Thursday, May 30, 2019

Book Review: The Friends We Keep, by Jane Green

The Friends We Keep by Jane Green book cover and review
The Friends We Keep didn't go in the direction that I anticipated, and that made it an enjoyable read. This is not my usual genre, but it had been a long time since I had read a contemporary, and even longer since I had read Jane Green, so it was a welcome change of pace.

Maggie, Evvie, and Topher end up roommates at college in England.  I think the opening chapter, the only one from Ben's POV, had me going in a certain direction for the plot. He only refers to "my wife," so you don't really know which of our three main characters to which that refers.

We get points-of-view from each of the three as they navigate their lives during (beginning in 1986) and after college, ending in 2019.  They grow up, they grow apart. They follow their dreams, they make mistakes. They have (big) secrets. They end up reuniting.

I enjoyed their journeys. Each character was relatable. I guess my minor complaint is some repetitiveness--mostly about the winey "woe is me" situations they find themselves in.

I did want them to end up together and happy. Ultimately, The Friends We Keep is a feel-good, happily ever after story. But there is a rocky road to travel until they get there, and the journey is entertaining. A good summer "fluff" read that explores the meaning of friendship. Appropriate for teen readers, Green fans will definitely want to pick this up.

Published by Berkley, June 4, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins book cover and review
I was drawn to The Confessions of Frannie Langton because of the comparison to Alias Grace, which I had watched and enjoyed. The comparison was accurate, and I also enjoyed The Confessions of Frannie Langton very much.

Frannie has been accused of murdering her employers, George Benham and his wife, Marguerite. As Frannie is about to go on trial in London, she writes about her life, and what brought her to this point -- even though she can't remember what happened the night of the murders.

As a child and young lady, Frannie was a house slave on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Her owner was a "scientist" who was trying to figure out why people with black skin were naturally inferior to whites. He taught Frannie to read, and she became his reluctant assistant. I won't say too much more. She ends up in London in the employ of another scientist.

Her story is fascinating and sad. Although at times I felt she could have done more to improve her position, she is still very sympathetic. There are some surprising twists that kept me in the story. The circumstances for a woman in her situation in the 1820s are merciless; the legal system left a lot to be desired, as well as the rampant prejudice.

I've never read Alias Grace, only watched the show, but now I'm interested in reading it also. The amnesia aspect of both of these stories intrigues me.

As I was reading, I thought The Confessions of Frannie Langton had the potential to leave things unresolved, or partially unresolved, but happily, that was not the case. The ending isn't expected to be a happy one, but I found it satisfying. Fans of gothic fiction, slavery stories, murder mysteries, and/or unreliable narrators will enjoy this fascinating novel.

Published by Harper, May 21, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Book Review: Happily and Madly by Alexis Bass @alexisbasswrite

Happily and Madly by Alexis Bass book cover and review

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved Happily and Madly. I couldn't put it down.

Maris is from a broken family and is going to spend the summer at an island rental with her father’s new family (the New Browns). This includes her father's new wife and baby, and a teen daughter, Chelsea, whom he has adopted. She is, of course, resentful of them, since they are the reason her father left her and her mother alone.

She's uncomfortable with all the happiness and while alone on a hike, she meets a beaten and bloody boy, Finn, who she helps to escape from his pursuers. They begin a romantic relationship as they meet secretly. Then Maris finds out Finn is the boyfriend of her stepsister--and his name is Edison--and that's not all of the secrets he has. His family, the Duvals, are very rich, and they treat the New Browns to all kinds of luxurious island adventures. But there is more to the story of this family. As Maris begins to uncover their secrets, the danger mounts and even though she is trying to do what is right, she ends up in a fight for her life and the lives of her family.

While some suspension of disbelief is necessary, the twists surprised me. The pacing is brisk. The tension mounts, and the characters are sympathetic. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Summer love, a mysterious and possibly dangerous boy, and plenty of lies and deception combine to make this thriller a compelling read. And I really didn't have much of any idea about what was going on until it was revealed. Given the current craze over twisted thriller books, this one is a welcome addition to the teen market.

Published by TOR, May 21, 2019
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
352 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Monday, May 13, 2019

AudioBook Review: The Widows by Jess Montgomery

I liked The Widows. I didn't really love it.  I'm not sure why.

It is 1924, in Ohio mining country, when the sheriff of Kinship, Daniel Ross, is murdered. His wife, Lily, who can handle herself is appointed sheriff until an interim election can be held. No one expects Lily to do anything as sheriff. But they underestimate her.

Lily is determined to find out how Daniel died. She doesn't believe the story that she was told - that a prisoner escaped from Daniel's control, stole his gun, and shot Daniel. She begins investigating.

She is visited by a very good friend of Daniel's, Marvena, from the miner's settlement. Lily doesn't know what to make of Marvena. Daniel has never talked about her. Was she a mistress? Marvena lost her husband in a mining accident -- the same accident that killed Lily's father.

Marvena is part of the movement to unionize the miners to get safer working conditions and better pay. This movement is strictly illegal, so she doesn't trust anyone -- especially Lily. But Marvena's teenage daughter has gone missing, and Daniel had vowed to help Marvena find her, so Marvena has to seek out Lily's help to find out what Daniel knew before he died.

These two women establish an unlikely bond as they help each other to investigate what happened to Daniel and Marvena's daughter. Not only do they want justice for Daniel's killer, but they both also want to help the miners live a safer and more profitable existence.

I enjoyed The Widows, but I'm not sure why I wasn't totally drawn into the story. It's historical, and I love that. The characters are richly developed. These women are strong and brave. The story is told from both Marvena's and Lily's points-of-views, and that was very effective. The plight of the miners was heartbreaking. I was surprised by some of the twists and turns. Maybe it was the setting. And I did feel the story's pacing was a little slow at times.

Susan Bennett, the reader, did a wonderful job, and I really forgot I was listening.  That's a good thing.

With such a non-specific reason for not falling in love with The Widows, I feel I should still recommend it to historical fiction fans. It is very popular, and there was a long waiting list for the audio version. So if the description sounds appealing, go for it! And, if you want another great book about coal mining, try John Grisham's Gray Mountain.

Published by Minotaur, January 8, 2019 (Macmillan Audio)
Audio obtained from the library
 336 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: Realm by Alexandrea Weis @alexandreaweis

Realm by Alexandrea Weis book cover and review
I haven't read much historical fiction about ancient Greece, and Realm was a good introduction to that time period.

Roxana's Persian homeland is conquered by the Greeks, led by Alexander (the Great). He becomes so mesmerized by Roxana that he asks for her hand in marriage. Everyone is stunned that Alexander would choose a Persian for a wife, and Roxana has a hard time because of the prejudice against her people. But Alexander drags her along as he conquers more and more territory, and as time passes they grow to truly love each other.

There are a lot of characters, but the main characters all shine through. Roxana can never trust anyone because betrayals are always being attempted. And when Alexander dies, leaving Roxana with a baby son, she knows that their lives will forever be in danger from those wanting to steal the throne for themselves.

Poor woman. I can't imagine leading the life she did. Yes, she was rich and had material things, but really she was never able to be comfortable with her position as an outsider married to a king.  It is a good thing that Alexander was such a strong leader (he really was "Great!")

Realm has some slow parts. It really drags during the war years before Alexander dies. It is less than 400 pages, but it seemed longer to me. That is really my only complaint. I loved the story and learning about the mostly nomadic lifestyle of the conquering Greeks.  They really believed it was the Gods' wishes that they constantly be expanding their empire. All the death and destruction was just something to be expected.

I knew the ending that was in store for Roxana (from Wikipedia), so be prepared. Or not...

I rarely comment on book covers, but I have to mention this one.  Or...the boobs on this one. I know she was a beautiful woman, but that is a bit much for me.

I would have a hard time recommending this widely to teens. Yes, there is a romance, but it does read a bit slow and detailed. Those interested in the time period should certainly be pointed to Realm.

Published by Vesuvian, May 14, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
383 pages

Rating: 4/5

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