Review: The Best of Me

Why I picked it: I was walking with a friend who told me she was reading a book that she couldn't put down, when I asked her for the name of the book she said it was the latest Sparks novel (it was her first time reading this author).  I didn't know he had a new novel (yikes).

I didn't plan to read it right away but picked up a copy while shopping at Costco last Friday.  I finished this book Sunday morning, curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a latte.  Perfect start to my day.

Synopsis: In the fall of 1984, high school students Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole fell deeply, irrevocably in love. Though they were from opposite sides of the tracks, their love for one another seemed to defy the realities of life in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina. But as the summer of their senior year came to a close, unforeseen events would tear the young couple apart, setting them on radically divergent paths.

Now, twenty-five years later, Amanda and Dawson are summoned back to Oriental for a funeral. Neither has lived the life they imagined . . . and neither can forget the passionate first love that forever changed their lives. Forced to confront painful memories, the two former lovers soon realize that everything they thought they knew-about themselves and the dreams they held dear-was not as it seemed. And in the course of a single, searing weekend, they will ask of the living, and the dead: Can love truly rewrite the past?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I know what to expect when I select a Sparks novel, a heartwarming love story with some adversity/drama. I might even shed a tear if I connect to the characters.

Amanda has been married for over twenty years, her husband has a drinking issue.  Their life isn't bad but they have suffered loss in many forms over the years.  Dawson runs away from life, unable to find closure from his first love... which was over twenty years ago.  The two reunite at a funeral, embarking on a journey over the next few days that will change their lives forever.

If you enjoyed The Love Song, you will enjoy The Best of Me

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: Good to a Fault

Why I picked it: I bought this novel as a new release, on a business trip to Toronto in 2008.  I decided to read it in October, along with two other novels that I have been meaning to read for a while. 

When I mentioned my plan, Judith (Leeswammes Blog) mentioned she had a copy of the book and also wanted to read it so we decided to read it together.  She asked me a few questions (answers below), make sure you click to her review to read the rest of our conversation.  A great way to read/discuss a book!

Type: Fiction

Synopsis: Clara Purdy is at a crossroads. At forty-three, she is divorced, living in her late parents' house, and near-ing her twentieth year as a claims adjuster at a local insurance firm. Driving to the bank during her lunch hour, she crashes into a sharp left turn, taking the Gage family in the other car with her. When bruises on the mother, Lorraine, prove to be late-stage cancer, Clara decides to do the right thing. She moves Lorraine's three children and their terrible grandmother into her own house—and then has to cope with the consequences of practical goodness: exhaustion, fury, hilarity, and unexpected love.

What, exactly, does it mean to be good? What do we owe each other in this life, and what do we deserve? Good to a Fault is an ultimately joyful book that digs deep, with leavening humor, into questions of morality, class, and social responsibility. Marina Endicott looks at life and death through the compassionate, humane lens of a born novelist: being good, being at fault, and finding some balance in between.

Quick Take: I didn't care for the characters all that much but that's okay, this book is a story of humanity and the testing of boundaries (the message jumps off the page).

Judith's email mentioned that she 'loved the happy-family feel and how others helped out Clara.' I had a different response while reading the book, I struggled with Clara's decisions.  I guess I was narrow minded in my reading experience... looking back I understand Judith's comment but I still don't understand Clara.

Can I say I loved the writing and descriptive nature of the book?  Dolly, Lorraine's daughter and the Grandmother kept my interest.  I wanted to know what happened to them.  Click over to Judith's review to read the rest of the review.

This book has left me thinking, for that alone it deserves four stars.

Let's get to the questions:

Judith: After reading my review, is there anything that you had a totally different reaction to? We don't always enjoy the same books, but with Good to a Fault we did, so I'm wondering if we liked/disliked the same elements in the book.

