Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Almost a Crime Book Review

Almost a Crime by Penny Vincenzi

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Londoners Tom and Octavia Fleming seem to have the perfect power marriage: high profile and mutually supportive, both professionally and personally. They are attractive and rich, and each runs a success business, for they cross-fertilize ideas, clients, and networking opportunities. They have three lovely children and a calendar brimming with glamorous social events. But when Octavia discovers Tom is having an affair, and that it is by no means his first, every single aspect of her marriage and her life threatens to disintegrate. And this is no ordinary affair - it is one that snowballs into terror that no one in the Flemings' charmed circle can escape.

Review by Brittany:

This book was quite a time investment. At over 600 pages and with small font, there was a lot of story to devour, but it was all worth it.

My favorite thing about this book is that there are no supporting characters. Each character is a main character. While the blurb leads the reader to think the focus is on Octavia and Tom, this doesn't always ring true. Often other characters' tales are so entwined that they, too, become central to the story. The time and thought that was put into making each character matter and building their history and store is astounding, and this author did that extremely well.

Another thing I liked about this book is that the climax the reader might expect (Octavia finding out about Tom's affair) happens fairly early on in the book. Instead of that being the focus, the author focuses on how the relationship is affected, including how this affair affects other characters in the book. The reader gets to see how each character responds and in what ways it changes everything.

The length of this book is the only thing that might be considered a downside. Because it's so long, there are parts of the story that don't move at the same pace as other parts. While I didn't feel like this detracted from the story, it does mean that the reader has to commit.

Overall, I thought this book was beautifully written. Characters were well-crafted, and the story moves along at a proper pace. If you're looking for a book that you can really devote yourself to, I think this is a good choice. I'm very much looking forward to other books by this author.

Notable quotes:

The whole concept of quality time was a dreadful con. The quality was frequently very poor. And children wanted you when they wanted you; they didn't save things up to tell you, to talk to you about, cry over.

And while you weren't looking down, what might be going on? Down there, just under your nose?

Even in his gratitude, Tom had found it disorienting, disturbing even: to know that so totally and competently could hatred, mistrust, despair be disguised.

Marriage, love itself indeed, was a gamble; there was no way to be sure of a winning hand.

She found it hard to apologize for anything, he knew, so great was her need to get everything right, to know she had done so.

Playing God is a dangerous game for mortals. It requires breathtaking arrogance, an iron nerve and an absolute determination to see it through, whatever the cost and whatever the consequences.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The House at Riverton Book Review

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton


Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they - and Grace - know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

Review by Brittany:

This book is sad - make no mistake about that - but it is beautiful. Kate Morton has a writing style that pulls me in and keeps me reading until the last page. She writes with fluidity and describes events and the time period in such a way that I believe her to be an expert.

From the moment Grace lays eyes on the two girls, she longs to be a part of their world. She gets enraptured in the imaginary games they play and tries to maneuver her duties around her desire to be close to these girls. As time moves on, she and Hannah become closer and closer, to the point where she leaves Riverton to be Hannah's lady maid after Hannah is married. Grace even sacrifices her own personal life in order to stay close to Hannah and to stay loyal to her.

Emmeline is illustrated as being the slightly spoiled baby of the family, and as the twenties roll in, she becomes the one who is sociable, going out and dancing and partying. At one point she gets mixed up in a bad situation where she is making questionable films, and Hannah takes it upon herself to "rescue" her sister.

The culmination of the story comes when Hannah and her husband move back to Riverton, taking Grace with them. It is here that secrets are revealed to the characters who did not know them and tragedy strikes. This book ended in such a way that I was left marveling at the fragility of human life and how a small white lie can change the course of everything.

Overall, beautiful writing, beautiful characters, and a story that I am still shaking my head over. I loved this book.

Notable quotes:

He was handsome. But who amongst the young is not?

True history, the past, is not like that. It isn't flat or linear. It has no outline. It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space. And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version is proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces.

Love affairs, in their beginnings, are all about the present. But there is a point in each - an event, an exchange, some other unseen trigger - which forces the past and the future back into focus.

It's only with age I have learned solely to listen to things I want to hear.

"Romance makes people forget themselves, do silly things."

While one's child takes a part of one's heart to use and misuse as they please, a grandchild is different. Gone are the bonds of guilt and responsibility that burden the maternal relationship. The way to love is free.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Djinn and Tonic Book Review

Djinn and Tonic by Jasinda Wilder

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Detective Carson Hale knows Leila is hiding something from him. He's in the hospital after a strange and inexplicable attack destroys his favorite bar, the Old Shillelagh. While the attack leaves Carson with stitches, bruised ribs, and a concussion, Leila is mysteriously uninjured, and she either can't or won't offer a satisfactory explanation. While her lies and evasions are setting off his detective instincts, her body sets off other alarms.

Leila Najafi has a lot of secrets and a complicated past. She ran away to Detroit to get away from her family, but she's been discovered by the one man that could destroy her. Sexy detective Carson Hale blows into her life at the worst possible time. Now Leila is forced to make a decision that could both cause heartbreak and war.

Review by Brittany:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I adored this book. It's the second in a series, but one thing I loved about this book is that you don't necessarily have to read the first in order to jump in with this one. The first book featured Detective Hale as a supporting character, and I was glad to see him return. The relationship between him and Leila develops fairly quickly in this book, but it was introduced in the first book. Leila is the person in whom Carson confides about cases, particularly a case with supernatural aspects. When Carson discovers that Leila is a part of the same supernatural world, he takes it in stride because he wants to get to know her better.

I love the supernatural aspect of this series. So many authors have written the same kinds of books, but this is a refreshing change. The djinn and ifrits have elemental powers, and the way the author describes the use of these powers was interesting. There was also a lot of information about the differences and tensions between the djinn and ifrits that set up a potential war for the series.

This author also writes good characters. Carson is devoted to his job, which is how he and Leila strike up a relationship in the first place. Leila is fighting against the wishes of her family, while struggling with the loyalty and devotion she still feels. Although the development of their relationship feels quick, it still rings true.

There were also cameos from some characters from the first book that were nice to see. I'm curious about how the series will continue and how many of those characters will appear in later books. I think this series has a lot of potential and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

When You Were Older Book Review

When You Were Older by Catherine Ryan Hyde


Russell Ammiano works on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. On the morning of September 11, 2001, the phone rings while Rusty is rushing to work. The news is devastating: Rusty's mother has died of a stroke, leaving his brain-damaged older brother Ben alone. This news also saves Rusty's life. He's still at home when two planes hit the World Trade Center - and only one of his friends and colleagues survives. In a single day, the life Rusty built in New York crumbles to the ground.

Rusty returns to his tiny hometown and the brother he was more than happy to leave behind. Ben hasn't changed a bit, but the town has. Tensions are running high in the wake of the terrorist attack, while Rusty struggles to put the past behind him and care for the exasperating brother he loves. He finds refuge drinking coffee in the early morning with beautiful Egyptian-American Anat in her father's bakery.

Rusty is beginning to get his life back...until one awful night threatens to take it all away again.

Review by Brittany:

This is the first and only book I've read that is post-9/11 based, and I loved it. So much of this book does not necessarily have anything to do with 9/11, but the main character, Russell, is a survivor, and there are times when this has clearly colored his feelings and thoughts about his life and his world.

Russell's mother dies on the same day that the Towers fall. He knows he has to get home to take care of his mentally ill brother, so he hitchhikes to Kansas from New York. When he arrives, he is a bit of a mess. He hasn't been home in 6 years, and he now faces the task of maintaining the routine that is so important to his brother, even though he has no idea about the life he lives. He is also faced with the daunting task of helping Ben understand that their mother is not coming back, ever.

As the story develops, Ben and Rusty begin to have a better relationship. Even though Rusty hasn't been around for 6 years, the author makes it clear that Rusty loves his brother and wants to take care of him. Rusty's budding relationship with Anat develops as well, and this is where the strongest post-9/11 themes come from in the book.

I was surprised by other characters' reactions to Anat because she is Egyptian, but I feel like this author was probably right on the money with the way that people felt at that time. They were judgmental and cruel because of their own perceived notions of what she stood for, which were incorrect.

This book is not a happy book. Every time Rusty starts to get back on his feet, something happens that sends him crashing back down. Ben will still be Ben and will still have brain damage, no matter what. Anat will still struggle with perception and judgments. But the author wraps the book up in such a way that the reader is left feeling like they can all make it, if they can just hold on to each other. And because of that, I loved this book and definitely recommend it.

Notable quotes:

Everybody looks at you and judges you more stable. Because they can't see inside.

Why doesn't love feel good? Why does it make you feel like you're about to die? Why doesn't it make you feel like you're about to live?

I was tired of knowing things. Everybody wanted me to know things. All things I'd be happier not knowing.

"You always know that someday a door will open and in will come the one you've waited for. And then the waiting is done. And the rest of your life can begin."

Sometimes you have to close yourself up. Shut the portals into the places inside you that still know how to feel. Because there's just nothing you can do.

Once you misplace the ability to be yourself without thinking about it, without second-guessing it, you're pretty well cooked.

It felt sad to fail at something so basic.