INTERIOR THOUGHTS: UPCOMING BOOK RELEASES & MY REVIEW PROCESS

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Musing Mondays, hosted by Should Be Reading, asks you to muse about one of the following each week…

• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

 

I literally cannot wait to get the newest book from Halle Ephron:  Night Night, Sleep Tight.  I loved another book by this author, (There Was an Old Woman), and then again, the name Ephron is a draw, all on its own.

It is not coming until March…sigh, but knowing how time seems to fly, that is not so bad.

 

 

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From the award-winning author of There Was an Old Woman comes a riveting tale of domestic noir, infused with old Hollywood folklore and glamour, set in a town rife with egotism and backstabbing and where fame and infamy are often interchangeable.

Los Angeles 1986: When Deirdre Unger arrived in Beverly Hills to help her bitter, disappointed father sell his dilapidated house, she discovers his lifeless body floating face down in the swimming pool. At first, Deirdre assumes her father’s death was a tragic accident. But the longer she stays in town, the more she suspects that it is merely the third act in a story that has long been in the making.

The sudden re-surfacing of Deirdre’s childhood best friend Joelen Nichol—daughter of the legendary star Elenor “Bunny” Nichol—seems like more than a coincidence. Back in 1958, Joelen confessed to killing her movie star mother’s boyfriend. Deirdre happened to be at the Nichols house the night of the murder—which was also the night she suffered a personal tragedy of her own. Could all of these events be connected?

Her search to find answers forces Deirdre to confront a truth she has long refused to believe: beneath the slick veneer of Beverly Hills lie secrets that someone will kill to keep buried.

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The cover grabbed my attention first, after the author’s name, and then the words “domestic noir” and “old Hollywood folklore and glamour,” suspense and long buried secrets.

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I am hoping that I will find this title on Vine at some point.  I do love getting those ARCs to review…but then again, this is one I would love to have on my shelves.  Like this shelf:

 

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Now that I am purging my shelves regularly, (click the link to find out more), there is room available…LOL.

I am also drawn to the topic of reviewing.  Someone commented recently about the process of reviewing, and asked others what that is like for them.

I have been reviewing regularly for Amazon and Goodreads since 2008, and then I started reviewing on my various blogs.  With 1163 reviews posted on Amazon, I have definitely had to fine tune my reviews.  And as I read some of my earlier ones, I am embarrassed.  Not that good, is all I ‘m saying.  LOL

Now what works for me is writing the review immediately after finishing a book.  I sometimes even have a Word doc in progress as I read, jotting down my thoughts, and then pulling it together afterwards.

I have varied my reviews from mostly story points, without spoilers, to brief story points, a character analysis, and what I enjoyed.

Depending on the book, some of these thoughts will be meatier than others.

I post my reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and one of my blogs…and they are linked on Facebook, too.  And Twitter.

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What are you musing about today?  Upcoming reads?  Recent reads?  Thoughts on reading/reviewing?

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REVIEW: UNBECOMING, BY REBECCA SCHERM

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Grace and Riley met in middle school, in their home town of Garland, Tennessee, and forever after were connected. Other friends, like Alls Hughes or Greg Kimbrough would make up their small group, but the bond between Grace and Riley was strong, and extended to the bond between Grace and his parents. The Grahams treated Grace as if she were their own daughter.

Which worked out great for Grace, who felt like an afterthought to her own parents.

Our story, Unbecoming: A Novel, begins in Paris, with Grace posing as a girl named Julie, who lies about her name, her past, and where she is from. Grace/Julie is afraid that her past will catch up to her. Because three years before, Riley, Alls, and Greg were arrested for burglarizing the Josephus Wynne Historic Estate in Garland. And the burglary was Grace’s idea.

The tale is told in the mostly third-person narrative of Grace, so we primarily view events from her perspective. We learn about her childhood, her friends, and how she and Riley came to be. How they even began a secret marriage, even though she had strong feelings for Riley’s best friend Alls. And how she started college in New York, and what happened to derail that adventure.

The story behind the art heist is an interesting one, and the convoluted plan that ended up with Grace hiding out in Paris and the boys in prison, only recently paroled, is one that kept me turning the pages.

Will Grace reconnect with Riley? Will the truth about her feelings come out? And how will her perceived betrayal change things for them all?

The book’s title was intriguing, in that it suggests a kind of unraveling; instead of “becoming” who she could be, it seems that Grace is moving backward from a good place to one of moral degradation. The events of the story reveal much about her character and how she failed to overcome the obstacles and trials of life, leaning more and more toward the dark side. A fascinating exploration that I will not soon forget. And in the end, even though Grace seems to be living her dream, there is that persistent hole in her heart, the absence of a mother’s love.

