Friday, January 30, 2015

Another Piece of My Heart (Jane Green)

Author Jane Green is no stranger to producing fiction that tugs at your heart.  Another Piece of My Heart is yet another example of this.  Green is definitely not the twisty type; in other words, you won’t find anyone accidentally marrying their second cousin on the last page.  The reader knows exactly what to expect, and usually can see something coming from a mile away like an impending train.  In my mind, that makes what does happen sometimes even harder to take. 

Our heroine, Andi, has married late in life to a handsome divorcee named Ethan.  Marrying him is a package deal – he has two daughters, Sophia and Emily.  Andi has always wanted to be a mother, but due to her advancing age, may not get that chance with her own child.  She embraces Sophia and Emily as her own, but troubled Emily wants no part of any relationship with Andi, blaming her for her parents’ divorce. 

When Emily finds herself in the most difficult position of her young life, it is Andi who offers the biggest support. Switching the narrators effectively gives us insight into each character’s point of view, and as I said, there are no big surprises here with the plot.  Still though, Another Piece of My Heart pulls at your heartstrings, especially because you know exactly what’s coming next.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Before I Go (Colleen Oakley)

Bring out the tissues for Colleen Oakley's debut novel Before I Go.  A one-sentence synopsis should be all you need to understand why -- a woman with a recurrence of breast cancer and given only months to live undertakes a mission to find her husband a new wife.

Daisy and Jack are all ready to celebrate Daisy being cancer-free for three years.  However, they are given the tremendously hard news that her cancer is back and is now at Stage 4.  This heart-wrenching diagnosis is hard enough to take for them both, but Daisy is even more worried about Jack being alone when she is gone.  Therefore, she resolves to spend her remaining days finding a new life partner for her husband.

Before I Go asks a tough-as-nails question of all of us.  Whose happiness is more important when put in this impossible situation? Oakley's novel shows that there is definitely no clear-cut answer.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Summer House with Swimming Pool (Herman Koch)

Author of the bestseller The Dinner, Dutch author Herman Koch is at it again in the twisted Summer House with Swimming Pool.  Anytime you begin to read Koch, know this: puppies, kittens, and rainbows will not be making an appearance; Koch's books feature extremely unlikable characters all plotting to outwit each other in one giant chess match.

We begin with Ralph Meier, an actor, dying in a hospital.  Dr. Marc Schlosser, his physician, is under scrutiny from the Board of Medical Examiners for Meier's death; did Dr. Schlosser kill his patient on purpose or was it an egregious error?

To find out, Koch takes us back to the summer when Schlosser, his wife, and two daughters spent a summer with Meier's family, film director Stanley Forbes, and Forbes's girlfriend.  They all lived together in Meier's summer house, and things were not always what they seemed on the surface.  When a horrible event happens to Schlosser's daughter, the doctor will stop at nothing to find out who the perpetrator was.

As the story unfolds to its stunning conclusion, the reader is almost left gasping for air.  Summer House with Swimming Pool is similar to The Dinner in its sinister undertones, but I actually enjoyed this one a tad more. Checkmate.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Boston Girl (Anita Diamant)

In The Boston Girl, author Anita Diamant shows what early twentieth century Boston life was like in novel form with great historical accuracy.  Eighty-five years young Addie Baum tells her emotional story to her granddaughter, a story that is filled with friendship and family.

Addie was born in 1900, one of three daughters of immigrant parents.  Her mother and father are unprepared for what meets them in America, but Addie takes full advantage of the changing opportunities for women. Even then, she wants what many of us want -- a career we love and relationships we cherish.  Through each tale she tells, we see life completely through her eyes, a life that's fraught with some complications but is also inspiring in its own right.

The Boston Girl has a heroine that women can look up to and root for all the way.  However, I would have liked to have read Addie's recollections with more embellishments; they were very straightforward and not complicated at all.  Some readers might enjoy this, but I was hoping for more.



Friday, January 2, 2015

Better Than Before (Gretchen Rubin)

Let me count the ways I love Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  Never mind -- there are just too many to list.  I reread it every January, and while I don't follow it to the letter, it inspired me to begin my own project.  It's scary how much of Rubin's writing resonates with me, so I was excited to devour Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.

We all have our habits, and in Rubin's latest, she has meticulously studied how they develop, based on our personality tendency.  How do we change our habits if they're not good for us or we outgrow them?  How do we stick to them if we do nothing but look for loopholes to get out of them?  Rubin uses herself, her family, and friends to test her theories, thereby helping readers with thorough research and a doable framework.

While not quite as inspiring as The Happiness Project, I still felt better about myself after reading Better Than Before.  I have quite a few habits that I know aren't good for me (planning absolutely everything and not liking any spontaneity in my life is the biggest); with Rubin's well-researched book, I feel like positive change is totally in reach.