Mari: My first reaction, while reading this book, wasn’t a good one. I found myself disliking it so much yet I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to know what happened to Clayton (Lorraine’s husband) and I enjoyed the roughness of Lorraine. Being homeless and longing to provide for one’s family… unthinkable. I cared about this family. I would love to know what happened five years later. How’s Dolly? Is Lorraine healthy? Is the family settled? I wasn’t all that invested in Clara.

Judith: What did you think of the reverend, what was his role in the book? Did you notice how he lost some of his faith straight after the break up with his wife but later gained it again (or do I see this wrongly)?

Mari: He tried to explain to Clara that she didn’t need to get involved with the family post crash, and I was surprised that he wasn’t interested in going to the hospital to visit with Lorraine (at Clara’s request). I didn’t like him all that much, he was a weak person. But again… maybe this is what happens to someone after years of a terrible marriage. I agree with you, he seemed to be a stronger person by the end of the novel.

Judith: And what about Darwin, Lorraine's brother? Why was he introduced as a drunk but then later helped out so brilliantly?

Mari: Darwin is a free spirit! He brought a lightness to the book, he really wanted to help Clara while helping Lorraine’s family. Did you ever wonder, if the family was there temporarily, why he made all the house improvements? Could you imagine coming home and discovering someone built a room in your basement without asking? I’m a literal/rigid reader… you can see why I struggle with imaginative stories!

Judith: Of course I also want to know what you thought of Clara. Could you imagine being like her? What would you do the same/different?

Mari: What can I say about Clara… the situation was so strange, she invited a circus into her home. In America there would have been housing options for the family. If I was faced with a similar situation and chose to help the family (I like to think I would)… I would pay for an apartment for a month/two rather than getting lost in my home. Compassion is wonderful but boundaries need to be set (smart decisions).

In the end, Clayton’s family walks out of Clara’s life as we would expect, only to leave a new grieving process to begin for Clara. I think she realized how important family is, she really wanted to keep the children.

It was great reading a novel together and having a chance to discuss it.  Let's do this again sometime. Thanks Judith!  

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: Second Nature: a love story

Why I picked it: The plot sounded interesting, different, and I was ready for a darker story.

Synopsis: A fierce and moving tale of one woman’s fight for her identity and her life when fate holds out a second chance. Sicily Coyne was just thirteen when her father was killed in a school fire that left her face disfigured. Twelve years later, a young surgeon, Eliza Cappadora, offers hope in the form of a revolutionary new surgery that may give Sicily back the grace and function she lost. Raised by a dynamic, tenacious aunt who taught her to lead a normal life, and engaged to a wonderful man who knew her long before the accident, Sicily rejects the offer: She knows who she is, and so do the people who love her. But when a secret surfaces that shatters Sicily’s carefully constructed world, she calls off the wedding and agrees to the radical procedure in order to begin a new life.

Her beauty restored virtually overnight, Sicily rushes toward life with open arms, seeking new experiences, adventures, and, most of all, love. But she soon discovers that her new face carries with it risks that no one could have imagined. Confronting a moral and medical crisis that quickly becomes a matter of life and death, Sicily is surrounded by experts and loving family, but the choice that will transform her future, for better or worse, is one she must make alone.

An intense and moving story of courage, consequence, and possibility, Second Nature showcases the acclaimed storyteller at her very best.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Before writing this review I read a few reviews online to read reactions to the novel.  While it's well crafted I struggled with a few things in the book.  What I'm learning, about myself, is that I need to stay away from books with fire. 

When Sicily is thirteen she loses her father in a fire and she herself is badly burned. As an adult, she has built a life for herself, filled with friends and is engaged to a wonderful man.  After learning a deep, dark secret about her fiance, she calls off the wedding and decides to go forward with a life changing surgery that turns her from burn victim to beauty. Post surgery she finds love but the isolation is overwhelming.  Her life may have been better before the surgery.

One reviewer wrote:

I challenge anyone to read Ms. Mitchard's description of that fire and NOT be affected in some way; I found myself haunted by it. Her words will mesmerize and terrify you simultaneously, and at the end of the first chapter you will not be able to put the book down.

Having lived through a fire (I was actually in my house with my nine year old son), I am still haunted by the smells, the crackle of the flames, the post events...  if you don't have first hand experience, it's hard to explain/understand how it impacts you the rest of your life. Let me get off my soapbox and back to my review...

The description of the fire wasn't emotional for me, it didn't haunt me.  That said, the fire is just one chapter and told from a young girls eye so I moved past that quickly since this novel is 'post fire'.  What bothered me was that the novel revisited events/feelings over and over and over.  

Now that I'm done reading the book, I like it more than I did while reading it.  The concept was great and I loved the ending.

I seem to be alone in my opinion as this novel is getting 5 star reviews on  I'm sure it has to do with my personal experience. 

Book'd Out and I read/chatted about this one via comments, neither of us loved it.  Click here to read her review.

Rating: 3 stars
Source: Review copy, NetGalley

Review: Everything we ever Wanted

Why I picked it: I had just finished reading a few very dark novels and wanted to return to my comfort zone, family drama seems to be something I keep coming back to.

Synopsis: How do you choose between your family and your history?

A late-night phone call on a Sunday evening rarely brings good news. So when Sylvie, a recently-widowed mother of two, receives a call from the head teacher of the school she's on the board of, she knows it won't be something she wants to hear. The school was founded by her grandfather, and she's inherited everything he strived to build up - a reputation, a heritage, the school and the grand old family house. And with this inheritance comes responsibility.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: At the surface this is a perfect choice for me.  After reading two novels by Shepard it's fair to say she writes with the same level of detail as Jennifer Haigh.  It felt like I knew the characters for years by the midpoint of the novel and the second half moves quickly.

I would have loved to spend more time with Joanna.  She was the most interesting character for me. Starting with her childhood obsession, fueled by her mother, she marries into a specific family... thinking her life will change significantly. 

Her obsession with her husband's high school sweetheart starts to unravel the life she's so carefully built.  Always feeling like an outsider in her husbands life, she stands on the periphery watching a family secret start to works its way to the surface. 

Even a few days after finishing this book I'm left wanting to know what happens to Joanna and Charles (after the novel ends), this is usually a good nod that I liked a book.

When I first posted that I was reading this novel someone left a comment saying that they bailed on this book, not a good sign.... I will tell you that if you don't like to read books with little dialog you might struggle with this one. That said, it worked for me. This would make for a good book club selection, there's a lot to discuss!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy, NetGalley

Review: The Girl with Three Legs

Why I picked it: I enjoy reading memoirs, reading other people's stories. A memoir about life experiences and culture (even when the story is tough) makes for a powerful read.

Synopsis:  A victim of FGM and an arranged marriage to an abusive cousin, MirĂ© was also witness to the instability of Somalia’s political landscape: her father was a general for the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, and her family moved in the inner circles of Somalia’s elite. In her journey to recover from the violence done to her, MirĂ© realizes FGM is the ultimate child abuse, a ritual of mutilation handed down from mother to daughter and protected by the word “culture.”

Type: Memoir

Quick Take: Can I say this... I'm so glad I decided to read this book.  The author writes her story without gruesome detail but enough to express the pain she endured, for being born a girl.

After having her female parts 'cut off' at age thirteen, she is sewn up... only to be opened by her future husband.  To avoid being graphic... imagine the hygiene issues this creates once a month.

As part of their culture, this 'gift' makes girls more attractive to potential husbands who are chosen for them.  In Soraya's story, her mother chooses a cousin to be her future husband.  Someone who treats her terribly and she is forced to escape to save her life.

I wasn't prepared for Soraya's story.  Not only did she receive her 'gift' but the infections and healing process are more than any girl should have to endure.  I knew about FGM before reading this memoir but I wasn't aware of...or didn't think about... the healing process.  Soraya has many complications post surgery, they will haunt you and I'm shocked to learn that this is still viewed as an important cultural experience. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy (NetGalley)

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