Poignant and captivating, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though there were aspects of the storytelling that could have been better. The unfolding of the tale zigzagged a bit too much, leaving some holes, in my opinion. But this one earned 4.0 stars from me, and I recommend it for those who enjoy a good study of characters in the process of coming undone.


REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE, BY KRISTIN HANNAH

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Our story begins in 1995, in Bend, Oregon, where an unnamed elderly woman is our first person narrator, describing moments from her past. Remembering the secrets she kept, some of them locked away in an old trunk. She is preparing to leave the house in which she has lived for many years, at her son’s urging. She is very ill and she is pondering whether or not she can share the truths of her life. One truth in the narrator’s voice: “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

Seamlessly, the story sweeps between the past and the future, beginning in 1939, in France, with a war on the horizon, into moments in the mid-nineties, and finally, we realize just who that unnamed old lady is and what she has done to sacrifice for the cause. Halfway through the story, I thought I knew who the narrator was, so imagine my surprise at the end to discover I was wrong.

When Viann and her daughter Sophie are left behind after her husband Antoine goes off to war, and Isabelle leaves the village to return to Paris, wanting to do something to make a difference, none of them could even begin to imagine what lies ahead.

The Nightingale is the riveting story of the acts of courage that each of them will take and the unexpected events that will change them forever.

What does Isabelle do to make a difference? How will she move beyond the early activities as a courier for the Resistance to something so dramatic that nobody who knows her could imagine it? And in the face of the unspeakable acts she witnesses, what sacrifices will Viann make that she could not have imagined taking on?

Through the author’s talented prose, the reader is drawn into the emotional and physical lives of the characters, experiencing what they experience: feeling their pain, their loss, and their fear. The complexity of the sibling rivalries between the two sisters, whose mother had died early in their lives and whose father emotionally abandoned them, was vividly drawn. The feelings were evocative, leaving this reader fully engaged and eager to find out what would happen next. Definitely a five star read for me.

REVIEW: THE POCKET WIFE, BY SUSAN CRAWFORD

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For many years, ever since her college days, Dana Catrell has had ups and downs. Her manic episodes and her depressions, all part of the diagnosed bipolar disorder, take over her life, especially when she is off her medications.

There are times when she can maintain, can control the ups and downs.

But the day that her neighbor Celia Steinhauser was bludgeoned to death in her home was not one of those days. That day, she felt very much out-of-control. And she was drunk. Her memory has blank spots, and for a while, she has an eerie feeling that she might have killed her friend. After all, she was presumably the last one to see her alive.

Her husband Peter, a lawyer, is not helping. Everything he does seems to increase her manic episodes, her feelings that she is going crazy, and his dismissive attitude makes her feel insignificant. As if she is something one could stuff in a pocket and forget about.

The Pocket Wife: A Novel takes the reader on the scary ride that is Dana’s life, with her mind teetering on the edge, as someone, including her husband, seems bent on making her feel crazier. And perhaps guilty.

But Detective Jack Moss, assigned to the case, is not so sure Dana is guilty. As he investigates, interviews persons of interest, and gathers evidence, the signs seem to point to more going on than what might seem obvious.

Who else had the most to gain by Celia’s death? Who is the woman in the photo with Peter, the one Celia showed Dana that day? What, if anything, does she have to do with what is happening now? And is Jack’s son, damaged by his parents’ divorce years before, somehow connected to the events of that day?

I did not figure out who had actually killed Celia until the story was nearing its conclusion. I had my suspicions about the person who was charged with the murder, but the denouement was definitely stunning. And worth the wait.

Peter was a slimy character, and so was Celia’s husband Ronald. There were a number of people who were unlikeable, but despite her flaws and her mental instability, and despite her unreliability as a narrator, Dana was someone I was rooting for throughout the story. I had high hopes that one of the sleazy characters would be guilty. Recommended for those who enjoy psychological thrillers. 5 stars.

REVIEW: FLORENCE GORDON, BY BRIAN MORTON

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Florence is a seventy-five year old woman, a writer, an intellectual, and a feminist. And a fiercely independent New Yorker.She is about to take on her biggest project yet, a memoir, but when her editor calls to set up a meeting and introduces her to a young man who will now take over the editing, she fears that nothing good can come from this relationship.

Instead, she learns that she is now a “national treasure,” that a great review of her work has appeared in the New York Times Reviews, and that she is touted as a legend.

What follows is a series of peeks into the world of those who surround her, a cast of characters that include her son Daniel, her daughter-in-law Janine, and her nineteen-year-old granddaughter Emily.

And then there are her friends, also feminists from back in the day, and they are all eager to celebrate her successes.

