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Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the category “Book Reviews – Susan”

Thomas Murphy by Roger Rosenblatt

Thomas MurphyMost of us are well acquainted with Roger Rosenblatt’s non-fiction charmers such as The Boy Detective and Making Toast. His latest fiction offering, Thomas Murphy, is another cause for celebration. In this delightful story, we are fortunate to read the philosophical and random musings of the titular poet.

Rosenblatt’s familiar and comfortable writing style makes Murph (as he’s known by his friends) feel like an old friend, father, or beloved uncle. Now getting on in age and facing his sunset years, Murph ponders his recent widowhood and his relationship with his daughter, grandson, and other beloved lifelong friends.

Just when he seems happily resigned to the fact that his best days may already be behind him, a chance meeting at a bar with a stranger suddenly turns his life around. The stranger, Jack, finds out that Murph is a poet and asks him if he would do an extraordinary favor. At first Murph is reluctant to get involved in Jack’s business but is soon charmed by Jack’s wife Sarah and agrees to help out.

As the story progresses with Murph and Sarah discovering a mutual attraction, you’ll be tempted to hurry to the end to find out what happens. But to do so would mean missing out on each heartbreaking nuance that Rosenblatt brings to the table. As his fans already know, what this wordsmith puts on paper is meant to be slowly savored and pondered…much the same way Murph approaches his own life in the final days.

– Susan

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American Housewife by Helen Ellis

American Housewife.jpgWhen you hear the term “American Housewife”, maybe you think of Donna Reed or some other famous domestic icon. Author Helen Ellis turns this common perception on its head with a searing and snarky collection of short stories.

Like some kind of warped combination of Tales from the Darkside meets Married with Children, you’ll find yourself gasping “Oh no she didn’t!” time and again as you dive into these delightfully twisted tales. You can’t help but enjoy the very un-PC stories as you soon discover how The Housewife exacts her revenge in a most unladylike way.

To add a little levity, Ellis also throws in some tried-and-true tidbits of advice, as touted in chapters such as “How to be a grown-ass lady” and “How to be a patron of the arts.”

This collection certainly won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoy the sharp wit of writers like Amy Sedaris and Mindy Kaling, then you are in for a treat. Grab your bon-bons and enjoy!

– Susan

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Kookooland by Gloria Norris

Kookooland.jpgGrowing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Manchester, New Hampshire, Gloria Norris learned early on that her family was like no other. Her father, Jimmy, was a no-good, brutish lout who dodged the law every chance he got; skating by on his illegal money-making schemes. Mother Shirley, the good wife, suffers in silence as she endures the worst kind of abuse, even though she would never dream of leaving Jimmy. Little Gloria is also subject to Jimmy’s verbal and emotional abuse, even as she seems unfazed by their bizarre relationship and unorthodox lifestyle.

The one true constant in Gloria’s life is her relationship with Susan Piasceny, daughter of Jimmy’s best friend Hank. It is with Susan that Gloria finds her North Star, her moral compass, her friend for life. As Gloria spends more and more time with Susan, she begins to believe that someday she can rise above their desolate circumstances and attain a level of safety and happiness.

All that changes when a shocking and violent incident rocks Susan’s world. The story takes on an even more sinister tone as Gloria becomes witness to Susan’s downward spiral. Afraid of making the same mistakes as her beloved mentor, Gloria decides she must try to escape her bleak and dangerous environment.

Norris writes in a blunt, gritty, overwhelmingly crass style that at times overshadows her story. But this memoir is a testimony that speaks of the harsh and unforgiving world that she lived in. It is the world of a little girl lost who must ultimately come to terms with her tragic history and make herself whole again.

– Susan

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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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