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Tag: family (page 2 of 2)

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

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Thanks to Net Galley for providing me with this ARC for review purposes.

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.

Many of the reviews I’ve seen of HAUSFRAU say that it’s a hard book to review. I agree. As I read it, I wanted to slam it shut and toss it away, multiple times. The only reason I kept going was curiosity–how would things end? Anna Benz is a hard character to like: she’s weak, passive, oversexed, bland, and annoying. For the most part, she spends her time wishing she weren’t in Switzerland with her husband, attending German classes, seeing her psychologist, and having meaningless sex with men. I’m no prude, but her attitude towards these dalliances were repugnant. Anna seems to have no emotions other than depression, ennui, and lust. I know that’s a strange combination, and perhaps that is what disturbed me the most. For all her time spent in bed, it didn’t really seem to help her enjoy life.

The writing is technically correct; and any other plot/ characters in Essbaum’s hands would be wonderful. She has the ability to create wonderful sentences and beautiful mental images; and certainly can get inside the mind of a disturbed person. Some of Anna’s internal dialogue was right on the mark.

I think the more time I’ve spent between finishing this book and recalling it for this review has mellowed my dislike. Perhaps that is too strong, as my loathing of Anna’s character has possibly overshadowed other things about HAUSFRAU that are very good. The plot does have some interesting turns and developments, outside of Anna’s sex addiction and self loathing, and this is what drives the denoument. The last part of the book is the most satisfying, the most shocking, and the most emotionally disturbing part. As I mentioned, I was on the verge of putting HAUSFRAU on my did-not-finish list, but I’ll admit grudgingly that I’m glad I didn’t.

It will be interesting to see if this book is a best seller and will get a lot of hype. You will either love it or hate it–but I guarantee you will spend time thinking about it: Anna’s choices, her mental state, if things really were as tragic as they seemed, and the chilling way the book ended. The last few sentences will be etched in my mind for a while.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”0812997530″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis

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Many thanks to author Joan C. Curtis for gifting me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Janie Knox wants nothing more than to live her life quietly in Savannah, Georgia and never return to her hometown of Atlanta. At age 17, a week after a jury convicted her stepfather of killing her mother,she packed all her worldly possessions in a single duffle bag, hopped on a bus, and vowed never to return. But, when she learns that she’s got three months to live, she journeys back home to finish what she couldn’t do when she left–kill her stepfather.
As the clock ticks away, Janie uses the last days of her life to right the wrongs that have haunted her for 20 years. She faces more than she bargained for when she discovers her sister’s life in shambles. Meanwhile her stepfather, recently released from prison, blackmails the sisters and plots to extract millions from the state in retribution.
The Clock Strikes Midnight is a race against time in a quest for revenge and atonement. This is a story about unleashing the hidden truths that haunt a quiet Southern family.

This book is truly Southern Gothic—family secrets, manipulation, drinking to ease the pain of loss, plus guilt all around.  This is a plot I can sympathize with–trying to right a wrong in your life before you die, knowing that even if you do accomplish murder, you will also be getting away with it because you only have three months to live.

Janie is as strong as Marlene is weak, and the juxtaposition between the two made for an easy read. Stepfather Ralph is a truly odious character, and I cringed every time he was around. The “bad thing” that makes him a target for murder isn’t explained until the end, but I was rooting for him to lose based on how Curtis described him, with his onion breath and mean eyes.

Even though Janie has murderous intentions, she is a sympathetic character and devoted to her sister, as the reader will discover as more of the plot is revealed. Suspense is generated via the reader knowing the clock is ticking both literally and figuratively on Janie’s life. There are a few close calls, and a flashback that will seem a bit out of place at the time, but once you get closer to the end it will all make sense. I’ll admit I was hoping for a different kind of ending (no spoilers here!), but I was satisfied how things turned out.

Almost all of Curtis’ characters have a flaw: weakness, cruelty, denial, self-absorption–you name it, and it’s in here. There is also love, strength, honor, and friendship. Almost all of the female characters are strong ones, trying to remain in control of their lives despite the curves thrown their way. The main thrust here is justice, a departure from the usual fare of girls chasing men under the guise of romance and pillow talk.  Descriptions of Atlanta make you feel as if you are experiencing the town for yourself, and I could easily picture the characters in my head.

THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT is a sleeper of a book; you turn the pages until you realized you’ve been hooked, quietly, and then you simply must see how things are going to turn out.  I’m glad I took a chance on this one. Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”B00NUGACKO” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

Gemini by Carol Cassella (plus INTERVIEW)

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Many thanks to author Carol Cassella for gifting me this book in exchange for an honest review.  At the bottom of the page there will be a link to a Q&A I did with the author–enjoy!

