Gracie’s Song book review

Last week I was contacted by author Michelle Schlicher, asking if I would like to review her latest book Gracie’s Song.  Michelle’s timing was perfect because I was just finishing up another book and looking for a new one to start.  Michelle described Gracie’s Song as a contemporary romance.  I am being completely honest in saying that I didn’t quite know what to expect from a contemporary romance novel.  Was it going to be hot and steamy like a Harlequin Romance novel?  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  You see, romance novels aren’t typically a genre that I seek out.  If a book that I read happens to have a great love story, then I’m almost sure to enjoy it, but a straight up romance novel isn’t something I would generally choose.     Fortunately for me, Gracie’s Song was, in my opinion, contemporary fiction with an element of romance.

 Gracie's Song

Gracie Brannen left her home in Glenwood under mysterious circumstances shortly after her high school graduation, leaving behind her family and friends and a whole lot of unanswered questions.  Among those she left behind was lifelong friend and boyfriend Finn Miller.  Ten years later, she returns home for her mother’s funeral.  Though Gracie has grown into a strong and independent woman, it seems that not much has changed in her small hometown.

Gracie quickly rekindles her relationships with both her sister and best friend and is welcomed into their families.  Her absence is easily forgiven by everyone except Finn, with whom she just can’t seem to reconcile her past.

Gracie’s Song has elements of intrigue that will leave readers on the edge of their seats as Gracie’s past and her reasons for leaving Glenwood are slowly revealed.  This story will break your heart and leave you wanting to know more about some of Gracie’s closest relationships.  While the author didn’t leave any loose ends, Gracie’s Song would easily lend itself to a sequel.

Gracie’s Song is author Michelle Schlicher’s 2nd novel.  I can’t wait to read her debut novel The Blue Jay.

For more information about Michelle’s books, click on the images below:

 

 

Please note:  I received a complementary copy of this book to review.  All opinions expressed within this review are my own.

 

January Reads

Apparently, I’ve read quite a lot this month!  Want to know my secret?  It’s audio books.  I’ve listened to four audio books this month and read 6 books in print.  I’ve gotten into a habit of listening to audio books when I’m doing laundry, cooking, or even when I’m working in the teacher workroom while volunteering at Grace’s school.  I like to fill the quiet spaces with something to occupy my mind.  It makes unpleasant chores so much more tolerable and it is a great way to check off the boxes on my to-read list.

This is just a brief rundown of the books I’ve read this month.

Books in print

In the Woods by Tana French

Technically, I started this book in December, but I finished it a few days into January, so I’m counting it!  This is the first in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.  The story follows detective Rob Ryan as he investigates the murder of a child in his hometown.  This investigation hits a little too close to home for Rob, who, as a child, was abducted along with his two best friends.  Rob was the only one to return alive.  The mystery surrounding his friends’ disappearance remains unsolved and Rob struggles to reconcile his past experience with new information he’s learned during this investigation.  This was a great mystery, though not an easy one to digest due to the subject matter.  I have the second book in this series on my bookcase, just waiting for me to reach out and grab it.  4 Stars.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Eighteen year old Madeline struggles to remember the last time she left her house.  A deadly immune deficiency keeps her locked inside her home.  It is her own personal, hyper-sanitized bubble.  She lives with her mother and is homeschooled. She has a nurse who visits her daily, but most other guests are off limits.  Madeline seems happy and well-adjusted despite her unusual living conditions.  That is, until Olly moves in next door.  When natural human curiosity takes over, Madeline becomes filled with typical teenage angst that threatens everything about her perfectly protected life.  This YA read may lack a little substance, but the twist at the end might just surprise you.  3 Stars.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a grumpy old man.  He is hard-headed and stuck in his ways.  Ove has big plans for himself, but when his neighbors begin meddling in his day to day life, he find that his plans are thwarted over and over again.  I don’t want to say too much about this book, because I would hate to give anything away.  You should know that it is a heart-wrenching read.  Your heart will break for Ove time and again.  But this is also a beautiful love story that proves that it is never too late to love or live.  5 amazing stars.  This is the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

This was the latest book that I’ve reviewed.  You can read all about it here.  This was a fun read and well deserving of 4 stars.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Nicole is a girl growing up in a boy’s body.  She shares all of the same features as her identical twin Jonas, yet she is transgendered.   This is the story of her family’s struggles and triumphs over prejudices living in small town, Maine.  For me, this was an interesting and informative read.  It was also inspirational to see her family overcome their own fears to become Nicole’s greatest supporters.  4 stars.

