Black-Eyed Susans by Julie Heaberlin

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Black Eyed Susans

by Julie Heaberlin

published by Ballantine Books

August 2015

I received and advance review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

That cover!  It totally caught my eye and piqued my interest.  In this case, you can judge the book by the cover because the story inside is just as catching and captivating!  This was a suspenseful, fast read that I didn’t want to put down.  As with many books today, it is told in two parts: the past and the present of Tessa Cartwright.  After she is found in a field of black eyed susans, the only living victim of a serial killer, Tessa struggles to cope with her experience.  Despite having no recollection of the actual crime, prosecutors use her testimony to convict and sentence a man to death.  Fast forward almost twenty years and Tess is now living a happy, if very sheltered life with her daughter.  When she sees a fresh batch of the infamous flowers planted outside her bedroom window, she begins to fear the wrong man is about to be put to death.  Agreeing to help the lawyers fighting for appeal, Tess struggle to open her mind, daring herself to remember the worst thing that has ever happened to her.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that it wasn’t as predictable as so many suspense novels out there.  Tess wasn’t just a victim, she was a heroine in my eyes.  The writing keeps you engaged and always a little surprised.  If you enjoy a good suspense story this is a must read for you.

 

Summary

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison

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If I Could Turn Back Time

by Beth Harbison

Published by St. Martin Press

July 28, 2015 release date

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Ramie Phillips is celebrating her 37 birth day with friends on a yacht and thinks she has it all.  Single, wealthy and successful, she has never regretted the decisions she mad that led her where she is.  The joyful pregnancy announcement sends Ramie reeling and she proceeds to get good and drunk.  When she her drunken dive winds up smashing her head on the boat, Ramie wakes up- not 37, but 18 and in high school.  As she relives the days leading up to her high school graduation, she begins to second guess her big choices- what  and where to study in college, breaking up with her high school sweetheart, etc.

This was a fun, fast book that I really enjoyed.  I loved the beginning and the end, but felt the middle  became bogged down with too much “reflection” that really didn’t tie into the story or the main character.  It felt like it disrupted the flow of the story in order to make it major meaningful.  Once past that, it was really terrific, and I loved the ending (no spoilers).  I love the idea of revising major life decisions and possibly seeing the aftermath of the path not taken.

Summary

Thirty-seven year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. She made her fortune and now she hob nobs with the very rich and occasionally the semi-famous, and she enjoys luxuries she only dreamed of as a middle-class kid growing up in Potomac, Maryland. But despite it all, she can’t ignore the fact that she isn’t necessarily happy. In fact, lately Ramie has begun to feel more than a little empty.

On a boat with friends off the Florida coast, she tries to fight her feelings of discontent with steel will and hard liquor. No one even notices as she gets up and goes to the diving board and dives off…

Suddenly Ramie is waking up, straining to understand a voice calling in the distance…It’s her mother: “Wake up! You’re going to be late for school again. I’m not writing a note this time…”

Ramie finds herself back on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, with a second chance to see the people she’s lost and change the choices she regrets. How did she get back here? Has she gone off the deep end? Is she really back in time? Above all, she’ll have to answer the question that no one else can: What it is that she really wants from the past, and for her future?

 

 

 

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

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Circling the Sun

by Paula McLain

published by Ballantine Books

July 28, 2015

I received this book as an advance review copy from the publisher through net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I loved McLains’ The Paris Wife so much and I was so happy to receive Circling The Sun from the publishers.  I was not disappointed!  First- this makes me want to read, and then watch Out of Africa, which I never have.  Then I want to read Markham’s own memoir West with the Night.  The author has presented an amazing description of aAfrica in the early 20th century, as well as one of the Europeans who either treated it as a part of heaven, or a playground for the wealthy and bored.

