Review: The Dinner List

The Dinner List, Rebecca Searle

Hardcover, 288 pages

Expected publication: September 11th 2018 by Flatiron Books

Source: ARC from Shelf Awareness

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When Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also her favorite professor from college, her father, her ex-fiance, Tobias, and Audrey Hepburn.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Sabrina contends with in Rebecca Serle’s utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as Sliding Doors, and The Rosie Project.

As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together, and as Rebecca Serle masterfully traces Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias and her coming of age in New York City, The Dinner List grapples with the definition of romance, the expectations of love, and how we navigate our way through it to happiness. Oh, and of course, wisdom from Audrey Hepburn.

Who among us would pass up dinner with Audrey Hepburn?  I know I could not miss that chance, so I was ready for this book the minute I read the description.  I was expecting a fluffier more “chick lit” book than this really was.  I found The Dinner List to be a book about love and loss, about growing up and friendship, and about what we learn to love from our parents.  I loved this book so much.  I laughed, I cried – I actually ignored my kid while I was riding the train with her so I could read it – something that has never happened.

Even though the night was of course magical – hello Audrey – it didn’t have so much whimsy as magical realism can.  Not like reading Sarah Addison Allen for example.  If magical realism isn’t your jam I wouldn’t let that steer you away.  We move back and forth from the dinner party to Sabrina’s time with each guest.  We see her falling in love, realizing she’s an adult and learning to say goodbye.  I really did cry when the party ended and this will be a book I read again.

Listing the guests at my fantasy dinner party is a favorite game of mine.  My husband and I fight about who would be worth the invitation or not. As of right now my fantasy dinner party guests are: Lucrezia Borgia, Madeleine Albright, Neil Gaiman and my dad. Fascinating conversation all around I am sure! I’d bring my husband as an honorable mention. Tell me who you’d invite to your party?

Thank you Shelf Awareness and Flatiron Books for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

 

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Review: Sadie

Sadie, Courtney Summers

Publication: September 4th 2018 by Wednesday Books
Hardcover, 320 pages
Source: E-ARC from NetGalley
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Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Whenever I look at a Courtney Summers book I think why haven’t I read all of her books yet?  Then I remember how All the Rage basically gutted me and how I haven’t been ready to go through that again. And now comes Sadie.  Sadie is the kind of girl that goes missing all the time sadly.  Not enough of us care when it happens.  Sadie disappears after her younger sister’s violent murder, and a podcast host is convinced by their surrogate grandmother to try to find her.  I struggle with reading books about dead girls because sometimes the real world is sad enough and because I don’t want to think about a world that might hurt my own girls.  Or my sister!  But this was well worth my reading fears because Sadie is fierce and brave and I loved her.   I started slowly but once I got into Sadie’s hunt for her sister’s killer I could not put this book down.

Summers makes you feel Sadie’s pain and her anger.   You also worry for her and I physically cringed away from my kindle while reading at the truths I feared would come out.  I thought the change from podcast narration to Sadie’s point of view was a really cool way to tell the story and unravel her mystery.  I love that Macmillan actually put out a podcast – The Girls – to accompany the book.  I am terrible at podcasts but I am going to have to listen to this even knowing how it ends.  The ending wasn’t what I wanted it to be- but it was a perfect ending.  I almost wish I had started listening first.  I’m afraid to say too much and give something away so I’ll just say I loved Sadie and you should read it.

I’ll just be collecting the rest of Courtney Summers’ books to read when I’m feeling brave.  Any recommendations on what to try first?

#FindSadie

Thank you NetGalley and Wednesday Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

 

Overdue Review: Among the Ruins

Among the Ruins,  (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #3) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Published February 14th 2017 by Minotaur Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, but when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help.

Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. Historic letters, a connection to the Royal Ontario Museum, and a smuggling operation on the Caspian Sea are just some of the threads Rachel and Khattak begin unraveling, while the list of suspects stretches from Tehran to Toronto. But as Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all.

It is not easy to try to review a series from the middle so I will mostly just tell you that if you like mysteries and haven’t read these books YOU SHOULD START!  Book one of Esa and Rachel’s partnership, The Unquiet Dead, blew me away and The Language of Secrets was a worthy follow-up.  Now Esa has found his way into a new mystery while vacationing in Iran and Rachel tries to help as best she can from home in Canada.   As they had to work to communicate I found myself uncomfortably tense with worry about what would happen.  I was also 9 months pregnant when reading this – I might recommend against combination on reflection.  Too much anxiety!  We had deeply corrupt government figures, international drama, possibly stolen royal jewels and then family dramas – all wrapped up with murder.   