Audio Books

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

With their dad away working on the oil fields, the Campbell sisters are forced to take care of themselves.  On the rare occasion when their dad does make it home, he is usually drunk and violent.  After a night of violence, the girls flee their home, knowing they will never return.  While trying to escape their past, the girls run into trouble that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  I didn’t love this book.  The narrator of an audiobook can really be a deciding factor in how much I enjoy the book.  I didn’t care for the narrator, but aside from that, I just think the story lacked substance.  The character development just wasn’t there.  The sisters survived terrible situations, but I just didn’t feel a real connection to them.  I gave this one 2 stars.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kalig

This was fun and quick to listen to, although it did garner me a few questionable looks from my husband who could overhear it while I was making supper one evening.  Mindy Kalig is honest and funny.  She’s someone you can picture as a friend.  Like many  other celebrity memoirs, this was a collection of quirky stories in Mindy’s characteristically dry humor.  She makes a great narrator, so this is a good one to listen to on audio.  I gave it 3 stars.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

In a fit of desperation, I downloaded The Book Whisperer while volunteering in the library at Grace’s school.  I had packets to compile and staple for the entire school, so I knew I had a few hours worth of work ahead of me.  I was working in the teacher resource room, so I knew I wouldn’t be offending anyone by having the book played aloud.  This is a book that all elementary teachers should read.  In fact, there is merit in it for middle and high school teachers, as well.  Donalyn Miller shares her secrets on how she successfully encourages a love of reading in her sixth graders.  Her methods are fairly simple and would be easy to implement in almost every type of classroom.  I was in awe of her knack for recommendations and her classroom library that contained thousands of children’s books.  This was a fantastic professional development book.  It gave it 5 stars.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

A group of well to do strangers are gathered in the home of a South American Vice President to celebrate the birthday of a Japanese businessman.  The entertainment for the evening is a beautiful opera singer who mesmerizes the guests with her enchanting performance.  As the evening comes to a close, the home is stormed by hostage takers in what would become a months’ long stand-off.  Patchett delves into the lives of both the hostages and captors, who eventually become like comrades during their time together.  I think this was my first Ann Patchett book, with State of Wonder patiently waiting for me to pull it off my bookshelf.  It was a wonderful piece of fiction, loosely based on actual historical events.  Patchett has a gift for story telling and I look forward to reading more of her books and stories.  I gave this one 4 stars.

What I’m Reading Now

 Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I put this book on hold months and months ago through the library.  In fact, when it finally became available, I almost didn’t download it.  I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl over the summer and let’s just say that I was no fangirl where this book was concerned.  The writing was amateurish and I feel that the author was attempting to ride the coattails of Harry Potter fandom.  But back to Eleanor and Park.  I decided to give it shot because it is so hugely popular in the YA world and promises to be Rowell’s best work.  I’m about halfway through it right now and I’m happy to say that it is better than I expected.  The writing is much stronger and it has a main character that you want to cheer for.

What I’m Reading Next

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

At Grace’s urging, I’m reading Hollow City next.  She had been interested in reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for awhile before she finally got around to reading it on my Kindle.  Hollow City is the second book in this series and it goes without saying that she is hooked!  I’ve got the third book on hold for her at the library and I suspect we will be making a trip to the bookstore this weekend so that she can buy the graphic novel.  I thought Miss Peregrine’s was just okay, but I’m happy to give this one a go at Grace’s instance.

What did you read in January?  What are you reading now?  What are you reading next?  Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.

The Silkworm book review

It’s been a few weeks since I have posted, but I can assure you that I have still been reading!  I have a few books waiting to be reviewed and this is one of the best…

 

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith is the second novel in the Cormoran Strike mystery series.  For those of you that may not be aware, Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.  Though clearly an adult series, the style of writing is just as delicious as the wizarding series that gained Rowling so much notoriety.  Much like any mass market paperback mystery, The Silkworm and it’s predecessor The Cuckoo’s Calling are very formulaic.  But what sets this series apart from one that you would typically pick up at an airport gift shop is the beautiful prose contained within its pages.  J.K. Rowling has such a knack for creating vivid imagery that readers tend to lose themselves in her settings.

