Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

Author Marian Keyes is back with a book featuring the Walsh sisters, The Mystery of Mercy Close. Four of the authors prior novels have featured the Walsh sisters - Watermelon, Angels, Rachel's Holiday, and Anybody Out There - each focused on one on this sisters and this last one focuses on the youngest, Helen.  A private investigator in Dublin, Helen's business has been suffering due to the tough economic climate in Ireland. She has gotten behind on her mortgage payments and ends up having to move back in with her parents. She is feeling pretty low because of her change in fortune when an old friend asks for her investigative assistance in finding the lost member of a reunited boy band.

Wayne Diffney from the boy band, "The Laddz", lives on Mercy Close in Dublin. He mysteriously disappears a week before the band's big reunion. Jay Parker is producing the reunion show and he contracts Helen to find Wayne urgently. Helen put aside her own personal struggles to try to focus on the mystery of the disappearing "boy band" member. In an effort to try to understand Wayne's state of mind before his disappearance, Helen spends a lot of time in his house on Mercy Close looking through his records and generally trying to determine what was going on with Wayne before he left or was abducted. Having recently lost her own home, she develops an unusual attraction to Wayne's home and starts to feel very comfortable there.

In between searching for Wayne, Helen is spending time with her boyfriend Artie. Unfortunately, things with Artie are also a bit complicated. With three young children that spend a lot of time at his house, there is very little along time for Artie and Helen. In addition, Artie's ex-wife is on very friendly terms with Artie and is constantly there. Although Helen likes her, she could do with seeing a little less of her. The undercurrent to all  these problems is Helen's state of mind. She is grappling with depression and it colors her view of everything including her relationship with Artie and her job as a private investigator.

My Thoughts
I have long been a fan of Marian Keyes and especially her Walsh sisters series; I wrote in this post about Marian Keyes's "skillful chicklit". So I was excited to learn that the author was back with a new book and it was about the youngest Walsh sister, Helen. Unfortunately, however, this book just didn't work for me. Helen's hi-jinks all seemed contrived and where I usually find wit in these books, I found that the jokes fell flat. The book also seemed inconsistent - at varying points in the book, Helen's issues with depression would come up but they didn't seem authentic and, at times, I felt she trivialized a very serious condition. There is even a suicide attempt in the book that seems very ill-placed. The author has been very public about her own struggles with depression so I am surprised at the lack of authenticity in the sections of the book dealing with depression. Or maybe this genre is just not conducive to such a serious topic. Either way, I am disappointed that this book didn't wow me as the others have done.

Not everyone felt the same as I did - you can check out other opinions at Chick Lit Central and Novelicious.

I received an e-galley for review via Netgalley

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Salon: May 26, 2013

The Sunday Salon.com

Happy Sunday everyone! I am so happy to be in the middle of a three day weekend even though the weather does not yet say summer. I am spending the weekend in the city and enjoyed NOT being part of the mass exodus on Friday afternoon. I am taking advantage of my "staycation" by taking a NYC Photo Safari in Central Park tomorrow. I love to take photos but could use some basic guidance on composition and technique - that plus some companionship while taking photos sounds perfect!

Book Expo America takes place next week in NYC with the Book Blogger Conference on Wednesday followed by the convention through Saturday. I also got tickets to one of the author breakfasts - the one taking place on Saturday (least chance for a work emergency to pre-empt it) which includes Helen Fielding (of Bridget Jones fame), John Lewis, Chris Matthews and Diana Gabaldon. I have taken Wednesday through Friday off and am looking forward to taking advantage of some time on the convention room floor - last year I didn't make it there at all.  Some work events have started to encroach but I still have time blocked off and I am hanging on to it.

I put together two Pinterest boards for next week - one is BEA Essentials which includes items I have found helpful in prior years at the conference.  I also have a board entitled MY NYC which includes places and things to do in the city.  I will continue to add to both over the week so check back - also let me know your essentials and favorite places in the city and I can add them.

I realized one of the last times I was at BEA, that it can be hard to recognize people when you only know them by their blog headers and avatars, so I am including a picture of myself here - I look forward to meeting you at BEA!


This week I posted two reviews - The Love Wars by L.Alison Heller and The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman.

Right now I am reading Commencement by J.Courtney Sullivan which is perfectly suited to this season of graduations and is making me nostalgic for my own college days.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussmann

Jamie Hyde is an adventure guide and, as The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman opens, Jamie is in a plane which is touching down on Bali. This is not, however, her first trip to Bali. Just one year prior, Jamie was in Bali during the 2002 nightclub bombings and she barely escaped the resulting carnage. During the immediate aftermath, she met Gabe, an ex-pat living in Bali and together they tried to heal from their physical injuries and the emotional damage from having witnessed the bombings. Ultimately, Jamie fled Bali and Gabe but she is back one year later searching for healing and peace.

