Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the category “Book Reviews – Susan”

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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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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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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Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? by Lisa Scottoline & Francesca Serritella

does this beach make me look fat-HC Mech.inddEveryone’s favorite mother-daughter duo is at it again with a new collection of hilarious tales.  Fans of this wildly popular series will be laughing out loud while reading this diverse cache of essays. With titles such as Guilt tripping at 65 MPH, I’m spending my granddog’s inheritance, and You’re just some appliance that I used to know, the beloved writing team tackles subjects as funny and complex as the world we live in today.

As always, one of the best things about the books in this series is that you can read them straight through or just randomly pick essays to enjoy. Perfect for on-the-go or on-the-beach! And while you’ll be hard-pressed to pick a favorite of the bunch, you are guaranteed non-stop laughs as you enjoy Lisa’s escapades with her besties and oh-so-adorable menagerie of pets.

Be sure to save a spot front-and-center on your library shelf for this terrific read!

– Susan

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Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Love May FailThe celebrated author of The Silver Linings Playbook returns with the equally quirky Love May Fail. Portia Kane is a self-declared feminist who embarks on a journey to find the meaning of life after she catches her no-good husband cheating on her. Disgusted with living the high life in Florida, Portia heads back to South Jersey to reconnect with her mother, a lonely hoarder. During the plane ride home, Portia chats with a mysterious nun whose interest in Portia’s hard luck story turns out to be the divine intervention she is looking for. Little does Portia realize that this chance meeting will set her on a path to personal redemption.

It is shortly thereafter that Portia discovers her favorite high school teacher Mr. Vernon has gone into hiding after a horrendous classroom incident. Considering this to be the epiphany she has been waiting for, Portia decides her life’s mission is to become his savior. While on this quest she enlists the help of some former high school friends that produces touching and surprising results.

Anyone growing up in the eighties will enjoy this novel full of nostalgia and cultural references. With its offbeat characters and at times improbable plot twists, the story may be a little long-winded and over the top for some, but for those readers that are Matthew Quick fans, they will certainly not be disappointed.

– Susan

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The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsFans of the charming bestseller, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, will certainly want to get their hands on Annie Barrows’ latest novel. It’s as luscious and satisfying as an iced tea on a lazy summer afternoon! Harkening back to the simpler times of 1938 America, we are introduced to Miss Layla Beck, a spoiled southern belle who gets a wake-up call when her own father boots her out of the lap of luxury and forces her to go to work.

Sent to the sleepy town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a dissertation on the town’s history for the Federal Writers’ Project, Layla initially balks at the idea. Soon enough, she finds herself becoming deeply attached to the Romeyn family, the household in which she is boarding during her stay. She starts to uncover all sorts of fascinating and titillating family secrets and is even more surprised to discover her own burgeoning attraction to notorious black sheep Felix Romeyn.

If you love family sagas, served up southern style, then you will love this book as much as I did. There are all sorts of characters, storylines, and plot twists to keep you reading into the wee hours. I highly recommend this as the perfect beach read, book group pick, Mother’s Day gift … well, you don’t even need a good reason to devour this one! Pick up a copy and see for yourself.

– Susan

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The Sweetheart Deal by Polly Dugan

The Sweetheart DealWould you honor a spontaneous pact made with your best friend a dozen years ago knowing that the outcome could seal your fate forever?

This is the question that haunts Garrett.  He and pal Leo created an agreement which stated that Garrett must marry Leo’s widow Audrey in the event of his death. Although this request took him by surprise at the time, Garrett signs the paper after Leo won’t take no for an answer.

Fast forward twelve years when Leo dies in a skiing accident. Garrett, still a bachelor, cannot forget the promise he made but has no idea if Audrey knows about the pact. At the time of his death, Leo was in the middle of renovating his home and Garrett sees this as the perfect opportunity to begin honoring the deal. Moving in with Audrey and her three sons to finish the task seems like an honest way to launch their friendship into something more. But when Audrey finds out Garrett’s true intentions, all hope seems lost.

More than your typical romance novel, the story exposes what happens to the family dynamic amid loss and change. Feelings between Audrey and Garrett are explored as well as the effect of their relationship on her grieving sons. This multi-faceted and tender story is sure to have you reaching for your nearest tissue box as well as inspiring many a discussion in a book club setting.

– Susan

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