Set in the bitter cold of snowy London, private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired by a woman to find her husband who has disappeared among mysterious circumstances.  Owen Quine is a second rate writer who has seen little success.  When his latest book is released amidst major controversy, it seems as though Quine may earn himself some infamy. Quine has managed to insult just about everyone he’s ever encountered in his life in his outlandish tale.  When he turns up murdered, it appears as though everyone in the book is a suspect.

Private investigator Cormoran Strike, a down on his luck former military amputee, leaves no stone unturned in his quest to find Quine’s killer.  If you love a good mystery and have a deep appreciation for literature, then you will love the Cormoran Strike series.  If you’ve already enjoyed the first two novels in the series, then I’m sure you will be thrilled to know that the third book Career of Evil is set to be released next week!

A run-down of what I’m reading

So, life happens and I’ve had a full plate lately.  I’m up to my eyeballs in after school enrichment registrations and helping out with other things at Grace’s school.  I’ve had lots of family time over the last few weeks, which I’ve treasured.  But between keeping my house clean, my people fed, and stressing out about things that are currently beyond my control, my blogging has suffered as has my sleep.  I’ve managed to squeeze in reading, but that is about all the extracurricular activity that I’ve had time for.  Though I may be tired, I’m grateful for this busy season in my life.  It means that I am surrounded by people and activities that I love!

With that, I am going to do something a little different today to catch up.  I am going to do a quick rundown of the last few books I’ve read.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider has been sitting at the top of my review list for the longest, so I will start with it first.  I downloaded this one from the library.  I LOVE being able to download books from the library directly to my Kindle.  If I come across a few that are available now while I’m browsing, I usually download them instantly.

Extraordinary Means is a YA novel about two teenagers who fall for each other under strange circumstances.  Lane and Sadie are sent away to a sanatorium for students with tuberculosis.  Latham House is a former boarding school, turned hospital that acts as a means to quarantine young TB patients during an epidemic outbreak.  Comparisons of Extraordinary Means to The Fault in Our Stars aren’t without merit, but to me it fell a little short of TFIOS greatness.  I gave this one 3/5 stars on Goodreads, but would probably make it 3.5 if I could.  It is an interesting story, with some predictable circumstances, but worthy of a good discussion.

Up next on my Kindle was Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertallianother great library download!  Being that it was only recently released last spring, I really didn’t know what to expect from this book.  At first, I didn’t love the tone of this book.  It was brooding and kind of angry.  I’m not sure if it was the book that changed or if it was me.  As I continued reading, it grew on me and I ended up really loving this book for its boldness.  Simon is a gay high school student, forced out of the closet against his will.  And though his dignity has been stripped away, Simon manages to carry on with grace.  This is a sweet teenage love story that gives me hope for our younger generations and it is very worthy of 4/5 stars.

I pulled Donna Tartt’s A Secret History off my bookshelf next.  I have a stack of used books that I purchased over the summer that I’ve barely delved into.  Must stop reading Kindle books!  But in all seriousness, I picked A Secret History as my next read because there was so much buzz about it on my Instagram feed.  People were raving about it and calling it a favorite!

This book was hefty, weighing in at 628 pages.  Having devoured The Goldfinch earlier in the summer, I was sure I was in for a treat with A Secret History.  Boy, was I wrong.  Set in the late 80’s at a small private college that strives to be Ivy League, A Secret History is about a group of pretentious students who study Greek and only Greek.  They are an elite group of six who happen to have the rare and unusual privilege of being educated privately by an eccentric old professor.  When the group stumbles into some trouble and one of the odd men out threatens to reveal their transgressions, the rest take measures into their own hands.  For me, where this book differed from The Goldfinch was in its characters’ likability.   I’ve said it before, I just can’t enjoy a book with unlikable characters and this book was rife with them.  This book has all the feels of a classic, but I’m not sure it will ever live up to that distinction.  I give this one 2/5 stars, leaning towards a 2.5.

 

And just this morning, I finished up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, another highly anticipated YA library download that I had on hold.  It was hugely disappointing to me and what’s more is I have all the other Rainbow Rowell books on hold at the library, as well!  I’m still holding out hope for Eleanor & Parkbut may have to abandon the others.