 Jamie is fun-loving and her witty sarcasm is evident even in the opening lines of the book. But her quick wit is thinly covering deep wounds from the 2002 terrorist attacks in Bali. In addition to her aching arm, Jamie is haunted by nightmares and her heart is heavy with everything she saw during the bombings. However, she bravely returns one year later to confront her fears but also hoping to find Gabe. She left Gabe abruptly a year prior in the days following the bombings but she had made a connection with him in those horrific days and is anxious to reconnect. Jamie checks into the Paradise Guest House for her visit and is enveloped in the warmth and hospitality that personifies Bali but even the guest house is a reminder of the events - a widower who lost his wife in the attacks is staying there. Everyone, residents and visitors alike, is on a journey of healing.

My Thoughts
The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman is a short (288 pages), but emotionally packed, novel.  It is beautifully written and the author treats the tragedy with compassion and care. The result is a travel novel and a homage to the country and people of Bali.

This book touched me on many levels. I lived in NY during 9/11 and, even though I was fortunately not directly affected by the attacks, I can relate to having your world  rocked by terrorism. The fear and uncertainty that is brought by terrorism and the effect of seeing so much suffering all around you is difficult to shake.  I saw Jamie and the others experience much of those same emotions.  She, and Bali, also experienced healing and I saw NYC and many of my neighbors make that same journey.

The setting was also special for me - I visited Bali in 2007 and absolutely loved the country and its people. You could not ignore, however, the effects of the bombings even five years later. The undercarriage inspections cars and taxis received every time we pulled up to the hotel was a constant reminder of the tragedy and the changed country it left behind. Despite that, I felt a relaxation and serenity while there unmatched by anywhere else I have visited.

Maya Ubud  - my hotel while in Bali

 Sussman does a wonderful job of portraying the gentleness and peace that surrounds you while in Bali. In addition, there is a tremendous focus on family in the Balinese culture which Sussman showcases through the character of Nyoman who owns the guest house. It certainly brought authenticity to the book for me. A great read - definitely recommend.

Read other reviews from those on the tour

I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: The Love Wars by L. Alison Heller

In The Love Wars by L. Alison Heller, Molly Grant is an associate at a premier Manhattan law firm and has recently moved into the matrimonial division where she is dealing with the demise of the marriages of the rich and powerful. In addition to their demanding clients, Molly and her colleagues are managing the demands of their high maintenance boss and partner in the firm, Lillian. As her clients argue over custody and who is going to pay the other's legal fees and Lillian's demands become ever more insistent, Molly questions why she has sold her soul to this profession and the firm, Bacon Payne.

 Molly comes from a humble background with parents that own a small store and they are immensely proud of their daughter, the attorney. It is partially a sense of obligation to her parents for all they sacrificed that keeps her working at the firm even though the hours are grueling and she doesn't always like her clients or some of her colleagues. She is due is large bonus at the five year mark and she hopes to pay off her parent's mortgage with the bonus which keeps her motivated despite the demands and her occasional struggles with insecurities about her ability to perform. She has difficulty relating to her clients and their "problems" like the successful banker who is bringing her soon to be ex-husband to court over custody of their cats. But Molly is touched by one client, Fern, who seeks the firm's help with the custody agreement between she and her ex-husband. Robert Walker is a powerful media mogul and since the couple's divorce, he has been alienating the children from Fern and denying her visitation. The firm is courting Mr. Walker as a corporate client and they don't want to touch this matrimonial case so Lillian instructs Molly to move Fern along and make recommendations to other firms. When none of those firms help Fern, Molly "goes rogue" and begins helping Fern independently.

While Molly deals with the dissolution of other's relationships, her own love life has suffered.  Relationships have definitely taken a back seat to her career. An old college boyfriend is back in the picture and there seems to be a spark with Henry at work but it is hard to differentiate between a spark and someone with whom you spend 60+ hours per week! Is Molly too busy to get involved or has bearing witness to and trying to help her clients navigate the messy space when a relationship sours made her wary of getting involved?

 My Thoughts
Molly is an immensely likable character  - she has faults but she also has values and is often motivated by the right things.  Her ability to see through the antics of her clients and colleagues resonates and serves to make her an interesting observer of the crazy world of divorce proceedings and custody agreements.  As Molly goes to great lengths and personal risk in helping Fern, the reader sees a character who understands right  from wrong and looks to even the score between the powerful and those without tremendous resources.

I have a lot of friends who have worked in large NYC law firms and many feel the same way as Molly - overworked and constantly questioning why they are doing what they do.  Like Molly, the author is also a divorce attorney which I am sure helped her get this struggle just right - the story did not feel cliched. This is definitely a great read and, like The Devil Wears Prada, will make you appreciate your own job no matter how tough it might be!

Thank you to Books Sparks PR for providing a copy of this book for review.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: The Girl Who Married An Eagle by Tamar Myers

In The Girl Who Married An Eagle, Tamar Myers draws on her childhood lived in the Belgian Congo for this final book in her Belgian Congo series. Born to missionaries, the author lived in the Belgian Congo and that is also the setting for this book with the main character, Julie, arriving in the Congo from Ohio to start her work at the mission. While there, she leads a school for girls and meets Buakane who has recently been sold by her parents to Chief Eagle for a sum of goats and chickens - she will be the Chief's 23rd wife. Julie tries to save Buakane from this fate but that is no easy feat.

Julie is enthralled when she learns about the missions at her church in Ohio and in a step of rebelliousness, more than selflessness, she heads to the Congo. Shortly after arriving, she meets young Clementine, a precocious young girl who was born to the children on missionaries in the Congo. She is both Julie's guide to life in the village and her charge - she is soon tasked with keeping Clementine under control. Meanwhile Buakane has eavesdropped on her parent's conversation and learned that they plan to sell her to Chief Eagle for a sum of goats and chickens. Buakane is a beautiful young girl (barely a teen) and will become the 23rd wife of Chief Eagle. Some of the Chief's wives have met with terrible fortunes so Buakane is justifiably nervous about this deal struck by her parents. Furthermore, the last wife of a Chief gets buried alive with the Chief when he dies and Buakane fears she could meet that fate. The story alternates between Buakane's story and that of Clementine who we soon learn has suffered quite a bit for a young girl. The story of the Belgian Congo and the customs of colonialism and tribal culture are weaved throughout as Julie learns about her new home.

My Thoughts
Although this is the final book in the author's Belgian Congo series, it ably stands on its own.  I had not read the previous three books and did not feel like I had missed anything - I believe the setting of the Congo is what unifies the series but the characters are unique to each book. The book is billed as a mystery but I found it light on mystery. In my opinion, it is much more a cultural anthropology set in a novel. I loved reading about the Congo and the customs of the tribal culture. Novels are often my favorite way of discovering new cultures or times in history - this book is especially good in that department because, although not non-fiction, the author writes from her own personal experience so there is authenticity to her setting.

This book definitely got me thinking about the exploitation of women in some third world nations and in certain cultures. Without much of a thought, Buakane's parents sold her off to the Chief knowing that she would be buried alive with him if he died while she was still his most recent wife. By selling her, they guaranteed their own security and also Buakane's as she would be fed and cared for as the wife of the Chief. It struck me that these are the types of decisions some people must make and how those circumstances doom many women to arranged marriages where they are given few choices and even put into danger.  So, although light on mystery, this books definitely gave me something to think about and, through and enjoyable story, allowed me to learn about life in a Belgian mission in the 1950's. It was a great way to spend a long flight.

I review this book as part of the TLC Book Tour - you can see other reviews on the tour schedule.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What My Mother Gave Me by Elizabeth Benedict (TSS)

The Sunday Salon.com

What My Mother Gave Me is a collection of essays edited by Elizabeth Benedict. In each essay, a woman writes about a gift given to them by their mother. These gifts are more than material -their value generally lies in the meaning and lesson beneath the object if one is given. In many of the stories, the relationship between mother and daughter is fraught but with distance there are still lessons to be learned. The collection is a tribute to motherhood and the varied ways in which women bring their own history to bear on the act of mothering.

 Each of the thirty-one essays in the collection is authored by an accomplished writer - contributors include Roxana Robinson, Lisa See and Joyce Carol Oates. In each essay, the author speaks of a gift given to them by their mother. In some cases, mother and daughter share a close relationship and the gift is lovingly appreciated both in reflection and when it was given. But in many more cases, the mother and daughter relationship was difficult and the gifts could only be appreciated upon reflection. There were a number of stories where a generational divide could be seen with a mother who placed traditional expectations on their daughter who was fighting to be anything but traditional. Often the daughter was surprised to realize her traditional mother actually respected the daughter's less than conventional decisions and enjoyed watching her daughter live a life not afforded to the mother.

Me and Mom - circa 1975
 This is not a sentimental collection (although a few stories did bring tears to my eyes) - emotions between a mother and daughter are strong and these essays do not sugarcoat that. They do, however, highlight the different ways in which women mother. Some women use a strong hand while others indulge their children; some face terrible odds with little support while others need tremendous support due to illness or affliction. In all cases, however, mothers impart tremendous lessons to their children and especially to their daughters. Those lessons are best learned in reflection and the authors of the essays in What My Mother Gave Me beautifully reflect on them. Their tributes make a wonderful gift for any mother.

Read about Elizabeth Benedict's inspiration for the collection and her own gift from her mother

 Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Giveaway: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

I am a big fan of the show Gilmore Girls, including the character "Lorelei" played by actress Lauren Graham. The actress has gone on to play Sarah Braverman in the hit TV show Parenthood. Most recently, Lauren Graham has turned her hand to writing and her first novel Someday, Someday, Maybe  hit stores on April 30th.

Someday, Someday, Maybe
From Lauren Graham, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, comes a witty, charming, and hilariously relatable debut novel about a struggling young actress trying to get ahead―and keep it together―in New York City.

It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates―her best friend Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer―are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she’s not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Not just yet. But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she’d happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything—and finding a hair product combination that works.

Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he’s suddenly started paying attention. Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It’s about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job.

About the Author: Lauren Graham is an actress best known for her roles on the critically acclaimed series Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. She has performed on Broadway and appeared in such films as Bad Santa, Evan Almighty, and Because I Said So. She holds a BA in English from Barnard College and an MFA in acting from Southern Methodist University. She lives in New York and Los Angeles. Twitter: @therealLaurenGraham

Much loved for her portrayal of Loreli and Sarah Braverman, Lauren Graham is also getting praise for her first novel:

“Sweet, funny, and full of heart . . . a dazzling debut.”—Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author of Something Borrowed and Where We Belong

“Warm and funny, charming and smart.”—Diane Keaton, New York Times bestselling author of Then Again

“Graham deftly captures what it’s like to be young, ambitious, and hopeful in New York City.”—Candace Bushnell, New York Times bestselling author of Sex and the City and The Carrie Diaries

Thanks to Random House, I have 2 copies of this book to giveaway (US entrants only please).  The giveaway will close Sunday May 12th.  To enter, leave a comment below about what your "someday" dream is (or was!).  Please also leave a way to contact you.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader (read by author; 2 hrs, 27 mins) by Alan Bennett presents a fictional Queen of England who has recently discovered the joy of reading. Having always been a "doer" with a tremendous sense of duty, Her Majesty viewed reading as passive, much like spectating, and therefore did very little of it. When her Corgis get into a mobile library that has pulled up to the Palace grounds, the Queen selects a book out of courtesy. She soon finds herself transported by reading and shirking her duties to just sit and read.

 Her staff are initially perplexed and then troubled by her reading. Their concerns range from the impact of the reading on the Queen's ability to maintain her schedule to the fact that her need to share what she is reading exposes the fact that she has preferences. The Monarch should take an interest but not be interested in a particular topic; in this way none of her subjects feel excluded. Her equerries and even the Prime Minister are worried about the Queen's state of mind when she asks if she should read from a book as part of her Christmas message. They begin to intervene in unusual ways to get between the Queen and her books. As dedicated readers know, however, that is difficult to do.

  My Thoughts
When I reviewed Mrs. Queen Takes the Train last year , many people commented on that post recommending The Uncommon Reader. The premises are similar - a fictional Queen takes on an everyday activity and reveals a little of her own frailty and vulnerability in the process. When the Queen first started visiting the mobile library, she was not unlike any reluctant reader - skeptical about reading with relatively narrow tastes. Norman, who also visits the mobile library, runs through a number of potential book recommendations before he lands on one that will sufficiently interest the Queen and not squelch her budding taste for reading. She quickly becomes absorbed in the joys of reading and is soon making recommendations herself to anyone that would listen. There is a tragic element to the story as the Queen is portrayed as largely alone and often on the outside of things looking in.

This audiobook was such a pleasure - how can you not love a book which is essentially an ode to reading and the love of all things literary? The book is read by the author and each line is delivered with theatrical precision  - I especially enjoyed the witty lines and laughed out loud (while walking down the street) many times. This whimsical tale which also offers keen observations about the joy and value of reading is a must listen (or must read!) and would make a great gift for any reader.