. This sacred place reveals itself as a touchstone for the lives of each character. Anne is a single mother grieving for her only child who died at a young age. Mark is the abbey’s handyman who rents his home from Anne and feels a growing restlessness. Father Paul, head abbot who befriends both Anne and Mark, ponders his decision to sequester himself from the world. Their lives crisscross in a profound way through their time shared at the abbey.

The story itself is very enjoyable but the details are heavy on Catholic dogma and ritual which may lessen the appeal for a broader audience. However, with Catholicism’s resurging popularity in recent years, this novel will be a welcome addition to collections in both the spiritual and public sector. With an ending that brings more questions than answers, readers will be clamoring for a sequel to shed light on how Anne, Mark, and Father Paul finally find peace for their souls.

– Susan

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Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

WTNV_Version BEST 2.27In a small desert town where nothing is as it seems, an old woman lives with angels (though, of course, we all know angels do not legally exist…shhh). A well-meaning community radio host helps citizens accept that nothing will ever make any sense as they hurtle toward the inevitable expiration date waiting for us all, well except perhaps for eternally-19-year-old Jackie Fierro, you know, she runs the pawn shop, whose doors she inexplicably detaches and buries come closing time.

Our story picks up when the man in a tan jacket, holding a deerskin suitcase, gives Jackie a slip of paper that never leaves her left hand. Oh, she tries to get rid of it, she tries to throw the paper away, yet there it is, back again in her hand.

A series of events teams Jackie with Diane Crayton, treasurer of the Night Vale Parent-Teacher Association, and her son Josh on a quest to find King City, the mysterious town written on that stubborn piece of paper. Josh, as a shapeshifter, hopes to find clues about his mysteriously absentee father.

This wonderfully weird read features the same humor and offbeat philosophy found in the podcast of the same name, yet with even more heart. This book reads like a humorous episode of The Twilight Zone, a travel guide, and mystery all in one. Readers get a further bonus as a transcript of a new Night Vale Community Radio broadcast runs throughout the book.

Fans of the podcast will be thrilled to learn more about several popular characters. What new secrets will we learn about the man in the tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase? Carlos, the scientist, and Old Woman Josie, who lives on the edge of town, also play a part in the story. Readers will hold their breath as Jackie and Diane take a fateful trip to the Night Vale Public Library, which, as everyone knows, is run by deadly, feral librarians.

– Travis

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Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did you Ever Have a Family by Bill CleggLong-listed for the Man Booker prize before it is even published, Bill Clegg’s debut fiction describes a portrait of a family and one that is built in the wake of loss.

On the day June Reid was to celebrate her daughter’s marriage, a terrible accident occurs, killing her daughter, son-in-law-to-be, ex-husband, and her current boyfriend, Luke. As the only survivor, how can she move on after such a devastating loss?

Told from the varied perspectives of those around the tragedy, their voices give insight into the history of this small town and helps put the pieces into place that wouldn’t have connected otherwise.

Central to the story, is Luke’s mother, Lydia, whose poor life choices have always made her an outcast in the small Connecticut town where everyone knows your business. Although, Lydia and June were friends before the tragedy, Lydia doesn’t know how to be there for June whose loss is even greater than her own.

June, numb and empty with no reason to stay, takes a road trip across the country finally stopping at a motel her daughter once visited.

June and Lydia both had rocky relationships with their children and we are shown in glimpses the roads they travelled to repair those relationships and we feel the heartbreak in their realization that those repairs can never be complete.

Can these two women move past their mistakes, find forgiveness and healing, and build something resembling a family?

A heartbreaking, yet inspiring read that will be on everyone’s reading lists this fall.

– Amy

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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! – by Jonathan Evison

Evison_Chance_HC_Jkt_Mech.inddAt first glance you might not think that reading about Harriet Chance, your typical American senior citizen coping with the inevitable issues of old age, would seem like an exciting premise.