How will Florence begin to develop a unique relationship with her granddaughter as Emily takes on the role of her assistant, researching articles and the past that will help fill in the picture her granddaughter has of her as Florence prepares for a big event? What will then happen to the two of them just as Emily is beginning to emulate her grandmother’s courage and forthrightness? How will Florence put up walls that will prevent any of her secrets from coming out?

Florence Gordon is a fabulous character study that reveals much about how each character thinks and feels, even as the author shows us how they also prevent closeness by the walls they erect. The dismissive style of Florence’s communication with her loved ones continues with her son and granddaughter. Emily comes the closest to being able to penetrate Florence’s walls, but fails to completely succeed.

I enjoyed seeing the contrasts between Florence and Emily that are mostly generational, while also seeing the similarities. Here is an example of how Florence sees Emily, after watching her granddaughter caught up in looking at her phone:

“She’d been hoping that seeing her granddaughter would cheer her, but as she watched her climb the steps outside the café, the hope disappeared. There had been times when she’d felt close to the girl, but not now. The little scene on the street, the phone pantomime, had reminded her of how far apart they were, in terms of how they lived and what they valued.”

I loved everything about this book, but I was definitely frustrated by each of the characters at one point or another because they could not seem to reach out and communicate. That left me sad.

But I will not forget this story, and recommend it for all those who enjoy character-driven books. 5.0 stars.

INTERIORS: AN ONGOING PROCESS

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It has been an interesting month so far, clearing out the interiors and organizing my stuff.

I just finished reading a novel about an elderly woman (age 94!) who hires a young man to help her clear out her spaces…to hide her secrets from her children and grandchildren.  (The Twilight Hour, by Nicci Gerrard; click for my review).

 

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Over the past couple of years, I have gravitated to books about hoarding, and while I don’t think I had ever reached that state, I did worry about the steady accumulation of STUFF.  My purging started with the clearing out of my files, trunks, drawers, books, and then the garage.

In this photo (below), you can see the right side of my garage, which still needs work.  But that stuff in the boxes belongs to my daughter, who is settling into her new home and readying a space there for her things…I’m hoping!

 

 

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Yesterday was a great one for clearing out, as someone came from a recycling center and hauled away the old TV that was sitting on that barbecue cart in the forefront.

See the black trash bag next to it?  I have it ready for tossing out stuff as I go, just so things won’t accumulate.  And underneath it is the box of books for the library, soon to be delivered there.

Most of my bins are on the shelves, but the one in the far corner, near the door, is Christmas stuff.  Those bins are heavy, so I have been keeping them down low.  I have a few of those on the bottom shelves of my other shelving unit (at the top of this post).

Do you think I’m almost done?  Probably not.  My goal is to slowly weed things out as I go, avoiding the need for the humongous purges.

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How do you deal with your STUFF?  Do you have goals, or do you go with the flow? 

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REVIEW: INTO THE DARKEST CORNER, BY ELIZABETH HAYNES

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Their relationship looked like a perfect match. All of her friends were envious, and even when things started to go bad, Catherine Bailey was unsure about her own feelings, her own perceptions.When the nightmare that had become her life began to happen, however, what others thought didn’t matter anymore. She was the one battered and broken.Years later, as Catherine starts over as Cathy, in another city, she has the remnants of that time with her every day. She constantly checks the locks and windows of her new flat. The compulsion exacts much of her time and controls her to the point that she is still a prisoner.

But meeting her upstairs neighbor, Stuart, who happens to be a psychologist, will be a turning point. As she learns more about her OCD disorder and begins treatment, hope seems to be on the horizon. Will something more come for Cathy and Stuart?

Then everything changes with one phone call. Her attacker, Lee Brightman, is being released from prison.

Into the Darkest Corner: A Novel , set in Lancaster and London, England, reveals Catherine’s story in alternating perspectives, from flashbacks of her time with Lee, to the present, as she struggles to move on. And then, when it all seems behind her, the nightmare begins again.

I was amazed at how Catherine’s friends chose to believe Lee’s stories and would not even hear her side of things. How could true friends be so oblivious? These reactions of friends spoke to how completely charming and believable Lee could be, making him even more dangerous. It would take something very compelling for one friend to finally change her tune.

Learning more about Lee and his past fills in the story to make a frightening picture of the dangers of love. As the ending finally came, I sighed with relief. But then there was one more gruesome surprise. My only complaint with the story was the sheer relentlessness and hopeless terror that filled the pages. The repetitive nature of the OCD descriptions were also a bit much. But I definitely could not stop reading this one.

This was definitely a story for those who enjoy psychological thrillers and tales with domestic violence, and a cautionary tale for those who believe that jealous and obsessive love is somehow normal. 4.5 stars.