The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

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The Dream Lover

by Elizabeth Berg

published by

2015

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

My Review

I honestly knew next to nothing about French novelist George Sand, though I had heard of her.  Therefore, I was looking forward to reading Dream Lover, especially since I have enjoyed Berg’s previous works very much.  This novel is a departure for Berg, and I am not sure it was totally successful.  The beginning is interesting, where we learned about Sand’s parents, how they met and fell in love, and the early years of their family.  As we move on to where Sand leaves her husband and children to live with her lover in Paris and write, I lost interest.  The story seemed forced and a little boring, which surprised me.  George Sand was supposedly a very scandalous person, but here she was really just selfish and annoying.  I kept waiting for it to improve and was sorry it did not.  This was unusual for me, because I truly enjoy Berg as an author.

Summary

George Sand was a 19th century French novelist known not only for her novels but even more for her scandalous behavior. After leaving her estranged husband, Sand moved to Paris where she wrote, wore men’s clothing, smoked cigars, and had love affairs with famous men and an actress named Marie. In an era of incredible artistic talent, Sand was the most famous female writer of her time. Her lovers and friends included Frederic Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and more. In a major departure, Elizabeth Berg has created a gorgeous novel about the life of George Sand, written in luminous prose, with exquisite insight into the heart and mind of a woman who was considered the most passionate and gifted genius of her time.

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At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

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At the Water’s Edge

by Sara Gruen

published by Spiegel & Grau

 March 31, 2015

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

My Review

I read Water For Elephants and Ape House by this author so I was really looking forward to her new work.  The beginning of the book dragged a little for me, mostly due to the characters being quite obnoxious.  Maddie, her husband Ellis, and their friend Hank are wetly ne’r do wells living in Philadelphia during WWII.  Ellis and Frank and medically unfit to serve, and this is a source great embarrassment to Ellis’ family.  On New Year;s Eve, the three get very drunk and declare to a large party that they are going to go to Scotland to find proof of the Loch Ness Monster, a particular source of embarrassment to Ellis’ father, who was caught trying to falsify pictures of the monster years earlier.  They make the perilous crossing and take up residence in a small inn.  It is here that Maddie begins to change, and starts to really question the lifestyle she has been leading.  At this point, Gruen really pulls the reader in and makes them care what happens to these characters.  I would have liked to spend more time on the characters of Anna, Angus, and Meg.  I loved that Gruen took some time to give a real sense of a small Scottish town and its inhabitants.  If you like historical fiction, you will enjoy this.

Summary

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.

Needful Things by Stephen King

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Needful Things

by Stephen King

published by Hodder & Stoughton

1992

I bought a copy of this book at my library’s semi annual book sale.

My Review

This was a pretty interesting book, that was a pretty quick read.  When a new store called Needful Things opens in the small town of Castle Rock, the people that live there are very curious.  One by one, they realize that the owner, Mr. Gaunt, has the one object they want more than anything else in the world, and it can be theirs for an amazingly small price, as long they they agree to play a harmless prank on another person in town.  Mr. Gaunt weaves his increasingly dangerous web around the town, and the outcome is explosive.  The one voice of reason- and sanity- is Sheriff Pangborn, a wonderful character that one expects from King-  a flawed but genuinely good person.  Unfortunately these good characters are almost always men- Stu Redmen, Chris Chambers, Andy Dufresne, Mike Noonan, Paul Edgecombe.  Why aren’t the woman ever the great character, Mr. King?

Needful Things, while not my favorite King novel- Hello The Stand- is a good read.  It reminded me a little of Under The Dome, so if you enjoyed that, you will like this too.

Summary

Leland Gaunt opens a new shop in Castle Rock called Needful Things. Anyone who enters his store finds the object of his or her lifelong dreams and desires: a prized baseball card, a healing amulet. In addition to a token payment, Gaunt requests that each person perform a little “deed,” usually a seemingly innocent prank played on someone else from town. These practical jokes cascade out of control and soon the entire town is doing battle with itself. Only Sheriff Alan Pangborn suspects that Gaunt is behind the population’s increasingly violent behavior.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

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Gray Mountain 

By John Grisham

published by Doubleday

2014

I borrowed a copy of this book from my local library.

My Review

If you read this blog, you know that I am a pretty big fan of John Grisham and I think I have read almost every single one of his books- Calico Joe being the exception.  I know after a while  they can seem a little predictable and formulaic, but I still love them.  So I was really looking forward to his latest, Gray Mountain.  The beginning was great, especially the imagined bloodbath that occurred when the “you know what” hit the fan in 2008, and so many lost their jobs.  We meet Samantha, three years out of law school and racking up massive billing hours in the real estate department of one of the biggest law firms in the country.  When she is laid off, the firm gives her the option of doing pro bono work in a not for profit in the sour in return for keeping her benefits and her seniority if they can rehire her.  I found this part a little strange-what person only three years out of law school can work for free for a whole year?  Anyway, she goes to work in Appalachia at a legal aid clinic.  This part I loved, since Grisham has such a great touch with his secondary characters- especially southern ones.  I almost wish the story had just concentrated on the work Samantha does at the clinic, but it veered into typical Grisham territory with the little guy versus Big Coal.  While I definitely learned a good deal about the absolutely awful things cola companies are doing everyday without punishment, I just wish it didn’t take over the story.  A good book, but not his best.  Give me The Pelican Brief any day.