Beryl Markham lived an amazing life.  She grew up on a farm in Kenya, raised only by her somewhat neglectful father after her mother leaves them to return to England.  She was permitted to run wild, learning how to hunt and shoot with the native boys.  When her father tries to send her to school in her teens, she repeatedly runs away until she is kicked out.  She lived her life in such an unconventional way, at at time when there weren’t many choices for women living on their own.  She did marry two times- both were very unhappy and ended quickly.  Markham had many affairs, but was only made truly happy but three things- horses, Denys Finch- Hatton, and flying.

This might be one of my favorite books of the year so far.  The writing was wonderful and the author obviously did a meticulous job with her research.  My favorite part of the book is the descriptions of Africa, and the obvious love Markham had for it.  I would definitely recommend this book.  A big thank you to Ballantine Books and Net Galley for sharing it with me!

Summary

Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

To learn more about Beryl Markham, check out some of these site-

http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-many-lives-of-beryl-markham.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beryl_Markham

http://womanpilot.com/?p=67

In Wilderness by Diane Thomas

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In Wilderness

by Diane Thomas

published by Random House

March 2015

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review.

 

My Review

In Wilderness is strange and dark, but totally captivating.  It pulled me in and made it impossible to concentrate on anything else.  This is the story of Katherine Reid, who suffered a miscarriage in 1962, after being exposed to pesticides sprayed on the trees in her neighborhood.  Her marriage crumbles and her health slowly deteriorates.  Four years later, she is informed by her third doctor that her body is shutting down for unknown reasons and that she has 2-3 months to live.  She sells her business and home and moves into a small stone cabin in the North Georgia mountains to die alone.  But she is not alone.  Danny, a young Vietnam veteran, had been living in that cabin before her and is unhappy someone had moved in.  He retreats to a burnt out mansion nearby, and watches Katherine, who he calls the Dead Lad, from the woods.  He can see she is ill, as he is himself.  He can no longer be in society and has taken to hide away.  Bot of these characters are struggling with illnesses that had not been recognized yet- Environmental Illness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Away from the modern world, Katherine actually begins to recover, which she cannot believe.  Only going back into town leave her feeling sick again, so she remains in the woods as much as possible- growing her own vegetables and chopping firewood.  Danny eventually becomes fixated on Katherine and they enter into a strange and warped relationship.

In Wilderness is a beautifully written book, filled with darkness, suffering, wonder and love.

Summary

In the winter of 1966, Katherine Reid receives a shattering diagnosis. Debilitated by a terminal and painful illness, Katherine moves to an isolated cabin deep in Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. There, with little more than a sleeping bag, a tin plate, and a loaded gun, she plans to spend the few short months remaining to her in beautiful but desolate solitude. Her isolation brings her peace, until the day she realizes the woods are not as empty as she believed. A heartbeat in the darkness. Breathing in the night. Katherine is not alone. Someone else is near, observing her every move.

Twenty-year-old Vietnam veteran Danny lives in the once-grand mansion he has dubbed “Gatsby’s house.” Haunted by the scars of war and enclosed by walls of moldering books, he becomes fixated on Katherine. What starts as cautious observation grows to an obsession. When these two lost souls collide, the passion that ignites between them is all-consuming—and increasingly dangerous.

Suffused with a stunning sense of character and atmosphere, Diane Thomas’s intimate voice creates an unforgettable depiction of the transformative power of love, how we grieve and hope, and the perilous ways in which we heed and test our hearts.

