REVIEW: ALL FALL DOWN, BY JENNIFER WEINER

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From the outside, Allison Weiss’s world looks perfect. She and her husband Dave live in an upscale suburb near Philadelphia with their six-year-old daughter Ellie, and both have interesting work. His, at The Examiner, and hers as a popular blogger whose posts about family, relationships, and sexual issues bring numerous hits…and money. Nowadays, Allison’s job brings in more money than Dave’s.

But Allison finds it more and more difficult to manage her life, and Ellie’s behavior is increasingly frustrating most of the time. She has difficulty keeping all those balls in the air, and Dave does little to help. Most of the time he seems to escape the home for one marathon or another.

The pills Allison takes, the ones left over from her C-section and from a herniated disc, are just to help smooth out the edges. But when life keeps throwing those troubling curves, Allison finds herself constantly on a quest for pills and spending a lot of time in search of more pills.

What will happen to turn Allison’s “perfect” world on end? What will she stand to lose if she does not accept that she needs help?

All Fall Down: A Novel is an engaging story of one woman’s spiral downward into dangerous addiction and the slow climb back up out of the chasm, one day at a time.

The story is told in Allison’s first person narrative, so the reader gets an insider’s view of how her world looks to her through the cloud of denial and the dawning light of a new day as she experiences the gradual acceptance of her condition.

Dave was a remote, detached character, but perhaps only because we see him through Allison’s point of view. Ellie was also the kind of child many parents might want to scream at, but again…Allison’s view of her world and her problematic child were definitely tainted by her own perspective.

I could not put this book down. It felt realistic and troubling, a cautionary tale of what can happen when women bury their feelings and struggle to “do it all.” 5.0 stars.

A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE READ: THE BIRD SISTERS, BY REBECCA RASMUSSEN

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This week, I will be reading an ARC of Rebecca Rasmussen’s newest book, Evergreen.  When I spotlighted this book today in my Tuesday Intros/Teasers, I was reminded of her previous book, The Bird Sisters, which I read and reviewed in 2011.  That book was such a memorable and poignant read, that I wanted to savor it again.

In lieu of that, however, I decided to repost my review here today:

 

 

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In the beginning pages of this novel, we meet two elderly women, sisters Twiss and Milly, living alone in the house where they grew up in Spring Green, Wisconsin. They spend their days tending to injured birds and roaming their land, lost in memories.

For Milly, there is the constant reminder of what could have been. While in their childhoods, Twiss happily trailed after their golf-pro father, Milly dreamed about a family and children that never happened.

When an unexpected accident derails their father’s golf-pro career and leads to his retreat into the barn, their mother sinks into her own kind of retreat, filled with a gunny-sack full of regrets. A cousin’s visit to the farm seems like a respite from the family drama, but instead it sets in motion a series of events that are complicated by family loyalty, rivalries, and unfathomable sacrifice. In the end, the two sisters are alone, sustained only by the strength of their bond to one another and to their memories and dreams of the past.

From the beginning of this character-driven novel, Milly and Twiss tugged at those parts of my emotion and memory that took me to points in my own life when choices turned my life in one direction or another. I could feel and connect to the losses, the sacrifices, and then I pondered how one goes on after these kinds of disappointments. At this point in my own life, with much of it behind me, I find myself doing what these characters did in the book…traipsing backward on memory pathways, reexamining events with the perspective of time and perhaps seeing it all in a more positive way. As if things happened the way they were supposed to. There was a moment in Milly’s latter years when she sees Asa, the man she dreamed about in her youth. They share a walk across the street, a moment or two of silence, and a few words, described in this passage:

“The two of them walked together only a hundred yards that day, out the front door of the general store and across the street to the car, where Milly had left Twiss reading the Farmers’ Almanac and drinking a cream soda. That walk was the happiest of Milly’s life. She and Asa didn’t say anything to each other until they got to the car, which Twiss had abandoned momentarily for the hardware store. The almanac lay open on the passenger seat, and the empty bottle of soda lay on the floor.

“Milly and Asa walked along the sidewalk as if they had always done so; their pace was slower since they were old now, but it was still synchronized the way it was when they’d walked through the meadow. This time, there were no black rat snakes, no reasons to jump onto Asa’s back or for Asa to hold her….

“‘It was good to see you,'” he said. ‘You’re as lovely as I remember.'”

These are just a few of the heart-felt moments that litter this tale that can be summed up in words like betrayal, disappointment, rivalry, and sacrifice; it can also be described as picking up the pieces of what is left behind. “The Bird Sisters” made me feel all of my own moments in my life and pierced them with the prism of perspective and acceptance.

I gave this book five stars!

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THOUGHTS FROM THE INTERIOR: DO NUMBERS MATTER?

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Do the numbers tell the story?

Frequently I read posts about how many followers a blogger has, and I am impressed.  But sometimes the numbers do not tell the whole story.  Are those followers of the blog, or Twitter followers, or visitors?

Does it matter?