Fangirl is the story of Cath, a socially awkward freshman fumbling through her first year of college, while also dealing with some fairly serious family issues.  Cath writes young adult fan fiction, based on the fictitious Simon Snow series, to a huge internet following.  Simon Snow is a play on the Harry Potter series, but a poor imitation at best.  Excerpts from Simon Snow and Cath’s fan fiction are sprinkled throughout the pages of Fangirl.  I found myself skipping over these sections entirely because they were so poorly written.  I wanted to cheer for Cath, but again, I didn’t find her to be all that likable of a character.  She doesn’t make it easy to like her, even the other characters in the book have a difficult time befriending her.  My overall feeling of this book was one of disappointment.  It was just not a compelling read, nor was it very well written.  I give this book a solid 2/5 stars, with better expectations for Eleanor & Park.  

So, what have you been reading lately?  Anything good?  Because it sure looks like I could use some decent recommendations!  I think I’m going to have to pull something highly anticipated off my bookshelf to make up for these last two snoozers.

The Rosie Project Book Review

I may be a little late to this party, but I just have to share how much I loved The Rosie Project!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Many of you may know that I was a special education teacher before I was a mom, so I almost always enjoy reading books, whether fiction or non-fiction, about people with special with special needs.  The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, a highly intelligent genetics professor who also happens to be quite socially inept.  Don’t worry, that isn’t an insult.  Don is quite aware of his own social incompetencies and his rigidity to schedules.  Even after researching and giving a presentation on Asperger’s Syndrome, Don still doesn’t seem to quite connect the dots.

Don has just a few close friends, and even fewer girlfriend prospects.  Knowing that his personality quirks affects his dating life, Don decides to embark on The Wife Project.  He creates a formal survey which he will give to all potential candidates to determine if they meet his extremely high standards.  If they pass, which very few do, then they can be considered for wife material.

In the midst of wife hunting, Don is introduced to Rosie who proceeds to turn his neat and orderly life upside down.  Because of her many eccentricities, Don quickly excludes Rosie from The Wife Project.  Yet he is drawn to Rosie and goes to great lengths to help her with a major life project of her own.

I really adored this book.  It was a quick, light-hearted read.  They say opposites attract and in Rosie and Don’s case, this seems to be true.  You will find yourself chuckling out loud to this sweet rom-com.  And rumor has it that Jennifer Lawrence will star as Rosie in an upcoming movie production of the Rosie Project.

If you loved the Rosie Project, check out the sequel:

The Dinner Book Review

This is a book that I never thought I would read, let alone review.  When I first learned about The Dinner by Herman Koch, I was intrigued.  It sounded like a great plot, until I heard reviews.  It was being compared to Gone Girl.  I knew that was where they lost me.  I had no interest in reading another book like Gone Girl (my apologies to those who liked it) and have avoided reading any of Gillian Flynn’s other novels because of it.  But yesterday, when I was scouring our library’s digital catalog for something to listen to while cooking and doing laundry, this book came across my radar.  For some reason, I wondered if listening to the book might be better than actually reading it.  In my head, I justified it as multi-tasking.  I had nothing to lose.  If I didn’t enjoy it, at least I hadn’t wasted time sitting and doing nothing other than reading.  In fact, I got quite a lot done around the house while listening to it over the last two days.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

As readers, we are invited to join a family dinner among two brothers and their spouses in a swanky upscale restaurant in Amsterdam.  The majority of the book takes place around the table, with plenty of flashbacks to bolster the plot.  Narrator Paul tells the story of his son Michel and his brother’s son, who together have committed a horrific crime.  The two families meet to discuss how the incident should be handled.  

The audio version of The Dinner is narrated by Clive Mantle.  Mantle delivers this reading so brilliantly that, at first, I thought the book to be satire.  As I was listening, I actually thought to myself, “No wonder people don’t like it!  They aren’t getting the satire.  They aren’t reading into the sarcasm that seems to drip from the narrator’s voice when you hear it as an audiobook.”   But as the story wore on, I realized that it was not satire at all.  What I was hearing was complete contempt.  

I had a wide range of emotions while listening to this book.  At first, thinking it was satire, I found it to be a bit humorous.  Paul is poking fun at the expensive restaurant chosen by his brother Serge, who is a shoo-in to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands.  I quickly realize that he dislikes his brother and my attitude towards his brother is begrudging.  As we learn of the sons’ crime, I come to empathize with the parents, wondering what I would do if I were to find myself in a similar situation.  However, as Paul continues to create a backstory, my distaste for him as a person grows.  I find myself completely unsurprised that his son could commit such a horrific act.  And now, thinking back on the story, I find myself wondering if Serge wasn’t quite as terrible as I had made him out to be.  I’ve not read many books that have played with my emotions quite like this one.