I have of course found myself emotionally caught up by characters in mysteries, even tearful (Flavia  de Luce I’m looking at you).  But I can’t think of a mystery book or series that gets me so caught up in the real fate of a group of people or nation or really just what the fuck is wrong with humanity sometimes.  Khan had me terrified and sad for the plight of prisoners in Iran – so much so I’d never want to go there- and at the same time longing to see the sights she described. Thankfully she started posting pictures on Facebook and saved me the searching time!  What a beautifully sad place.  

I’m also currently reading Khan’s foray into fantasy, The Bloodprint, and I’m really enjoying it.  Definitely getting flashbacks to the setting for Among the Ruins which is cool and different. 

Are you reading this series?  Any other good mysteries I should pick-up?  I think that’s the mood I’m heading into for fall.

Thank you Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review! 

Review: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman

Published June 16th 2015 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 372 pages

Source: Library

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From the author of the internationally bestselling ‘A Man Called Ove’, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

If you haven’t read A Man Called Ove I have to respectfully ask what the hell you’re waiting for?!  Frederik Backman broke my feelings into tiny pieces and he tried to do it again with last year’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I’m Sorry.  I was afraid that Backman wouldn’t work magic twice and so I waited too long to pick this up. I was wrong.   

Elsa’s grandmother is batty – totally batty.  We meet Elsa and her Granny after they’ve broken into the zoo and granny has been arrested.  Not what you expect for a woman with her 7 (almost 8) year-old grandmother.  Elsa basically broke my heart.  She’s smart and precocious and she’s bullied and so lonely.  Granny tells her stories to help her to be brave and to fall asleep at night.  They journey every night to a fairy tale world with warriors and Beasts, dreams and magic.  Every child needs someone like Granny in their lives because she was brilliant and amazing.   

Having a grandmother is like having an army.  This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.

But then Granny dies.  Elsa is left friendless and without her champion.  Her mother is 8 months pregnant with her new half-sibling, affectionately called Halfie, and Elsa is excited but unsure of her place in her family.  Elsa and her Granny were neighbors in an apartment building of odd characters.  There’s Alf, who drives a cab; the boy with the syndrome; and Britt-Marie, who is a nag bag to name a few.  Granny leaves Elsa with a letter for one of these neighbors with an apology and ends up leading Elsa on a quest to find magic and friendship.  Once again Backman made me laugh out loud and cry while reading.  I loved how strong and brave Granny was and what she taught Elsa along the way. 

If I can’t convince you will all of the above let me leave you with this quote:

And there’s a Russian playwright who once said that if there’s a pistol hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired before the last act is over.  

Any book that references Chekov’s gun on the wall has to be a winner!  Read it!  I didn’t make the mistake of waiting to read Backman’s next book.  I’ve already devoured his May 2016 release and will review it soon!  But I will say for now that you don’t want to miss it.  Backman is magic – if magic brings both tears and laughter while reading.

Review: The Serpent King

The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner

Published: March 8th 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

I’m soon going to have to revise my feelings on reading YA contemporaries if I continue to get so lucky with my reading choices.  Generally if I’m reading something contemporary I want adult but I kept seeing buzz about The Serpent King on Twitter – thanks to Eric Smith in particular – I was convinced to request a copy.  The Serpent King joins some other excellent YA reads like All the Rage, Made You Up and Dumplin’.  This book had me smiling and then crying within pages.  

Dill, Lydia and Travis stand out from the other kids in their small Tennessee town, and though they are none too alike themselves they are the best of friends.  Lydia has a popular fashion blog and supportive family that have her ready to head to New York for college, Travis has a Game of Thrones-like fantasy world to escape to and an online community for friendship. Then there’s Dill; Dill has to visit his father in prison and a plan to go full time at the local grocery store after graduation.  Dill’s father was a snake handling preacher before he was sent to prison on the worst of charges and he and Dill’s mom- along with nearly everyone else- blames Dill for his sentencing.

The Serpent King begins as these friends are starting their senior year of high school both with dread and an eagerness to be done.  Zentner’s excellent storytelling put me right into a cruel high school experience in rural Tennessee.  I cringed as Dill and Lydia approached the parking lot each day.  But he wrote this beautiful friendship as well so the terrible was balanced with humor.  I loved how Zentner took the story right up to the edge of hopelessness and then showed how brave you have to be to move forward.  These three friends made me cry and they made me hope.

As a side note, absent or terrible parents are par for the course in YA, which made Lydia’s amazing parents stand out all the more.  I loved them!  Even if they were a bit over the top, it felt good to read about a real and loving parent-child relationship; especially to hold up against the other parents in this book.   

