Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Woman Who Stole My Life Book Review

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes

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In her own words, Stella Sweeney is just "an ordinary woman living an ordinary life with her husband and two teenage kids," working for her sister in their neighborhood beauty salon. Until one day she is struck by a serious illness, landing her in the hospital for months.

After recovering, Stella finds out that her neurologist, Dr. Mannix Taylor, has compiled and published a memoir about the illness in Stella's voice. Her discovery comes when she spots a photo of the finished copy in an American tabloid - and it's in the hands of the vice president's wife! As her relationship with Dr. Taylor gets more complicated, Stella struggles to figure out she was before her illness, who she is now, and who she wants to be while relocating to New York City to pursue a career as a newly minted self-help memoirist.

Review by Brittany:

This is the first book of Keyes' that I've read in a while, and I absolutely loved it and devoured it. Keyes is an author who always delivers. Her characters are always believable, and I love how all of her female characters are a little self-deprecating and a lot funny. Her take on Irish families makes me laugh out loud, like when her main character thinks, "I wasn't bred for compliments."

This one touches on some tricky subject matter. Stella comes down with a rare disease that causes her to become paralyzed. She is trapped in her own body for a long period of time, aware of what's happening and fully capable of experiencing thoughts, but she has no way of letting them out. This causes strain in her marriage and in her relationship with her kids, and it leads to an unusual bond between her and her neurologist.

Despite how heavy some of the book gets, Stella still managed to crack me up. Her sister Karen was one of my favorite characters because of her harsh bluntness and fearlessness when it comes to saying whatever she wants to say. Even though this often manifests itself as criticisms toward Stella, I still adored her as a character.

Keyes understands how to make her books a little bit grey. There's nothing totally black and white, no choices that are clearly right or wrong, no characters who are all good or bad. Everything is in shades of grey, which makes her characters and novels feel very real without being real-life boring.

I love Keyes. If you're a fan of the chick lit genre, she's a must read. And if you're already a fan of hers, don't hesitate to pick this one up!

Notable quotes:

I'll have to confront this passive-aggressive warfare at some stage, but I'm feeling so defeated by my pointless day and my pointless life that, right now, I'm not able.

Things in life, relationships, don't "just happen". You can flirt with danger, you can test the edge of your marriage, and you can pull back from the brink.

...you only get one life and you should live it as happily as you can.

Well, I had no real choice but to believe him. Living any other way would just send me mad.

As I ran, I cried, and the tears froze on my cheeks, and I thought: I'm not able for this life. I'm not tough enough.

As Mannix had said, the world was full of young and beautiful women. If I regarded them all as threats I'd be utterly destroyed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Roses and Rot Book Review

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

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What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of?

Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn't imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program - Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize there's more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she's dreamed about as a child, but it's one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart's desire.

Review by Brittany:

This book was a bit different than I thought it would be. For some reason, I had in my head that this book would be a sort of horror novel, with Melete - the location of the arts program - being a haunted campus.

Instead, it's revealed about halfway through that the mysterious goings on at Melete are down to paranormal creatures - Faeries. This was a bit of a twist to me because I was expecting a very different type of book, although it fit in with what else was going on. Fae are my least favorite type of paranormal creatures, and I don't typically love stories that have them. However, this one did Fae extremely well. I loved all of the weird occurrences (leaves filling a room with now windows; birds that watch you only when you're not actively watching them) that were down to the Fae. I loved that they were beautiful and kind - as long as you gave them what they wanted.

I also like that this book does not have a happy ending, not exactly. As a writer, Imogen uses her time at Melete to focus on fairy tales and writing some of her own, which draws a connection between those stories and the one that Howard is writing. How does Imogen's own life compare to fairy tales? What about her time at Melete? It is an interesting way to tie it all together, and I thought it was well done.

I also liked the character dynamics in this book. Marin and Imogen have to learn to adjust to living with Helena and Ariel as roommates. Gavin and Evan, two men at Melete, become love interests for the sisters, and the story develops some of those relationships. Of course, there's a lot of focus on the relationship between the two sisters and how much of that relationship is based on their experiences with their mother.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I thought it had beautiful imagery and great character dynamics. Relationships are developed, and the paranormal aspect of the book adds a great plot line. And, completely beside the point, I love the cover! Very well done!

Notable quotes:

If you survived, you always can, and so by pained, contorted logic, what happened to you wasn't really that bad.

But there are times that you don't speak, because silence hurts less.

But there are some truths that don't just cut you when you speak them, they also stab the person listening, too.

And I knew I shouldn't let it hurt, let it matter, but it did.

Hearing things actually spoken, even when you already know what's going to be said, makes them more real, more absolute.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Short Drop Book Review

The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

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A decade ago, fourteen-year-old Suzanne Lombard, the daughter of Benjamin Lombard - the a senator, now a powerful vice president running for the presidency - disappeared in the most sensational missing-person case in the nation's history. Still unsolved, the mystery remains a national obsession.

For legendary hacker and marine Gibson Vaughn, the case is personal - Suzanne Lombard had been like a sister to him. On the tenth anniversary of her disappearance, the former head of Benjamin Lombard's security asks for Gibson's help in a covert investigation of the case, with new evidence in hand.

Haunted by tragic memories, he jumps at the chance to uncover what happened all those years ago. Using his military and technical prowess, he soon discovers multiple conspiracies surrounding the Lombard family - and he encounters powerful, ruthless political players who will do anything to silence him and his team. With new information surfacing that could threaten Lombard's bid for the presidency, Gibson must stay one step ahead as he navigates a dangerous web to get to the truth.

Review by Brittany:

I loved the characters in this book! Gibson Vaughn is totally cool. There's something about the way Fitzsimmons wrote this character that made me love him a little bit. He's a little bit snarky and quite an intelligent guy, as illustrated by his hacking skills. Jenn Charles is the token female agent who can kick some butt. I'm a sucker for women who can make things happen, and Jenn is exactly one of those characters. Hendricks is the lovable grump, also able to handle himself. And the villains in this one are so much like real people that they are the scariest types of monsters.

Because there are so many hackers in this book, there is a lot of computer hacker jargon that can be confusing for readers like me who don't understand squat about IT stuff, but it doesn't take away from the story any. The technology that is described is pretty cool and really opened my eyes to what is possible for those who have a good understanding of how to work computer systems.

About halfway through the book there's a slight twist that leads Gibson to realize that everything is not exactly how he thinks it is. While he's chasing Suzanne, the others involved might simply be chasing Suzanne's captor, a fine but important distinction. This alters the course of the story and temporarily calls into question some of the loyalties of the book.

The suspense of finding out what happened to Suzanne kept me reading. Was she abducted? Did she run away? In the end, the truth was a bit harder than what I thought it would be. It's sad what happened to Suzanne and all of the people involved in her disappearance.

Overall I enjoyed this book. I liked the characters and felt surprised enough by the climax to feel relief at finally understanding what had happened. If thriller/suspense novels are your thing, definitely pick this one up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Atomic Weight of Love Book Review

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

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For Meridian Wallace - and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s - being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother's sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn't expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he's recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a "traditional" marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it's not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.

Review by Brittany:

I requested a copy of this book through NetGalley because the blurb sounded intriguing to me.

I loved this book. There's something about the writing that really drew me in. I think it was really just smart writing with an easy flow that kept me engaged. Church covers a lot of ground in this book, but the events never feel rushed, and I never felt like I was missing out on anything important.

I loved that Church wrote such a smart female protagonist. Meri is an academic interest in ornithology, and her study of crows is what carries her through a large part of the story. Although her interest lied in academia, she gave up her studies in order to support her husband. I think that was an interesting view of what times were like in the 40s and 50s, and it really illustrated what the expectations might be for a woman during that time.

I also loved the way Church focused on Meri's relationship with Alden. This book gave good insight into their marriage, both the parts that kept Meri in love with him and the parts that really made her struggle to stick it out. There were times when Alden was so completely lovely that I could understand Meri's feelings for him, and there were others when he was so clueless that I found him just as frustrating as Meri did. I think all of these parts are pretty realistic to life, and it made the characters feel more real to me.

I think Meri meeting Clay and the development of that relationship was also well done. Although adultery is not everyone's cup of tea, I think that it was handled well in this novel. Clay offers Meri certain aspects of a relationship that Alden just doesn't seem to get. In the end, when Meri is faced with the choice between the two, it is hard to decide which one is the better option for her.

Overall, I loved this book. I thought it was well-written, interesting, and the characters were fantastic. I definitely recommend this book and am interested in seeing what else this author comes out with.

Notable quotes:

I didn't reveal the full breadth of my ambivalence, my sometimes disconcerting lack of any biological yearning for children.

We were all suddenly united in our need to forget the war, instead insisting on life and possibility.

We parted with me feeling tearful and angry, already regretful that I could not force myself to be more mature.

Maybe there is nothing more interesting than one's progeny. Maybe that's what I didn't understand.

I felt too eager, too giddy, and it wasn't right. But more than that, I was afraid Clay would sense those things in me, perceive me as ridiculous.

Flight is possible, but we have to take flight - it has to be a decisive action, a purposeful, brave act.

What I said was that relationships die a slow, incremental death of boredom, resentment, and lassitude.

I wanted a pain other than that of my heart. I wanted a pain that could be bandaged, anesthetized, and eventually healed.

Are we allotted a specific number of comebacks from heartbreak? Or is that what really kills us, in the end - not strokes or cancer or pneumonia - but instead just one too many blows to the heart?

I knew I had a hair trigger when it came to feeling insulted, criticized.

And it frightened me - that I needed him, that I cared, that I couldn't be in his world. That his boundaries were so permeable and that mine were so stridently defined.