The Dinner was a great book to listen to on audio.  I’m glad I chose this format because I would have crawled through it at a much slower pace had I been reading it.  This book has been classified as a psychological thriller.  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I would say that it was dark.  It was dark in a way that you knew there would be no happy ending, similar to an Edgar Allan Poe story.  Yet, I was eager to know how it would end.  With all of its delicious twists and horrifying turns, the ending is one that may not surprise you.  But I can assure you, it will be a dinner unlike any you would ever want to attend.

Big Little Lies: A Book Review

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is without a doubt one of my favorite books of the summer!  Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are an unlikely trio of friends and who are about to face a considerable turning point in each of their lives.  While battling their own inner demons, they are waging war of another kind on snarky kindergarten moms.

Big Little Lies

It is the first day of kindergarten at the public school in the charming little seaside town of Pirriwee near Sydney, Australia.  Madeline and Celeste have been good friends for quite some time.  When Madeline takes a fall in her fancy new high heels on her way to school, Jane comes to her rescue and becomes Madeline’s personal hero.  When Jane’s son is accused of assaulting another child on the first day of kindergarten, it is Madeline and Celeste who come to her rescue.  The three, despite their many differences become close friends who would do anything to protect their children.

Celeste is a mother of twin boys and is wealthy beyond belief and carrying around a dark secret.  Madeline is a middle-class suburban mom of three who is trying her best to maintain a blended family.  And Jane, who can’t seem to stay in one place for long, is a very young, very shy single mother of an only child who has a secret of her own.

The story leads up to the school’s annual trivia night.  Throughout the book, we are given snippets of investigative interviews which leads us to believe that a major turn of events will take place on trivia night.   When the big night finally arrives, each of these three women discover that the truth can, indeed, set you free.

I loved the friendship that these three ladies shared.  Liane Moriarty develops the most genuine characters that are so incredibly relatable.  I found myself wanting to be friends with these ladies.  If you are looking for a fun book with plenty of plot twists, then Big Little Lies is sure to please!

More great books by Liane Moriarty

Trip Through Your Wires: A Book Review

Twenty-eight year old Carey Halpern should be in the prime of her life.  Late twenties, single with no children, she should be living it up, right?  However, life isn’t so easy for Carey, who is in between jobs, living with her parents, and struggling to crawl out a pit of despair.  Trip Through Your Wires by Indiana author Sarah Layden takes us on a difficult and mysterious journey through Carey’s past in order to help her come to terms with the murder of someone she loved.

Trip Through Your Wires

Carey Halpern seems like the average college student.  She is home for the summer and hanging out at the mall with her old high school girlfriend when she spots Ben tossing pizzas in the air at a pizza shop in the food court.  Ben is also a college student, spending the summer at home in between semesters at a study abroad program in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Rather than introduce herself, Carey takes a different and much more dramatic approach when she decides to enroll in the same study abroad program.  When Carey arrives in Mexico, she finds herself face to face with Ben, who has no reason to believe that they should know each other.  Carey decides to keep her motives to herself and pursues Ben with such intensity that she loses all sight of her immersive education.

Fast forward several years to a Mexican restaurant in her hometown of Indianapolis.  Carey is at her own parting lunch, as her temporary secretarial position has ended.  While eating, Carey sees a brief news segment that new features details of Ben’s mysterious murder, which took place during their fateful year abroad.  As this new information emerges, Carey is forced to reexamine her past in order to move beyond her dismal presence.

I enjoy reading and supporting local authors.  That is one of the things that attracted me to Trip Through Your Wires while visiting Books N’ Brews in Indianapolis a few months ago.  Also, as a high school student, I visited Mexico for a short time as part of an exchange program.  I looked forward to a chance to revisit my experience, if only through the pages of this book.

In what seems to be a common theme among many leading female characters in today’s popular fiction, I found myself struggling to empathize with Carey.  I wanted so badly for her to wake up and see her situation for what it was–a fabrication of a dream that she attempted to create for herself.  Instead, her situation turned into a nightmare that she allows to swallow several years of her life.  Though it was gripping read, I found myself emotionally detached from the characters.  With nothing more than a thread of hope for Carey to overcome, it was little to cling to in a story with rife with seedy characters.

Books with compelling looks into the past

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens