Category Archives: Book Review

SPUN by Catherine McKenzie

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Amber Sheppard, made famous for her role as The Girl Next Door, has been sober for two years now since her stint in rehab.  You would never know it though by the gossip magazines.  Every paparazzi picture of her wearing sun glasses means “hung over”, every shot of her looking too thin is “drug use”.  If that is not enough, she is still trying to avoid her other addiction as well, the hot movie star Connor Parks, who has tried to win Amber back since she quit him like her other unhealthy addictions.

Yet now, a text from Conner brings Amber to him… as one if often drawn to things that are not good for us… and the decisions she makes during this crucial time, will change her life forever.

 

 

 

 

I have enjoyed Catherine McKenzie’s writing and believe I have now read everything she has published.  When I read SPIN in 2012 I enjoyed it.  It was a different type of read for me with a new subject line… rehab.

Now Catherine McKenzie has written SPUN, a follow-up to the people who graced the rehab two years prior.  What I found interesting, was the main protagonist in SPIN was Kate, a tabloid reporter with a party-too-much-and-too-hard-problem, and Amber was someone she met in rehab.  It was interesting to see Amber’s story take the lead in SPUN, and Kate is now a secondary character.

It was fun to revisit these characters.  SPUN is written as a novella, 140 pages and worth your time.  Do you need to have read SPIN to enjoy SPUN?  No, but I would recommend SPIN as well as it is a fun read that leads right into SPUN.

 

 

  • Paperback: 140 pages
  • Publisher: Catherine McKenzie (May 16, 2014)
  • Language: English

 

Fun Fact:  Catherine McKenzie was one of our authors for Wine and Words 2014.  She was an awesome addition to our event and a lot of fun to talk to:

A few of our wine and words authors having fun at the photo booth!  Left:  Catherine McKenzie, Barbara Claypole White, Lorna Landvik, and Randy Susan Meyers

A few of our wine and words authors having fun at the photo booth! Left: Catherine McKenzie, Barbara Claypole White, Lorna Landvik, and Randy Susan Meyers

 

Some of the Friends group and the authors - far left - Catherine McKenzie

Some of the Friends group and the authors – 3rd from left – Catherine McKenzie

 

HIDDEN by Catherine McKenzie

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Jeff Manning just fired a man who at one time, was the man who hired him.  Life… is odd Jeff contemplated as he walked home from work, and while closing his eyes to relax from the tension of the day, he is hit by a car and killed.

Shortly after, Claire, Jeff’s wife melts to the floor as the police deliver the news.  His son, Seth runs to his room crying… their family home now broken with grief.

At a meeting at Jeff’s office, the news is somberly delivered of Jeff’s accident and another woman screams “No!” in disbelief as the truth sinks in.  Tish, who met Jeff at a company party, has to now decide how to best move forward drawing as little attention to herself as possible.  She goes to Jeff’s funeral as the company representative.

Told in the alternating voices of Jeff, Claire, and Tish, HIDDEN reveals what was …. what is… and what will be.

 

So…. funny thing.  I had just finished reading SPUN by this author and in the back of that books was the first chapter of this one, HIDDEN.  I read that chapter and was engaged enough to go and grab HIDDEN that has been unread on my shelf and not only start it; but finish it in one reading.  If you have ever wondered if those little chapters at the end of a book about another book by the same author work, the answer is apparently a clear and resounding YES.

 

HIDDEN is an intriguing read.  You are quickly hit with the plot and the rest of the book is explaining how things came to be in flashes back for all three – Jeff, Claire, and Tish.  Chapters will be in present time and then a comment or a happening will lead to a chapter that takes you back so you can fully understand how things came to be.  It is actually an interesting way to write, especially since one of the narrators, who we never get a real chance to know in present time, is dead.

 

My only struggle with this read was that sometimes I did not know right away who the narrator of a chapter was. I would have to skim ahead on the page to get to the “Oh, this is Jeff speaking”, or “Oh this is Claire.”  In the end, the story is not all wrapped up with all things tidy.  As I finished the book I was a little bummed about this, yet as it begin to sink in, I started to appreciate the ending more knowing that all things in life do not have the opportunity to be neatly categorized, labeled and put into a cute box.

 

HIDDEN is a book that will make you think about relationships and what truly can never 100% be known.

 

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: New Harvest (April 1, 2014)

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (Banned Book… BUT Was It Real?)

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Being a teenager is not easy now… and it wasn’t then.

Told in the first person perspective of an unnamed teenage girl, who is just trying to fit in.  When she is invited to a popular girls party she can not believe her luck!  They play a game called “Who’s Got The Button”, which our narrator later learns that several of the cokes they are served at the party are laced with LSD… the question is who will get them?  Our narrator of course is one that does, and she experiences her first high.

As time goes on, she becomes more willing to try other drugs to find out what they will feel like.  She becomes not only popular in her school, but also a drug dealer to pay for her habits.

Written in diary form, Go Ask Alice walks you through the drug use and the terrible happenings associated with her highs such as sex, leaving home, in with the wrong so-called “friends” and then leads to her trying to come clean and be the girl she knows deep down inside she is.

 

 

WOW.  I picked up this book at our recent Friends Of The Library sale.  I am always on the look out for classics and banned books (often one and the same) when I seen a copy of this book. Go Ask Alice is small, 224 under size pages and written in diary format so is a quick read.  My plan was to read this for banned book week, and although I did not finish it during the week I meant to, I did finish it.

Go Ask Alice, written originally in 1971 is still relevant today.  I am not sure why it is called Go Ask Alice, there is a small encounter with a girl named Alice… but nothing worthy of naming the book after her (although I did momentarily wonder if the “Alice” she seen in the book, was indeed our narrator thinking of herself as another person…)

The book is sad.  You find our narrator trying to break free of the circle of drugs and those involved, but it is a struggle in many ways.  Even when she does get clean, she is pursued by the users as well as nightmares and well… read the book.  There is more to this story.

Go Ask Alice is said in the front of the book that is the actual diary of a teenage girl.  If you look on-line, you will find there is much discrepancy about this claim.  Snopes.com calls it out as fiction.  Merely a cautionary tale.  It also calls out that the book is not really anonymous, although this is pretty common knowledge now – the author is actually Beatrice Sparks who had written a number of teen books dealing with topics such as AIDS, teen pregnancy, cults, drugs, and eating disorders.

True story or not, it made for an interesting read and truly can put the fear of drugs and the dangers of hanging with the wrong people in you.

Recommended.  So you too can say you read it.

 

Go Ask Alice… WHY Was It Banned?

Since it’s publishing in 1971, Go Ask Alice has become one of the most challenged and banned books of all time. Due to its frequent and strong references to sex, heavy drug usage, and teen pregnancy, libraries and schools across the country have banned the novel as it sits at number 23 on the American Library Association (ALA) “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books” from 1990-2001.  In Charleston, South Carolina, Dr.Chester Floyd, Berkeley County school district’s superintendent, pulled the novel off the shelves of all public schools within the district.

 

 

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse; Reprint edition (January 1, 2006)

 

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts?

 

 

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding (Banned Books Week 2014)

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Originally published in September of 1954, a dystopian type novel where a group of British boys are stuck on an inhabited island who try to given themselves while waiting for rescue with disastrous results.  Lord Of The Flies has been called an early Hunger Games.

 

When a plane full of English school boys crashes onto a deserted island with no adult survivors, the boys ages 6 – 12 have to figure out a way to survive.

When Ralph, one of the older boys is voted to be their leader, and the runner up to his leadership Jack, a boy who will put in charge of the other boys and call them “hunters”, it looks like they are off to a good start.  They are each assigned duties like building a fire (so a passing boat might see the smoke), gather food, make shelter, and eventually hunt the wild pigs they find on the island.

Of course, boys will be boys, and the system quickly deteriorates as most of the survivors would rather swim and lay in the sun.  When Jack takes a team of boys hunting instead of maintaining the fire as he was supposed to things start to change for the worse.  Soon Ralph is being challenged by his authority and Jack feels that perhaps since he can provide food that he is the better choice for a leader.  The boys split into two different areas of the island.

While Ralph maintains Piggy, a heavier but also brilliant boy who with the help of his glasses can make fire, Ralphs team are not hunters.  While Jack leads a team that is fed well by the hunt, they are unable to make fire.  Unable to work together the two groups of boys turn savagely against each other; crazed from the heat and lack of basic survival needs with no adult supervision, the boys go too far…

and there is no turning back.

 

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In my quest to read all banned books during banned books week, this is a small (202 pages) book that has been on my classic shelf for a couple of years, waiting its turn to be chosen.  As I left for the cabin on Thursday afternoon, I grabbed this one off the shelf.

At first Lord Of The Flies took a few pages to sink into the rhythm.  The book starts out after the crash.  (Think LOST).  You do not receive a lot of back story here as to where they were going, but you do pick up that they are a choir.

As the book starts to movie forward you have Ralph who is mainly given leadership because he has the conch shell which calls the wandering group together.  Piggy, who is constantly and sadly made fun of throughout the book, is a young voice of wisdom. Jack, comes along as a stronger boy one who wants recognition and quickly finds he is skilled at hunting which impresses the other boys.

According to author William Golding, Lord Of The Flies was written to trace the defects of society back to human nature.  (There is a wonderful back story to the book in the final pages)

I read the book in the space of a couple of mornings at the cabin.  The book easily held my attention as the frustrations quickly rise when Ralph discovers that it is a lot of work to try to get things done hen only a few are doing the work.  When the boys turn against each other and start acting live savages (one group turning to wearing face paint made from berries and mud on the island, all society acceptances seems to flow away.

Towards the end of the book my eyes were flying across the pages wondering what was going to happen.

I am so glad I had an opportunity to read this book called by Time Magazine in 2005 “One of the top 100 books of all time” and having won many awards.

 

SO why was this book banned?

  • Challenged at the Dallas, TX Independent School District high school libraries (1974). 

  • Challenged at the Sully Buttes, SD High School (1981). Challenged at the Owen, NC High School (1981) because the book is “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.”

  • Challenged at the Marana, AZ High School (1983) as an inappropriate reading assignment.

  • Challenged at the Olney, TX Independent School District (1984) because of “excessive violence and bad language.” A committee of the Toronto, Canada Board of Education ruled on June 23, 1988, that the novel is “racist and recommended that it be removed from all schools.” Parents and members of the black community complained about a reference to “niggers” in the book and said it denigrates blacks.

  • Challenged in the Waterloo, IA schools (1992) because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled.

  • Challenged, but retained on the ninth-grade accelerated English reading list in Bloomfield, NY (2000).

 

Leave a comment on this post and not only be entered to win one of the banned book week prizes, but also one commenter on this post between now and next Sunday will be entered to win a copy of this book sent directly to your home from Amazon.

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts on the comparisons to Hunger Games?

If you have not read it, would you consider reading it?  Why or why not?

 

 

  • Mass Market Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Perigee Books; Reissue edition (July 27, 1959)
  • Language: English

 

Early Decision by Lacy Crawford

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Anne is an admissions coach for students preparing to start the process of getting into the college of their choice.  Or, in some cases I should say their parents choice… This book is a fictional telling on the authors non fictional 15 years of being a college admissions coach, helping students (and parents) come to terms with that next step.

In Early Decision, Anne is starting another season of coaching as her students she has accepted line up from all walks, parents for the most part, eager to make sure their child has the best possible chance to get in the ever narrowing gates of admission to the big name colleges.

Hunter, a kind boy trying hard to reach his parents level of expectations for him, but really has his own dream of his future.  Sadie, the daughter of wealthy well-known parents who feels her future is all cut out for her no matter what she does.  William, a brilliant young man who is constantly dodging his father’s anger.  Alexis the overachiever from Minnesota (Minnesota!), and Christina who has everything it takes to succeed.. just not the means to do it.

As Anne works with each of these students as they write their first drafts of their college essays, she helps them realize who they really are and what they really want to say – not always to the parents approval.  Anne meets with the students and talks them through the possibilities as they continue to work on the application essay that will hopefully set them apart and provide that acceptance letter into the college of their choice; but not always.

As Anne works with this latest group of students she finds herself contemplating her own life.  Is this where she thought she would wind up?  Was this her big plan for after college… thirty is just around the corner for her and some how she feels like she has never taken the steps she is coaching the students to take, herself.

 

 

 

 

 

Early Decision is a look into the world of college acceptance and the students applying as well as the parents prodding anxiously behind them, in many cases as though the decision of acceptance defines them as parents as well.  Anne’s job comes with high expectations on her from all of the above.

I found Early Decision to be very interesting.  I, myself did not take the college route, and sometimes really wish I would have.  At the time of my own graduation, my mom had been raising me alone for years after my father’s early death due to an accidental fire, and my goal was to make my transition from High School to the real world, as easy on her as possible.  Now reading about how intense parents can be about the process was fascinating and a little scary all rolled into one.  In this book, you get a real taste of where the parents are with their dreams for their children – but you also get a real look at what the children want for themselves.

What is interesting is that author Lacy Crawford wrote this book based on her real life experience as a college admissions councilor.  While this book does not point out actual people – the results of this book is a combination of her years in this position and the tiger moms and the helicopter parents are all too real.

I enjoyed looking into this world of intense college application prep; a world I knew little about.  I felt for the students being pushed and prodded.  In some cases I felt for the parents as they wanted what was best for their child…. but mostly I felt for Anne, who had her work cut out for her between working with the students and battling the parents who were either too pushy, or too needy…

A wild look into the college side that I feel would be a great read for parents and students alike as they approach that time of college decision.  In fact, I think both the parents and the students should read this book before they start the process – hopefully giving each an insight into the other side and therefore taking on this step with a little more empathy for each other – and a little more understanding.

A fun and thought-provoking read.

 

 

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 26, 2014)
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to tag along this road to College applications and acceptance.  It was truly an interesting adventure in reading! 

 

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This Is Where I Leave You by Johnathon Trapper

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I was recently asked, “How do you read all the books you receive for review?”   And, if I am honest, I admit I can not read them all.  When I accept the book for review I have the best intentions to read and review the book… but life does happen – jobs, family, friends, commitments, homes, and so unfortunately – some books are missed and unfortunately – as in the case of this one, that is a sad mistake that I am so glad I had an opportunity to correct.  ~Sheila

 

Synopsis – Judd has just walked in on his wife having sex with someone.  Someone who is not him.  Someone – who is in fact, Judd’s boss.  And Judd’s life just fell apart.

Soon after, Judd receives a phone call from his sister that his father who has been ill for some time, has died and the family; Judd, his sister Wendy, and brothers Paul and Phillip are to gather at the family home with their mother for this final good-bye.

Judd’s mother says that in his fathers final wish he wanted the family to sit Shiva; a Jewish tradition where the family remains together int he home for seven days mourning the loss of their loved ones while friends and family come and pay their respects.  Judd’s family is not the type that can spend more than a few hours together without wanting to kill each other so this should be interesting.

Wendy, the only daughter, comes in tow with her three children and her business husband who can not stay off his phone long enough to mourn anything… except maybe the possible loss of a few dollars.

Paul, the oldest son comes with his wife Alice who is desperate to be pregnant but so far no matter what doctors she see’s and what pills she takes, nothing has happened for the couple.

Phillip, the youngest of the brothers and by far the most free-spirited comes with a much older woman who he is hoping will help him settle his wild ways and lack of interest in any kind of responsibility.

And then there is Judd, broken marriage, no job, living in a smelly basement apartment wishing hateful things on his boss and mourning the loss of the woman he loved….

Really…

what could possibly go wrong?

The internet is a buzz with the upcoming movie for this book, This Is Where I Leave You.  The casting looks wonderful and with it opening next week I had a vague recollection that I may have this book on my shelves.  I did… and I started reading it right away.

This Is Where I Leave You is that book that you will not want to put down.  It opens with a funny conversation between Judd and his sister Wendy… and it keep rolling from there.  The family is dysfunctional, and funny, and keeps you on your toes… if it could happen… it will happen.  I flew through these pages finding a real enjoyment in Johnathan Tropper’s words and the whole time wondering, “what else have I missed from this witty author?”

Do not hesitate on picking up this book that is a quick enjoyable read of a family that really… could be anyone’s family.  And then… do not miss out on the giveaway I posted earlier this week for a chance to win a movie package.

Seriously…

why are you still here?

Go!  Get this book!

 

 

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English

 

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand

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48-year-old Dabney Beech is Nantucket.

Ask anyone.

Everyone knows her friendly smile and her involvement in anything Nantucket.  Dabney also has had a lifelong gift for matchmaking.  She can see when people are right for each other and with 42 happy couples all saying Dabney knows a good match when she sees it… its hard to argue the facts.

The only relationship that Dabney can not seem to get right is her own.  Meeting Clendenin “Clen” Hughes back when she was in school was the highlight of her life and when she let him so… she thought she was doing what was right for both of them. Yet 27 years later when Clen walks back into her life, Dabney feels all those feelings come surging back as though they had never left.  Trouble is Dabney is married to a wonderful man, who while he does not make her heart beat fast like Clen does, would do just about anything to save his marriage to the woman he truly loves.

Torn between what is right.. and what is true… Dabney struggles to make the right decisions, all the while her world is falling apart around her.  When her health seems to be battling against her, and she is missing an alarming amount of time from work for a variety of reasons – Dabney has to decide is making this one last match is worth all the trouble it will cause… even if it is her most desired wish.

 

 

There is just something summery sweet about an Elin Hilderbrand book.  Almost like biting into a perfectly ripe peach.  ~Sheila

 

The Matchmaker is a book I have been excited about.  Gorgeous cover, and the promise of a good Hildebrand storyline made me anxious to get started on this one.  While there was a lot to like about The Matchmaker (sunny days, Nantucket, romance, I want to be Dabney’s friend…) I actually found a bit in this one that I did not enjoy.

Dabney is OVERLY described in the beginning of the book as being adored by everyone…. in several ways in long drawn out descriptions it is very clearly made that Dabney is beloved. There is also a long drawn out decision to open an email or not… reading the title over and over again. It felt a bit forced and I started to think of the beginning of the book as “word fill”… just putting in as many words as you can to stretch it out.    Between that and the description of Clen’s eyes as being “weak tea colored” – that exact description being mentioned three times that I counted… it honestly was almost a deal breaker for me.  The whole perfect matchmaking story was a bit over the top and the only character that was described well and felt real was Dabney herself.

I am not sure what happened here with this book as normally Elin Hilderbrand has delightful engaging stories.  It took quite a while for me to get into this read and for a while I even considered calling it a DNF and moving on.

If, like me, you do hang in there and finish the book the story does redeem itself a bit but I am not sure enough to have me recommend it.

I would be interested in hearing other thoughts from those of you who finished this book as I am surprised by how disjointed I found it to be.

 

 

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (June 10, 2014)

 

 

California by Edan Lepucki (hmmmm….)

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It’s been two long hard years since the world as it was broke into this food scarce fend for yourself type shell of what it once was.  The land of abundance is no more.

For Cal and Frida, life is quiet in the wilderness they have created a home within.  They have a garden, and a house, and a water source near by.  Admittedly it is a lonely world but it is what they have and for the most part they feel secure.

When Frida discovers she is pregnant she feels strongly that they must look for others.  While Cal is uncertain of this move, he understands his wife’s fears and together they go off to search for other people.  When they come across a community that is heavily guarded they are allowed inside, at least for a while to see if they will be accepted.  The community is full of surprises – some personal, and some frightening such as the fact that there are no children there.  As Cal and Frida cautiously look for answers they do not know who they can trust.  Is this the best the world now has to offer?  Were they better off alone where they were, or was that too only a temporary feeling of safety?

 

 

When I first heard about CALIFORNIA it sounded like a book for me.  I love a good dystopian novel and I was excited to dig into this one.

CALIFORNIA had a very slow start for me.  It honestly could have been partially due to the changes going on in my life at the time of starting to read this one, but I found it slow-moving and not gripping enough to hold me to it.  I picked it up, read a few pages and put it down off and on for weeks.  When it finally started moving (about 100 pages in) then I became engaged in what was happening.

The book was good… very good in some ways, but as I progressed to the ending I knew that all the different plot lines that had been opened up could not possibly be closed within this one book.  My biggest disappointment is I felt at the end it just…

ended.

Not a cliffhanger… but more like it ended like a chapter ends.  There should be more but there was not.

I had a lot of questions left and felt there was a lot more that needed to happen to bring this story line to full and satisfying conclusion.  No where that I have looked do I see that there are plans to make this into a trilogy or that there will be a sequel even.  For now.. I am under the impression that was it and if that is the case… I am left unfulfilled.

Little Lies by Heather Gudenkauf

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Social Worker Ellen Moore is awaken from her warm deep sleep to take a call that brought her full attention to the true cold dark world that surrounded her. A woman’s body was found in the park next to the statue of Leto, the Goddess of Motherhood.  More disturbing, the woman’s 4-year-old son was next to his dead mother, cold and alone.  Much like a case that took place thirteen years earlier with another mother, and another child in the same spot.  Ellen leaves the warmth of her husband’s side and quietly walks by each of her three children’s rooms to go to the scene of the crime.

Ellen’s job is to take care of the child, but she can not help but wonder what the connections are to the past.  You never know when you are playing it safe, or when you may find yourself confronted by a killer who knows you are getting a little too close to the truth for comfort.

 

 

I recently read and reviewed Heather Gudenkauf’s book Little Mercies which also is about protagonist Ellen Moore and a case involving child endangerment.  I enjoyed that book very much and was interested in this novella prequel with the main characters that I had enjoyed so much previously.

While I enjoyed the case and the story line, I was reminded once again why I do not usually engage in these prequels.  They place too much in the pages too fast, which I understand is the way it needs to be in a 400 page novella.  I think this would have made a wonderful full size book, there was plenty of good content to make it so.

If you enjoy Heather Gudenkauf’s writing and do not mind the occasional short story with great characters, this would be a book I would recommend.  Powerful storyline, just a little quick on the wrap up for me.

 

 

  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 5/1/2014
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 400

 

LETHAL by Sandra Brown

LETHAL Sandra Brown, Sheila DeChantal, Book JOurney

 

Honor Gillette is a young widower of a Police Officer.  She now lives alone with her 4-year-old daughter trying hard to provide a stable life for them both.  When a man is found laying in their yard apparently harmed Honor goes to help him only to discover that he is the man flashed across the tv screen that the police are looking for the murder of 7 people, Lee Coburn.

Lee takes Honor and her daughter hostage in their own home, promising if they cooperate he will not hurt them.  Honor has no choice but to do as he says. As the days unfold Honor realizes that Coburn is much more than what the media is saying… in fact as Honor is about to learn – nothing is as it seems and who to trust, including those closest to her becomes the burning question.

How do you run away from the very people who days earlier would have been the ones you would run to?

 

 

 

I read this book as part of our June book exchange for book club.  This is the book that I picked out of the pile of wrapped books.  I had attempted Sandra Brown a few years back thinking I would like her writing style but struggled and had not finished the book, or picked her up since.  This was going to be another attempt.

 

LETHAL was an ok read.  From the moment Honor finds Coburn in her yard and takes her hostage I started having a little Labor Day by Joyce Maynard feeling.  Both books had single mom’s and a single child, both books the woman was taken hostage…. While in many ways the books are not alike, there was just enough there to make me feel like I had been here before.

The storyline felt a bit over the top, however I did find the book to be interesting enough to keep me going to find out what was going to happen.  When I shared my thoughts with my book club in July about this book I called it a steamier version of Labor Day.  In the end I preferred Lee Coburn’s character over Henry in Labor Day.  Coburn was someone I could cheer on…. Henry… not so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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