An unidentified woman is hit by a car and abandoned along a rural highway in western Washington. She is life-flighted to a Seattle trauma center, where she’s admitted to the intensive care unit overseen by Dr. Charlotte Reese, who battles to keep her “Jane Doe” patient alive while a police investigation tries to discover who is responsible for this hit and run—a charge that could turn into murder if this gravely injured woman dies. Charlotte also senses a more covert battle brewing with the hospital’s legal department when they assign a professional guardian to stand in lieu of Jane’s unknown family and make critical decisions about her care. In frustration, Charlotte and her boyfriend Eric, a science journalist, begin their own efforts to find Jane’s family, veering across the professional boundary between physician and patient. As their lives become more entangled, the truths Charlotte learns will radically alter her own life more profoundly than they alter her patient’s.

 

This book made my heart ache with sorrow and joy so much, that I had to put it down at times to let my feelings ebb away, in order to absorb what was happening next. Cassella strikes a chord as she writes about young love, loss, and coming to terms that your life could be so much more, but isn’t. The separate plot of Raney and Bo, who meet as children and move in and out of each other’s lives,  is told as flashbacks, interspersed with the present tale of the nurse Charlotte as she navigates her relationship with Eric while she  is trying  to find out the identity of Jane Doe.  Eric has a health issue that prevents him from being able to commit fully to Charlotte, and she is becoming discouraged. As she learns more about Jane and who she is, she becomes forced to make decisions that will affect the rest of her life, while putting Eric at a crossroads he never wanted to reach. Cassella’s writing allowed me to empathize with Charlotte, and captured the stress and wariness of both partners as they face things that could tear them apart.

However, the story of Raney, a young artist from the poor side of Quentin, Washington, and Bo, who spends a few summers in Quentin with his aunt, is where the story really shines. They grow older and develop feelings for each other that never really fade away, no matter how many times life causes them to part. Each emotion is told with heartbreaking texture, first from Raney’s perspective, then from Bo’s. Life gets in their way, as Raney must care for her ailing grandfather while Bo, from a well to do family, attends college and travels the world.

Each of the four characters must make sacrifices and learn how to make the best out of every situation.  Raney, by far, is the one that shines brightly throughout, as a girl who guards her heart and nurtures her feelings for Bo over the years. I was overcome with emotion time and time again, turning pages as quickly as I could to see what would happen to Raney next. I was affected by her story so much I still think about her to this day and feel as if I could cry. Not many fictional characters get under my skin, but Raney did.

Cassella is adroit at mixing medical situations with real life problems, and the story comes to a resolution that is plausible and bittersweet. If you can get to the last page and not be affected, perhaps you had better check to see if your heart still beats within you. These characters will stay with you for a long time. GEMINI is a must read. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link asin=”1451627939″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Click here to be taken to the page with the EXCLUSIVE interview I did with Carol!

 

Antisense by R.P. Marshall (and book giveaway)

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Many thanks to the folks at Publishing Push for this book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s very hard to like any of the characters in this book. The narrator, Daniel Hayden, may be unreliable; his motives may be inscrutable. The story starts at the funeral of his father, and we can feel the awkwardness in the air as Daniel describes the scene:  I remained by the fireplace, holding onto the mantelpiece where for over an hour I had managed to avoid justifying my existence to a group of people with whom I shared little beyond a small portion of genetic material ( and for most, not even that).

Just a few moments before, a rock is thrown through the window of the room where the gathering is taking place, and the perpetrator runs away, unapprehended.  Daniel takes his leave, carrying a small box of his father’s effects,  and gets a ride to the train station from his Uncle George, his father’s brother. When he gets home his wife Jane is sitting by herself at home, with a glass of wine and an abundance of sarcasm.  We learn that their marriage is not a happy one, and their day to day conversation consists mostly of anger and condescension.  I did wonder why they were still together, as it seemed there was nothing really holding them together. The author paints a picture of a bleak childless marriage, in a holding pattern of quiet suspense,  and I believe Marshall kept the marriage intact to highlight Daniel’s sense of isolation.

Daniel is a neuroscientist, performing experiments on lab mice to see the activity of  different proteins and genes in the amygdala. He is a loner there at work also, and is frustrated by the failure of his current project,  which consists of studying aggression in rodents and seeing if certain brain secretions can make them either more or less aggressive. Results seem to be incorrect, and his bosses and grant providers are starting to suspect the worst.  A new employee named Erin catches Daniel’s eye, and he is confused by it:  The effect she was having on me was difficult to comprehend. The opportunity to learn something new about oneself tends to diminish with age, particularly as one grows accustomed to one’s shortcomings (if not oblivious to them), but she seemed to make so many things possible. 