Summary

The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track—until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the “lucky” associates. She’s offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back.

In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems.” For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets.

Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

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Unbecoming

by Rebecca Scherm

published by Viking Adult

January 22, 2015

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

My Review

I usually enjoy books I receive as ARCs, and every once in a while, I love them!  I felt this way about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The House We Grew Up In, and The Boston Girl.  And now I feel this way about Scherm’s debut novel, Unbecoming.  I picked this book up in the morning, and finished it 12 hours later.  It is not only a fast read, but captivating.  It flows at such a nice pace, keeping you interested and moving along.  We meet Grace in Paris, where she is know as Julie, working as a restorer of antiques at a not so reputable business.  She is hiding from her boyfriend and his friend, who are being released from prison in Tennessee, for a robbery that she was somehow involved in, yet was never implicated.  To go beyond this point in the story would be to spoil some really great plot twists, and there are quite a few!  This is the first book in a long while that I devoured in a day.  When I put it down, I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it.  I hope you will give this wonderful book a try soon.

 

Summary

On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she’s from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she’s in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.

About the Author

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Rebecca Scherm is the author of Unbecoming, a novel. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was also a postgraduate Zell Fellow. She lives in Michigan, where she is working on her second novel, Beta.
Find her on Twitter @chezscherm or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rebeccascherm

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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Still Alice

by Lisa Genova

published by iUniverse

2007

My Review

Here is another book that I chose to read because I heard about the movie about to come out.  I also loved Left Neglected by this author, so I picked this to read.  I cannot believe this was Genova’s first novel.  It was wonderful.  We meet Alice Howland, a successful Harvard professor and lecturer.  She and her husband are extremely busy, flying all over the country for research, speeches, and such.  Their three grown children are out of the house and on their own (sort of).  One day, when Alice goes on her daily run, she realizes she has no idea where she is, though she has run the same way for years.  Another day, she is giving a lecture, and she completely loses a word.   Realizing something is wrong, Alice goes to a neurologist, and is shocked when her diagnosis is early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  She is only 52.  Genova then takes on a heartbreaking journey, with Alice and her family, as they grapple with their new reality.

This book, much like Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, left me shaken.  The harsh reality of this disease, especially the early onset type, is heartbreaking.  To so slowly lose yourself, or someone you love is a nightmare to me.  The only other disease that elicits this type of dread for me is ALS.  As the daughter of a parent in their 70s, I pray that this is not something I have to experience firsthand.  Genova handles this topic with honesty and compassion.  When Alice can no longer follow the story of a book, her husband John buys the movie versions of the ones she wants to read.  Her eldest Anna, make books up for Alice- with stories about each family member.  One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when Anna, who is trying to get pregnant, learns she carries the gene that causes the disease, and that she can pass it on to any children she has.  With brutal honesty, Genova shows John pull away, thinking of his own career and life.

I loved this book, though I had a very unsettled feeling after reading it.

I am eager to see Julianne Moore take on the role of Alice, though I understand they moved the setting from Harvard to Columbia (WHY??)

Summary

Alice Howland—Harvard professor, gifted researcher, and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children—sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. She has taken the route for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Medical consults reveal early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Alice slowly but inevitably loses memory and connection with reality, as told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. Genova’s debut shows the disease progression through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so readers feel what she feels: a slowly building terror.

 

About the Author

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I’m a Harvard-trained Neuroscientist, a Meisner-trained actress, and an entirely untrained writer!

My first novel, STILL ALICE, winner of the 2008 Bronte Prize, nominated for 2010 Indies Choice Debut Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association, and winner of the 2011 Bexley Book of the Year Award spent over 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 25 languages and was chosen as one of the thirty titles for World Book Night 2013.

Originally self-published, I sold it out of the trunk of my car for almost a year before it was bought at auction by Simon & Schuster.

To learn more, go to  http://www.lisagenova.com/

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

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The Witch of Painted Sorrows

by M.J. Rose

published by Atria Books

March 2015

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

My Review

I had read The Collector of Dying Breaths by Rose and I loved it even though it was the 6th in a series I had not read.  I was very tempted to go back and read all the previous books in the series, but decided not to since the 6th sort of told you want happened in those books anyway.  When I saw that the author was beginning a new series that looks similar- in terms of location and mystery- I was eager to read the first book-this book.  It started off promising- Paris in the 1890s, artists, courtesans, wow!  But it soon became apparent that this was not going to be as strong of a story as Rose’s previous works.  Once Sandrine becomes immersed in the painting world, she just becomes a different person too quickly, without a struggle to throw off everything she was and loved.  I kept waiting for an actual internal struggle with the real Sandrine and the spirit who was taking her over and it never came.  While this was a fun book and I always love Paris in the late nineteenth century, I did not enjoy this as much as I had hoped.  Despite that, the very end of the book did blow me away and I will remember it for a long time- no spoilers here!

 

Summary

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.