About the Diane Thomas

My second novel, In Wilderness, a literary thriller inspired in part by the haunting southern Appalachian folk ballads of violence and erotic obsession, was also my first. I wrote it in 1981 to distract myself from fears of dying, during an extended period of extreme ill health. I titled this early version The Clearing, gave my symptoms to its protagonist, and sent her into a Georgia mountain wilderness to either die or heal.
Before moving to New Mexico in 2009, I’d lived in Atlanta and north Georgia since age four, except for two years in New York earning an MFA in Theater and Film History and Criticism at Columbia University. I hold a BA in English from Georgia State University and have worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, now the AJC. In 1966, at 24, I became the nation’s youngest major-newspaper entertainment editor, reviewing local plays, interviewing national film and theatre celebrities (including directors Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, and Elia Kazan, and actors Susan Hayward, Carol Channing, and Michael Caine), and reviewing such iconic films as “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Blow Up.” I later joined Atlanta, then a controversial, pioneering city magazine. By the time I fell ill, I had become successful as a freelance writer.
Though nominated for the Pushcart Editors Prize, The Clearing was never published. My illness abated, I resumed my freelance career fulltime, studied in Georgia State’s Creative Writing program, and in 2002 completed The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley (The Toby Press, 2005). This coming-of-age novel enjoyed critical success and, for a small-press book, respectable sales.
In 2009, my husband and I moved to New Mexico. Homesick for the Georgia mountains, where we’d spent much of the previous seven years, I completely rewrote The Clearing, retitled it In Wilderness, and never dreamed anyone would publish it, since no one had before. A Santa Fe friend talked me into looking for an agent anyway and, miracle of miracles, I found one and she found a publisher for my book.
In Wilderness came out in March 2015 from Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, seven weeks before my 73rd birthday. It was names an “Amazon Best Book” for March 2015, was recommended by Library Journal for “readers who also like the raw, honest writing of Amy Bloom and Amanda Coplin,” and endorsed by Lee Child as “Altogether spectacular.”
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It by Stephen King- or, the scariest thing I have ever read!

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It

By Stephen King

published by Trafalgar Square

1987

Summary

The story follows the exploits of seven children as they are terrorized by an eponymous being, which exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. “It” primarily appears in the form of a clown in order to attract its preferred prey of young children. The novel is told through narratives alternating between two time periods, and is largely told in the third-person omniscient mode. It deals with themes which would eventually become King staples: the power of memory, childhood trauma, and the ugliness lurking behind a façade of traditional small-town values.

My Review

I put the summary first, so you would know what I was expecting when I started reading this book.  Creepy- yes.  Frightening-No.  I read The Shining and it scared me pretty good.  I would only read it in the daytime.  And when someone else was in the house with me.  I am a baby.

But with this book, I thought I would be fine.  I am deathly afraid of clowns, but I assumed that was more of a visual thing.  I was SO wrong!

This is a pretty old book, so I am not going to dissect every part of it.  I think it will do to say this is one of my favorites by King, and I am on a pretty good role.  I might need to take a break though- this was a LONG book and it really takes a lot out of you.  I am getting the audio version for my husband, so I might have to listen also.

Parts I loved-

1. The Losers Club- as kids AND adults

I loved that King has such a sense for the isolation and loneliness one can experience as kids.  The love this group has for each other is beautiful.  It actually reminded me a lot of the friendship between the boys from The Body (or Stand by Me for movie fans).  These kids find in each other what they can’t find anywhere else- a sense of belonging and acceptance.

2. The Town of Derry

King doesn’t just set his story in the town, he makes the town an integral part of it.  There isn’t just evil in Derry- Derry IS evil- (mind blown!)   I remember Derry being mentioned in 11/22/63, and then remembered how Jake from that book said he sensed evil here.

3.The timing

King sets part of this story in the 1950’s.  There is the reference to how it was a simplier time, etc- lots of music and tv shows are mentioned.  King has a real love of rock n roll, and it comes through big time here, especially from Richie Tozier. But I also liked how he showed it wasn’t such an idyllic time, but that there was rampant racism, bullying, and terror.

4.  The Evil

At first, I thought it was just the clown- but no.  There is an age old, out of this world evil that is living off of the town- mostly the children.  And it takes the form of whatever you fear the most.  Of course this had me thinking of bogarts, and Snape dressed like Neville’s grandmother, bit I got past that quickly.  I found it SO creepy that this evil feeds off the children of the town, because there imaginations are big and open.