Daniel takes a trip to Chicago to meet with some of the grant providers, and careens through the city in a kind of a fever dream–drinking , bringing a girl back to his hotel room one night, finding himself in a porno shop the next. Things go bad there and he ends up at the police station.  The way Marshall describes the scene afterwards is typical of the striking prose encountered throughout the book: A squad car returned me to the hotel sometime after one AM. The night porter ushered me into the glittering, vacant lobby where I stood shell shocked at the brightness and clarity of it all. Hotels have a nightmarish quality at that hour. their empty corridors and hushed elevators sumptuous but sterile like a last meal on death row.

Once Daniel returns back to England he remembers the box he was given at the funeral, and opens it to find a mysterious newspaper clipping. The rest of the book proceeds with him making an effort to discover the meaning of this clipping, which in turn brings him to an unwanted realization about his family, and his recent behavior in America.

I tagged this novel under suspense, but it’s not your typical suspense. It’s quiet, insidious, the kind that creeps up on you, surrounded by vapid images and bland, even dull activities: drinking, small talk, descriptions of the weather. Make no mistake: this book is written brilliantly. Even though you must read 50% of it to even GET to the crux of the matter, it hooks you and makes you wonder where all this is going. The author is a master of the uncommon sentence; his proficiency with language and his ability to turn a phrase makes Antisense one of the best books I’ve read this year.  The character of Daniel does not so much develop but is revealed, and he is an unusual protagonist; not evil enough to be hated, too vanilla to be liked. Even the ending is unobtrusive, even peaceful, though somehow mournful.

I look forward to more by RP Marshall.  Visit his website to see what his next project is! He was kind enough to provide a print copy for a book giveaway: click HERE to enter. Entries will be accepted from November 14th to November 30th –good luck!

If you are not the lucky winner, click [easyazon_link asin=”B00GCS3WUO” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]HERE[/easyazon_link] to purchase it.

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

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I received this advance reader’s copy from Net galley in exchange for this honest review.

Touching. Poignant. Real. Funny. Heartbreaking.
There are not enough superlatives to describe this treasure of a first novel by Esther Ehrlich, written for young readers. Don’t let the designation fool you. This story will resonate with everyone–those who have a family, those who have felt alone, those who have tried to be a “good girl”, those who have been 11 years old and forced to sit in a sweltering classroom while their heart is breaking.

Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein lives in Cape Cod, circa 1972,  with her parents and older sister. She got her nickname from her love of birdwatching; I love how the author sprinkled avian facts throughout the book. Chirp’s world is turned upside down one summer when her mother is diagnosed with MS, and the dynamics of the house abruptly change. Her dad is less than comforting; Dr Orenstein, the psychiatrist, would rather open a dialogue about feelings and why they are there rather than just give Chirp a hug. Her sister Rachel is becoming distant as she is discovering boys and spending more time with her friends, instead of playing “baby” games with Chirp. And next door neighbor Joey comes from a family that finds it easier to be demeaning than understanding.

As Chirp’s mom encounters more difficulties (I can’t write any more details without avoiding spoilers) the 11 year old turns inward, sneaking away to watch her beloved birds and ponder life. Ehrlich’s prose is right on the money, capturing perfectly the emotions and fears of a girl poised on the far edge of adulthood. At times Chirp is wise beyond her years, other times she just wants her mom. The relationships between all the characters is believable and true to life, even down to the authentic banter between Joey and Chirp.

One day Chirp gets sent to the principal’s office for opening a classroom window.  Her classmates show their support on the bus ride home in a fabulous little scene that is written perfectly. Told from Chirp’s perspective:

When I sit in the bus seat next to Dawn, she says, “Want me to open the window?”, and then she pinches the locks and pushes the window down. She turns around and says to Sally, really excited, “Open your window for Chirp. Pass it on.” Sally passes it on to Tommy, who passes it on to Sean, et cetera, et cetera, and soon the whole bus is filled with the eeeeee of everyone shoving down their windows. Mr Bob, the bus driver, doesn’t say anything;  he never does. He just reaches for his blue wool cap on the dashboard and puts it on while the wind whips everyone’s hair around. 

“Heck no, we won’t go! Heck, no, we won’t go! Yay, Chirp!” Joey yells from the back of the bus. 

I know I’m in big trouble, because I got sent to the principal’s office, but I feel happy with everyone’s windows open for me. 

About 70% into the book, there is a twist that is exquisitely painful and delicate, and Ehrlich makes her writing sing like pure birdsong. There was not a page that went by that was out of place or awkward, from the first to the last. I dare anyone to read this book and not feel as if they are alongside young Chirp as she navigates through her life.

What a rare book Nest is. Read it, and come up with some superlatives of your own to describe it. It goes on sale September 9th, 2014. Buy your copy here. 

 

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