But hold on to your hats dear readers, because the snappy en pointe wit of Jonathan Evison’s writing draws you in as soon as you pick up the book! When Harriet finds out that she is the recipient of a cruise to Alaska she unknowingly begins the journey of a lifetime. This absorbing, sentimental, yet dramatic story weaves back and forth through time, starting with Harriet as a baby and continues on through present day, highlighting the important events and people that shaped who she was and who she was to become.

Guided by the spirit of her late husband Bernard, the plucky heroine finds herself reminiscing on key life episodes that are as much about love as they are about despair, regrets, and unanswered questions. As Harriet navigates between past and present she acknowledges the truism that hindsight is indeed 20/20. By the end of the tale Harriet finally musters the courage to forgive and be forgiven and it is then she finds peace at last.

I was utterly beguiled by this delightful and imaginative story. Everything about the plot, characters, and dialogue was a true delight. You too will be smitten with the story of Harriet Chance and the kaleidoscopic whirlwind of her life dished out in game-show style snippets. If you love the heartwarming style and panache of Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, don’t miss this charming winner!

– Susan

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A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise by Alex Sheshunoff

Beginners Guide to ParadiseYears ago, Calgon had a very successful ad campaign for bath products that featured the slogan “Calgon, take me away!” Many of us have humorously chanted that now ubiquitous catchphrase (and still do!) dreaming of our own island getaway. Reality check – In his delightful memoir, Alex Sheshunoff tells us that sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

After experiencing severe burnout running a Manhattan-based Internet start-up company, Alex suddenly decides to chuck it all and buy a one way ticket to the Pacific Islands. With no immediate plans beyond trying to figure out how much luggage to take, he is pretty much up for anything that comes his way.

In a humorous and self-deprecating style, the author outlines his search for nirvana in sound-bite chapters.  After spending much time island-hopping and trying to navigate his way around various culture clashes, Alex soon discovers that finding Paradise is harder than he expected. His experiences are more Gilligan’s Island…. Sandals Beach Resort, um… not so much.  As you follow along on the seemingly never-ending voyage you can’t help but admire his cheerful tenacity and determination. Not once does he give up chasing his dream, and just when he considers waving the white flag and buying a ticket home, does he find his ultimate happiness in a very surprising way.

Globetrotters and armchair travelers alike will enjoy sailing along with the author on this fantastic soul-searching journey.

– Susan

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The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

9780425271810Fans of historical fiction will want to check out this engrossing novel about New York society in the 1880’s which features an unforgettable cast of characters and the glittering backdrop of old world Manhattan.

The story revolves around the lives of Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie. Both accomplished graduates of the Women’s Medical School, it is their daily mission to aid and comfort women with exemplary professional and personal skills. Both doctors face obstacles that would be unheard of in today’s society, but were a very real threat at that time. Anna struggles to prove herself a competent surgeon in a field dominated by patronizing authority. Sophie, who is of mixed race, has her own struggles as she endures the constant disapproval of people deeming her unworthy of carrying out a noble profession.

You’ll be highly entertained as you follow these fascinating heroines while at the same time learning a great deal about daily life in early America. Parallel plots concerning female reproductive rights and a family’s relentless search to locate two missing orphans will no doubt open your eyes to the challenges that were front and center during this time period.

Combining a successful and satisfying mix of historical, romantic, and mystery fiction, this novel will ring true for a multitude of readers and will showcase once again the talents of a writer at the top of her game.

– Susan

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Purity by Jonathan Franzen

purityI am the first to admit that I have not read Franzen before now. With all of the hullabaloo that usually surrounds his books, I was always a little leery and wondered if they lived up to the hype. However, I like to keep an open mind about these things so I took the plunge to read his latest endeavor.

Right out the gate, I will say that Purity will be this summer’s Goldfinch, which means that it is a long and complicated novel, full of many characters, plot twists, and intricate details. The book has a lot going on, so it may be too heavy (literally and figuratively) to be your beach read, but once you get started you won’t be able to put it down.

The title character, also known as Pip, is a 20-something troubled soul trying to find her purpose in life while simultaneously wondering how to pay off her staggering student loan debt. If only she could locate her long lost father who (by her mother’s account) is very well to do, her problems would be solved. Unfortunately, her mother refuses to reveal who Pip’s father is so she is left to her own devices to try to find him. Thus begins her bizarre and somewhat unlikely odyssey.

One surely cannot discredit Franzen’s writing chops and it can be assured, this novel takes you on a strange, manic, and crazy ride. It is not for the faint of heart, and can be quite brutal and even dismal in parts. Yet an inexplicable curiosity (or madness!) will keep you soldiering on, if for nothing more than to cheer on Pip and her never-ending hope of finding what she is looking for.

– Susan

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Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing SecretsThis book drew me in so completely, I did not want to put it down.

We are introduced to Elizabeth Kennedy or Lizzie to her friends, a young girl who aspires to be a scientist. Unfortunately for her, there’s a bit of a problem, it’s the 1900s.

While Lizzie does go to school, it’s a finishing school and not one where she fits in well. The other girls are snobby, and Lizzie has a difficult time making friends.  One of the highlights of her weeks is going on calls with her father, who is a doctor, and encourages her love of science. These outings are frowned upon by her Aunt who helps to take care of Lizzie and her brother William. Her Aunt does not approve of Lizzie’s interest in science and thinks the focus of their father’s attention should be on young William.

Lizzie will soon discover that there is more to life than her interest in science. Like how to make friends at school, or learning more about Noah, the son of her family’s Chinese cook. When Lizzie discovers he is hiding in the servant’s quarters, she wants to know why and how is it that she never knew of him.

Lizzie finds out that Noah has questions of his own. He wants to know if he can go back and live with his uncle in China Town, and why some people are dying of an illness and some survive.  Lizzie and Noah team up to find out if there is a plague in San Francisco and what they can do to help.

So pick up this book and see how Lizzie survives her triumphs and trials and if she will continue on with her in interest in science.

– Ellen

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After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga

After the Red RainLife as we know it has ended in this thrilling book, “After the Red Rain”. Wars, pollution and other unnamed disasters have blocked the sun and because of this, our planet is dying. There are no natural forms of plant or animal life, excluding humans, left on the planet and as a result, we are destined for extinction.

Our heroine, Deedra is doing the best she can to survive in this new and terrifying world. Having been born in this dark time, she doesn’t know that life could be any better.  That is until she sees the most perfect and Beautiful Boy named Rose, trying to cross the river into her district.  Rose is as mysterious as he is beautiful and Deedra is immediately drawn to him. The two become unlikely friends and discover that not everything is as it seems.

After the murder of the magistrate’s son, Rose becomes the prime suspect. They fight to prove Rose’s innocence and for their survival. In the process, they stumble across the government’s darkest secret imaginable. With this new knowledge, they are forced to act to save what is left of the world.

This is a fast paced book with surprises around every corner. I loved the way the author proposed the terrifying idea about our bleak future without plants. This is a very real issue in today’s world and it really makes you think “what if?”

Extremely well done and I look forward to a sequel!

– Renee

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Far Outside the Ordinary by Prissy Elrod

Far Outside the OrdinaryWhen a newly married couple promises to love each other “in sickness and in health” they do not know if they will ever be put to the test.  But when Prissy Elrod’s husband Boone is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she quickly wakes up to her new reality. With her can-do personality Prissy unabashedly delves into the role and chronicles her efforts to be the ultimate loving spouse and caregiver. It is only when her daughter finally forces Prissy to accept the fact that she needs help does the story take a surprising turn.

Growing up in the south, Prissy was surrounded and loved by many African-American caregivers. When she hires a group of them to care for Boone, the love and tenderness she feels for her new friends makes it easier to endure the hardships she faces. With a fond and oftentimes humorous tone she recognizes that it is friends and family that help heal her broken heart. It is her stark honesty that will truly strike a chord with you.

In the second half of this memoir we find out how Prissy carries on after her husband’s death. It is an inspiring and heartwarming conclusion to this story. Prissy’s tale will touch the hearts of all readers, and I highly recommend it to those in Caregiving roles.

– Susan

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