If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave and beautiful things

This book was all of those things – painful, brave and beautiful.  Read it!

5 stars!

Thank you Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for this advance edition in exchange for an honest opinion!

Quotes taken from unedited copy in advance of publication.

 

 

Review: Made You Up

Made You Up, Francesca Zappia

Amanda

Published May 19th 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Hardcover, 448 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

For a girl that does not read a lot of contemporary YA, what I have been reading in 2015 has been phenomenal! Exhibit 1. All the Rage.  Exhibit 2. The Walls Around Us. Exhibit 3. Made You Up.  This book just went straight to my heart.  Alex herself went straight to my heart and shattered it.

Alex is beginning her senior year at a new high school.  We don’t learn right away what’s caused her to transfer but we know this is her last chance to prove that she doesn’t need to be hospitalized for her schizophrenia.  What a weight to try to live with!  While Alex is trying to balance school, work, and her mental health, she is also trying to just be a teen with a family and to maybe make some friends.  And yet, Alex carries a camera with her so that she can look at printed photographs to see what changes.  Are those armed guards surrounding school real?  What about the snake looking at her from the ceiling tiles?

The ups and downs of this book nearly killed me. Alex’s story was emotional and moving, and yet also funny and so sweet.  I loved the innocent romance.  I loved the rivalry between the smart kids and I loved the friendships between the trouble makers.

The only thing that kept this from being a 5 star read for me was the very, very end.  I just didn’t want it to end that way for Alex – and I thought the details could have been gentler.  But details aside it was the right ending even if it hurt.

4.5 stars!

Have you read Made You Up?  I need someone to discuss this with!  Also, how pretty is that cover?

Thank you Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for an advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Silver Bay

Silver Bay, Jojo Moyes

Amanda

Published August 26th 2014 by Penguin Books

Paperback, 338 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Liza McCullen will never fully escape her past. But the unspoiled beaches and tight-knit community of Silver Bay offer the freedom and safety she craves—if not for herself, then for her young daughter, Hannah. That is, until Mike Dormer arrives as a guest in her aunt’s hotel.

The mild-mannered Englishman with his too-smart clothes and distracting eyes could destroy everything Liza has worked so hard to protect: not only the family business and the bay that harbors her beloved whales, but also her conviction that she will never love—never deserve to love—again.

For his part, Mike Dormer is expecting just another business deal—an easy job kick-starting a resort in a small seaside town ripe for development. But he finds that he doesn’t quite know what to make of the eccentric inhabitants of the ramshackle Silver Bay Hotel, especially not enigmatic Liza McCullen, and their claim to the surrounding waters.

As the development begins to take on a momentum of its own, Mike’s and Liza’s worlds collide in this hugely affecting and irresistible tale full of Jojo Moyes’s signature humor and generosity.

I love how different Jojo Moyes books all are!  If you loved Me Before You (which I completely did!), you should not expect every book to be similar.  The Girl You Left Behind and One Plus One were both totally different as well.  In Silver Bay our action moves from London to a tiny coastal town in Australia.  Mike is a businessman trying to sell a group of investors on a posh resort in Silver Bay.  He arrives, without fanfare, to check out the town and the services available -such as they are.  Kate is a native of Silver Bay in her seventies.  She runs the down-on-its-luck hotel that Mike checks into.  Kate lives with her niece Liza and her great niece, 11 year-old Hannah.  The scene around Silver Bay includes a mix of boat pilots and guides to take tourists out on the water looking for dolphins and whales.  The dolphins and whales themselves were definitely scene stealing characters as well.  As Mike starts to fall for Silver Bay and the inhabitants the reader falls as well.  It was a bit of a slow start for me, but in the end I was totally on edge waiting to see how the hotel development would play out.

We change perspective frequently and I love getting a story from all sides.  This was particularly helpful in Silver Bay as this was a book full of secrets.  Mike has secrets about why he is in Australia, Liza and Hannah have secrets about why they cannot leave Australia and even Kate has secrets of long-ago love affairs.  The secrets were making me crazy!  Of course the secrets have to come out in the end.  Maybe I started to predict some of the answers but that did not take away from my enjoyment of this book at all.  I certainly did not predict all of the directions the story would take though.  Moyes gives so much life to her characters both the starring and minor roles that in each book I feel totally drawn into the story and anxious for the outcome.

Would it be a Jojo Moyes book if I wasn’t teary at some point?  I don’t know because she’s four for four in making me cry while reading.  I love Jojo even more because when I tweeted that she had me in tears she told me to just keep reading and all would be well.  How sweet is that?

4 stars!

Thank you Penguin Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.