Honestly, I found this a pretty scary book, but also probably one of King’s best efforts.  I read in an article that this book took him over 4 years to write, and that he felt he poured his whole self into it.  It is pretty obvious.

*** I already told you that I have always been frightened of clowns-and birds (thank you Mr. Hitchcock).  But now I can add to the list- sinks, drains, balloons, bridges, canals, eyeballs, and fortune cookies.

5.  The Ending

No spoilers, but I thought it was perfect.

Parts I didn’t really love-

There isn’t that much, but-

1.  The back and forth

It took me a while to get used to the fact that every chapter was about a different character, and usually during a different decade.  I wanted a little more flow at first, especially since almost every chapter ended with a good scare.  I found myself putting the book down an walking away for a while.

2.  That sex scene

I have read other articles about this, and some tried to explain that King felt it was sort of a ritual for the kids to move into adulthood.  Nah- still not very comfortable with it.  Good thing it came at almost the end, or else I might have stopped reading.  I really don’t think it was necessary.  And it made King look a little foolish.

3.  The fact that they forget

Why can’t they remember in the end and stay close??

Did you read It?  Please leave a comment and tell me your thoughts!

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

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The Sound of Glass

by Karen White

published by NAL

May 12 2015

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review

I have been on a role (knock on wood) lately with my ARCs from Net Galley.  I have been reading some pretty awesome books and I am so thankful for it!  This might have been one of my frecent favorites.  I have read some other books by this author, but I like this one best.  In it, she truly evokes life in the Lowcountry, and how beautiful and different it is to live there.

I loved the characters here- Merritt, who has suffered greatly in the past and is trying to start over in the family home of her deceased husband in Beaufort, S.C.- Loralee, her very young stepmother, who shows up uninvited on Merritt’s new doorstep, with her 10 year old son in tow- and Gibbes- her unknown brother in law, who wants to understand what happened to his family years ago.  We have southern mansions and mystery as the story is told through Merritt, Loralee, and Edith, Gibbes’ grandmother who’s death left Merrittt the house.  If you enjoy tales set in the Lowcountry, you will love this book.  I would love to know what comes next for these characters.

Summary

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

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Inside the O’Briens

by Lisa Genova

published by Gallery Books

April 2015

I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I loved Still Alice and Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, I was really excited to read it.  I was not disappointed! Inside the O’Briens is the story of an Irish Catholic family from Boston.  Joe is a Boston cop, patrolling his hometown of Charlestown and he is married to his high school sweetheart, Rosie.  Their four children, all in their 20s, live with them on separate floors of their triple decker home.  Joe begins to have some strange symptoms he cannot explain- muscle tics, explosive rages.  When he eventually screws up at work, unable to run through drills because his legs aren’t fully under his control, a good friend reached out to Rosie with his concern. Joe promises her he will see a doctor and is shocked to learn, after genetic testing, he has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease.  This is a degenerative neurological disorder that is 100% fatal.  As if that wasn’t hard enough for Joe and Rosie, they also learn that there is a 50% chance that their children have inherited the disease.  Now the kids have to decide if they want to find out if they have the gene, which they can then pass on to their own future children.

This book reminded slightly of Still Alice, where the main character is diagnosed with an untreatable degenerative disease that could be passed on to their children.  In that book, the main character in an intellectual shoe is suffering early inset Alzheimer’s Disease.  in O’Briens, the main character is a tough as nails Irish Boston cop, who is not only losing his own ability to control his body, but is also incapable of protecting his family from the same fate.  Both are moving stories, and so informative about the disease that centers them.  I loved the O’Brien family, with their foibles and quirks.  Genova avoids making the characters stereotypical, but manages to give a real glimpse into not only the life of a Boston police officer, but also a Huntington’s patient.  The author has certainly done her research and it shows.  This is a wonderfully well written book that I definitely recommend.

To learn more about the author visit her website at –http://lisagenova.com

To learn more about Huntington’s Disease, you can visit- http://hdsa.org

Summary

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.