Since I have eleven blogs, my numbers on each individual site tell only a partial tale.  Like the 314 followers here, or the 247 followers at my Serendipity blog.  And these are only the e-mail subscribers, not the Bloglovin’ followers.

Who knows?  And who cares?

But I was curious, so I added up the numbers of e-mail subscribers (not Bloglovin’) for all my blogs and came to the whopping number of 1,350.

Again, what is the significance of that figure? 

What matters most to me is interacting with other bloggers, through comments.  Those build slowly, I have noticed.  The largest numbers of comments come on the memes, but I am gradually noticing a slow growth in comments on other posts.  Which gives me pleasure.

I love communicating, and those comments are part of a conversation.  Sometimes I even see a back and forth interaction, as if the conversation is more like a chat.

 

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Aside from the numbers or the comments comes the pleasure of creating a post, complete with images, and then waiting for that first lovely comment to pop up.  Sometimes there are only a handful, but that’s okay.  A connection has been made.

And I can go on to blog another day on another post.

 

 

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REVIEW: REAL MURDER (A LOVERS IN CRIME MYSTERY), BY LAUREN CARR

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When Police Detective Cameron Gates and her new husband Joshua Thornton, a prosecuting attorney, team up to solve a string of murders, including some cold cases from 1976 and 1996, they are stunned by the domino effect that seems to be in play.

The brutal murder of Dolly Houseman, an elderly woman who lives across the street, starts the chain of events, and as we meet the various players and realize the connections between them all, it is impossible to put Real Murder (A Lovers in Crime Mystery Book 2) down.

What was Dolly’s mysterious business, and how did her former life set her up as a target? What did Mike Gardner’s murder in 1996 have to do with events in the present, and to whom was he secretly connected?

For a while, it seemed as though none of the clues would lead to anyone, and then, almost as if it were planned out, everything started to come together. Could it have been a mysterious package containing tapes that helped them sort it all out?

As usual, Carr’s delightful and likable characters, including a couple of interesting pets, kept me reading and enjoying every moment. Set primarily in West Virginia, I loved the settings, as well as the plot that was twisted enough to keep me trying to figure things out. Definitely another five star read.

MY INTERIOR WORLD OF BOOKISH SURPRISES

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In this delightful bookish world we all inhabit, we can count on a few things.  There will be numerous new books featured on blogs every day.  And how we get those books will vary.

For example, Amazon Vine has recently shaken up their site, to the delight of reviewers.

Yesterday a new system was in place.  Instead of the bimonthly newsletter, we are now gifted with a Queue that we can log onto and view any day of the week or month.  And select FIVE books.   Unless, of course, we have overdue books not reviewed.

Not a problem.

Then there is Vine for All…we love this, as the books from this group do not affect the five we can have from the Queue.

Yesterday, I selected two books from my Queue…trying to cut down a bit.  Let’s see how long that lasts, with a new gift available each day, possibly.

 

The Furies, by Natalie Haynes, promises to be a suspenseful journey.

 

 

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Don’t you love that cover? 

Natalie Haynes’ The Furies is a psychologically complex, dark and twisting novel about loss, obsession and the deep tragedies that can connect us to each other even as they blind us to our fate.

 

And then I picked Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer, and those who know my taste must realize this is a little bit out of my comfort zone, but it’s Meg Wolitzer!

 

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From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

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Don’t you love life’s little surprises?  And for those who regularly visit here, you may have noticed my new look.  Something that probably doesn’t surprise you, since I often change things up.

Enjoy life’s surprises!  What surprises you this week?

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REVIEW: BIG LITTLE LIES, BY LIANE MORIARTY

81+iucjYd9L._SL1500_In Pirriwee, a beautiful little Australian village on a peninsula by the sea, a lovely school seems an unlikely place for the cauldron that is brewing.

It all comes to a climax on Trivia Night, a costume-like event that is a fundraiser, but also a finale for the storms that have been brewing since the beginning of the school year.

One little boy. A charge of bullying. A petition that has been circling. Secret domestic violence. Cheating. Big secrets coming to light. These and other conflicts have divided the mothers, the children, and the community.

Three women are the centerpiece of Big Little Lies. At a crossroads, they each have secrets and the lies they tell themselves are even bigger than the ones they tell others. Jane, the new mum, with her adorable boy Ziggy, is hiding horrific secrets about his paternity. Celeste, the beautiful rich mum, whose handsome husband Perry has a hidden dark side, has twins, Josh and Max. And Madeline, the most likable of them all, is sometimes loud, often boisterous, and seems to enjoy conflict. But she is very sad that her fourteen-year-old daughter Abigail has chosen to move in with her dad and his new hippie-like wife Bonnie, completely forgetting that he abandoned them for the first half of her life.

How will the tensions building between the families play out? What will Celeste do about the dangerous secret she is hiding? And how will Madeline deal with the latest foolish prank her daughter has pulled? And will Jane keep running, or can she finally accept the truth she has just realized?

There are peripheral characters, like Harper, referred to as one of the “blond bobs,” seemingly caricatures, but their behavior and attitudes reflect the dangers of the clique-like mentality of the parents in the school. And then there is Renata, a mum whose passion takes on a form of scariness.

The climactic Trivia Night came to a smashing conclusion, and even though I already knew many of the secrets by then, more came crashing down around the characters like a stunning blow. Nothing would ever be the same again for the community. But would some good come from the events, a healing kind of balm? The story had a hopeful ending, which I loved. If I could, I would grant ten stars to this book. 5.0 stars.

FROM THE INTERIOR: EAGERLY ANTICIPATING “THE CHILDREN ACT”

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Welcome to another Wednesday for sharing our eager anticipation of upcoming releases.  Check in over at Breaking the Spine, to see what everyone is excited about.

Today I am celebrating the 9/9/14 release of Ian McEwan’s newest book, an emotionally wrenching novel, The Children Act.

 

 

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Amazon Description:  Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.
But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

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I am a big fan of all books that spotlight families, and in this case, the balancing act of a family court judge against the intricacies of her own marriage woes is bound to draw me in.

Plus, it’s Ian McEwan, whose Atonement captured my interest throughout, with its reminders of themes of shame and forgiveness.

What are you eagerly anticipating? 

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REVIEW: MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY, BY SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL

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It is London in 1940, and while Maggie Hope has gone to London to sell her grandmother’s house, she ends up staying and working as a typist for Mr. Churchill.

She has so much more to offer, she believes, since she has degrees and a background that would be suitable for espionage work. With a war on and invasion seemingly imminent, everyone is on high alert. Maggie is poised to make herself invaluable.

She is living in her grandmother’s house with several roommates, some of whom are old friends or friends of friends.

Maggie was born in England, but grew up in the US with her Aunt Edith because of her parents’ death in an accident when she was three.

Her life sounds ordinary, doesn’t it? Well, it is soon very extraordinary when a series of events take place that pique her interest, and soon she is trying to figure out codes and confiding her findings. But nobody seems to pay attention.

And then when she takes a trip to Cambridge on a quest, her discoveries are both confusing and astounding. Was her whole past life a lie? Suddenly she finds herself on a frightening mission that could only lead to disaster.

Meanwhile, back in London, a group of IRA dissidents have unleashed a chain of events, and the participants will turn out to be closer to Maggie than she could have realized.

At this point in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary: A Maggie Hope Mystery, I could not stop turning the pages, wondering about the connections between everyone on the canvas, and trying to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. The author did a great job of revealing only bits and pieces until the very end. The story is a mix of fact and fiction that captures the spirit of the times. A five star read…and the first book in a series.

SHAKING UP MY INTERIOR WORLD: NEW BEGINNINGS

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Today I sprang out of bed with a new energy…shower, coffee, computer.  And checking out various sites, including Dropbox, where I store documents and photos.  What sparked this energy?

A few days ago, I wrote about organizing my interior world, and that story included the discovery of new storage and an old manuscript.

Years ago, I started writing about a time in my life when I belonged to a very strange book club—we called it a gourmet/book club, because we met for gourmet dinners before discussing the books.  What happened afterwards became the main story…and how foolish choices made in the past can change lives forever.  But along the way, sometimes one can take the lessons from the past and make changes in the present…for the future.

 

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The manuscript is a fictionalized version of a very real time in my life, and while the core of it is based on true events, I took the usual liberties of an author by embellishing and changing things up.

I tossed it aside back then to start working on Interior Designs, which I recently published, and which I started during NaNoWriMo in 2010.  At that time, I wrote the first 52,000+ words.

Defining Moments was another novel I had begun around this same time, and zeroes in on the aftermath of a woman’s failed marriage:

Blurb:  What moments in our lives define us? Do our choices determine our future?  When unexpected events derail her life, Jillian McAvoy realizes that she now has an opportunity to carve out a whole new beginning.  But something happens to her along the way that threatens everything she hoped and dreamed about.  How can the obsessions and compulsions that seemingly take over her life lead to her newly redesigned world?

 

 

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In my excitement over rereading and changing some things as I begin the rewriting process for this resurrected manuscript, which I’m tentatively calling Echoes of the Past.…I am once again excited and reborn.  Yes, reborn is how I feel!

The kind of excitement I recognize from the writing of all of my novels: six of them published, and now two manuscripts to play with.

Here’s an excerpt from the Prologue, which may go through some changes:

     But at moments throughout the day, her thoughts slid backwards, despite her best efforts, and she could almost see that younger, idealistic version of herself. That girl who had believed in endless possibilities, who had fought the system hell-bent on winning. That young woman who had ignored her ideals in one summer of foolish choices, transforming herself from a fresh young thing with her whole life ahead of her into this woman of today, who often longed for yesterday and a clean slate with fresh options.

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Nothing gets my juices flowing more than a new journey, which often is a new manuscript.  And blogging is another way to keep the excitement levels high…connecting with other bloggers and finding that immediate satisfaction from comments and conversations.

What’s not to love?  What rejuvenates you on a Hump Day…or any day?

 

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